Eating disorders are extremely common in young people. Especially with the rise of social media, many teens feel like they have to be camera-ready – perfect – 24/7. This kind of appearance-based perfectionism, especially when combined with a desire for control, can develop into a harmful or even deadly eating disorder. While helping your child develop a healthy identity can help prevent eating disorders, there is still a chance one will develop. If your child develops an eating disorder, there are a few things you can do to help them.
1. Consult a professional
If possible, before confronting your child about their eating behaviors, consult with a professional. Good options include a therapist or a health care provider, especially one who is already familiar with your teen. They may be able to provide insight into what is going on, as well as advice on how to best respond. While some people’s eating disorders may develop purely out of wanting to look a certain way, most of the time other things are happening. If they are part of activities that value thinness or tend to be anxious and perfectionistic, those things may be contributing factors.
2. Work with your child on solutions, and don’t let it spiral into you vs them
Remember: the fight is not you vs your child about eating, but you and your child vs their eating disorder. Try to avoid getting into conversations or situations where you are directly fighting your child. If they feel the need to be defensive, they may hide information or lie to you about eating habits to avoid fights. Talk to your child openly about your concerns for their safety and long-term health, and discuss solutions together. It is important that, throughout this process, they feel loved and supported by you, not judged and shamed.
3. Involve them in food choices
Consider taking them grocery shopping with you, and allowing them to pick out things they will eat. Another great option is involving them in planning snacks and meals, so they can choose foods they are comfortable with. By involving them in these ways, you are giving them control over their eating habits in a safe, healthy way. That way, they can choose foods they feel safe eating, and you can keep track of their eating in a way that doesn’t feel restrictive to them. If your child only wants to eat fish, vegetables, and yogurt, then start there. Eating only those things, even if long-term they are not enough, is better than them refusing to eat.