Food Fights or Something More Serious? Helping Teens Navigate Picky Eating vs. Eating Disorders

Apr 16, 2024
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Food Fights or Something More Serious? Helping Teens Navigate Picky Eating vs. Eating Disorders

The teenage years are a whirlwind of change, and food can often become a battleground.  Between constantly growing bodies, developing food preferences, and the ever-present pressure of social media, it's no wonder mealtimes can be a source of frustration for both you and your teen.

While some picky eating is normal during this stage, it's important to understand the difference between a particular eater and someone struggling with an eating disorder.

Picky Eating vs. Eating Disorder: Decoding the Drama

Picky Eating: It's pretty common.

Teens might have strong dislikes, prefer certain textures, or crave specific foods.

Picky eating is usually about taste or preference, not control.

Plus, they generally get enough to eat, even if it's not a gourmet spread every night.

Eating Disorder: This goes beyond dislikes.

Eating disorder is about intense fear, anxiety, and shame surrounding food, weight, and body image.

Your teen might feel the need to control everything they eat, leading to restricted portions, skipping meals altogether, or unhealthy purging behaviors (vomiting, laxatives) to compensate for perceived overeating.

Red Flags to Watch Out For:

If you're concerned that your teen's eating habits might be more than just pickiness, here are some signs to watch for:

  • Dramatic weight loss or gain: This can be a sign your teen's body isn't getting the nutrients it needs.
  • Obsession with calories, weight, and body image: Constantly talking about weight, using dieting apps excessively, or comparing themselves to others online can be warning signs.
  • Food Frenzy vs. Food Phobia: Bingeing on large amounts of food followed by purging behaviors or extreme restriction in calorie intake are both concerning signs.
  • Hiding their eating habits: Feeling secretive about what they eat, sneaking food, or lying about portion sizes could be red flags.
  • Excuses to Avoid Meals: Always having an excuse to skip meals or social events centered around food might be a way to control their intake.
  • Physical and Emotional Changes: Fatigue, weakness, mood swings, anxiety, or difficulty concentrating can all be indicators of an underlying eating disorder.

It's important to note that anxiety and eating disorders often have a complex relationship.

Anxiety around food, weight, or body image can trigger disordered eating behaviors as a coping mechanism.

Conversely, disordered eating can also worsen anxiety. If you notice your teen exhibiting excessive anxiety alongside these other signs, it's even more crucial to seek professional help.

Getting Help: A Path to Recovery

If you recognize any of these signs in your teen, talking to them openly and with compassion is crucial.

Let them know you care and you're there to support them. 

A therapist or registered dietitian specializing in adolescent eating disorders can help your teen develop healthy eating habits, address the root of the problem, and build a positive body image.

Here at Joy Mental Fitness, we understand the unique challenges both parents and teens face.  We offer both individual therapy and family therapy sessions to help you navigate communication around food and support your teen on their journey towards recovery.  Contact us today to schedule a consultation and learn more about how we can help your family.


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