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Preventing Eating Disorders: Tips to Protect Your Teen


The 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that 12.2 percent of students in the U.S. went without eating for 24 or more hours in an effort to lose weight or to keep from gaining weight. The school-based survey, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), also found that 5.1 percent of students took diet pills, powders, or liquids without consulting their doctor, and 4.3 percent had vomited or taken laxatives after eating.

These statistics reflect disturbing behaviors among adolescents in the U.S. which may potentially lead to eating disorders. To help protect your teen from developing an eating disorder, talk to him or her about eating habits and body image. These conversations may not be easy to have, but they are vital to your son or daughter’s physical and mental health.

Here are some great tips to prevent teen eating disorders:

  • Encourage healthy eating habits. Talk to your teen about the role diet plays in health, appearance, and energy level. Encourage your son or daughter to eat when he or she is hungry. It also helps to eat together as a family as often as possible.
  • Avoid using food as a reward or punishment. Offering food as a bribe or taking food away as a punishment can teach your teen to associate food with good or bad behavior, which may result in disordered eating habits.
  • Explain the dangers of dieting and emotional eating. Dieting can compromise your teen's health and may eventually lead to the development of an eating disorder. Remind your teen that controlling what he or she eats is not a healthy way to cope with emotions. Encourage your son or daughter to talk to loved ones, friends, or a counselor about any problems he or she may be having trouble dealing with.
  • Promote a positive body image. Talk to your teen about his or her self-image and explain that healthy body shapes vary. Avoid making comments about another person based on weight or body shape, and teach your son or daughter the negative effects of judging someone based on physical characteristics.
  • Foster self-esteem. Acknowledge your teen's accomplishments and support his or her goals. Listen when your son or daughter speaks. Point out and focus on your teen’s positive qualities, and remind your son or daughter that your love and acceptance is unconditional, not based on his or her weight or appearance.
  • Discuss negative media messages. Television programs, movies, magazines, websites and other media may influence your teen to think that only certain body types are acceptable. Encourage your son or daughter to talk about and question what he or she has seen or heard, especially anything that promotes anorexia as a lifestyle choice, rather than an eating disorder.

Also remember the importance of setting a good example. If you constantly diet, talk about your weight, or use food to cope with your emotions, you may have a hard time encouraging your teen to eat healthfully or feel satisfied with his or her appearance. Instead, make conscious choices about your lifestyle and take pride in your body.

Sources: CDC, Mayo Clinic