Helping Your Teen Navigate Body Image Issues

Parents would do anything for their children, especially when they need them the most. You never want to think of something bad or difficult happening to your teenager, but unfortunately, they often cannot be avoided. Mental health in teens is a growing concern for many parents and, more specifically; the rising numbers of eating disorders, particularly in young girls. In fact, one in three adolescent girls believes they are overweight, leading to 1 of every 100 girls and women suffering from anorexia. This is just one type of eating disorder, with binge eating and bulimia also becoming increasingly prevalent.

If you think that your adolescent son or daughter might be suffering from body image issues and low self-esteem, resulting in an eating disorder, then it’s time to act fast. Here are some strategies that you can use to both identify the problem and support them through their recovery, sensitively.

Different Types of Eating Disorders


As noted above, there are three main types of eating disorders. The most well-known is anorexia, also known as anorexia nervosa. This often takes the form of restricting food intake to avoid gaining weight. The second form is bulimia, where the sufferer will often consume large amounts of food and then force themselves to throw up afterward, in a symptom known as purging. Sometimes laxatives and diuretics will be used to help this process along. The third main form of an eating disorder is binge-eating disorder, where the person will go through bouts of eating enormous amounts of food, often to the point of feeling physically unwell. It is also often characterized by the feeling of a lack of control.

These three disorders are the most common forms of eating disorders found in teens and adolescents, although there are other forms. During puberty, when their bodies are changing and there is often a lot of pressure from their peers and social media to look a certain way, people are most susceptible to these forms of disorders.

Spotting the Signs


Spotting eating disorders in teens can be tricky at times, especially as they’re at an age where they want their independence and might not be sharing everything they’re doing with you. Some signs of eating disorders might include:

  • Extreme preoccupation about being overweight.
  • Obsession with dieting (often followed by binges).
  • Eating tied to emotions, such as excessive eating when stressed.
  • Speaking about feeling out of control.
  • Preoccupation with perfectionism.
  • Often disappearing after a meal.
  • Frequent vomiting.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Low moods/ Depression.
  • Excessive exercise.
  • Irregular menstrual cycles.

Remember that eating disorders are forms of mental illness and cannot be diagnosed based on low body weight or a change in weight. These are, of course, things to keep an eye on in young people, yet only 15% of young people with anorexia are actually below normal body weight. That shows how different types of eating disorders can manifest, yet all are equally dangerous. Disorder behaviors are the best way to detect symptoms of anorexia or other eating disorders, rather than outward observations on your teen’s body weight.

Know when to seek medical advice.


If you think your teen is exhibiting signs of an eating disorder, it’s wise to seek professional help from a doctor or therapist as soon as possible. As a family member, your support is also vital but having input from a trained professional is the best way to make sure their recovery gets off to a good start. There is a wide range of different forms of aid out there for people with eating disorders, such as nutrition counseling to help develop a healthy diet and therapy to reduce the impact of a negative body image. Although these disorders are forms of mental illness, they do often also have a toll on the body, such as through dehydration, extreme and rapid weight gain or loss, and other serious health problems. That’s why you need to make sure that you have medical input as well as emotional support within family relationships for your teen.

In some cases, your teen’s dental health might also be affected, by the use of laxatives, excessive vomiting, or lack of key nutrients and vitamins. Finding compassionate and friendly staff, like this family dentist in North Olmsted, OH, who understand how dental care can intersect with mental health, is the best way to help your teen find the right dental service for them. Treating overall health issues relating to their disordered eating could be as difficult for your child as treating the disorder itself, so be prepared to treat them with kindness and respect throughout.

Help them feel comfortable in their own body.


While they are being treated for their mental and physical health, it’s important to make sure that they still have some kind of normalcy throughout their teen years. That means helping them to feel comfortable and confident in their own skin as much as possible. Make sure that, if you have a child with breasts, that they are properly fitted for underwear. It’s amazing how much more comfortable a teen girl can feel in her size if she gets the DDD bra that actually fits her band size.

In other areas, affirm them frequently with compliments, not just on their appearance, but on all areas of their personality and identity. You want to reassure them that they are worth more than their physical attributes, so make sure to support them with as many honest compliments and emotional reassurance as possible. Young adults and teenagers can be especially sensitive to jokes about their appearance so be sure to avoid negative comments during their teen years.

Long Road Ahead


Disordered eating develops over time and so recovery takes time as well. You can help your teenager by talking openly with them and listening to their struggles. Don’t expect their recovery to be linear and don’t be disheartened if they fall back into negative eating patterns. Even acknowledging that they have a problem is a great job in itself, and a necessary step along the path to healthy eating. Celebrate every win and support them through any obstacles along the way.

It can be difficult to watch someone you love go through something as painful as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating, so make sure you have a strong support network around you too. You can only help your child if you are resilient and strong in yourself, so don’t be afraid of sharing the burden with other family members. This is a time for everyone to rally together and lean on one another, so never think you need to manage on your own.

Using these tips and strategies, you’re in good shape to be a strong pillar of support for your child. The fact that you are taking the time to research and learn more about what you can do is a great sign in itself. No one expects you to have all the answers and the most important thing you can do is to approach your child with compassion and understanding. No one knows your child as well as you do, which is why it’s so important that you are there as a significant part of their recovery. Seek medical and therapeutic advice as much as possible and trust your parenting instincts as well.