Talking to Our Teens About Pursuing Treatment for Anorexia

Mother and daughter hugging and working on Eating Disorders in Mothers and Daughters and pursuing treatment for anorexia

Talking to a teen about pursuing treatment for anorexia can be challenging. Often, the first people to become aware of a teen’s struggle with anorexia are their parents, teachers, coaches, or friends.

When thinking about talking to the teen and encouraging them to pursue treatment, an emotionally charged conversation is often anticipated. Being prepared can make this conversation easier.

Here are five tips when talking to a teen about pursuing treatment for anorexia:

1. Prepare resources. Understand that the teen may not be fully aware of the disordered eating patterns.

Gather resources and have them available when you approach the teen. Any literature about anorexia or where to go for help may help them identify that they are struggling. Also, in the case that they may have some awareness of their struggles, you are providing them with resources they may not know were available to them.

2. Express caring concern. Find a good time to talk to the teen. Speak to them privately and allow for adequate time to talk openly and honestly.

In a caring and non-confrontational way, communicate to the teen that you are very concerned about them. Calmly tell them the specific observations that you have noticed and are a cause of your concern. Focus on eating or exercise behaviors that you have noticed or other concerns.

Some examples include withdrawing or isolating from others, seeming like they may be feeling down or stressed, food that you saw hidden in their room. Avoid using words that would define the teen’s physical appearance. Words such as “thin,” “skinny,” or “sickly” may define the exact body type that they are trying to attain and unintentionally reinforce the disordered eating.

3. Listen. Allow the teen time to respond to your concerns. Listen carefully and in a nonjudgmental and open manner. Listening is very important in this process.

Face the teen, maintain eye contact, and an open posture. Avoid conflicts or a battle of wills with the teen. If the teen refuses to acknowledge that there is a problem or any reason for you to be concerned, restate your feelings calmly and the reasons for them and leave yourself open and available as a supportive listener.

4. Validate and encourage. Summarize what you have heard them say, and tell the teen that because of what you’ve observed, you think they may be struggling with eating, body image, or exercise.

Restate your concern about their health and well-being if needed. Explain that you believe these things may indicate that there could be a problem that needs professional attention. Ask the teen to explore these concerns with a therapist, doctor, or nutritionist who is knowledgeable about disordered eating.

5. Leave with an action step — get help and support. Have an action step in mind and share it with the teen.

If you feel comfortable doing so, offer to help the teen make an appointment or to accompany them on their first visit. Avoid placing shame, blame, or guilt on the teen regarding their actions or attitudes. Do not use accusatory “you” statements like, “You just need to eat.” or, “You are acting irresponsibly.”

Instead, use “I” statements. For example: “I’m concerned about you because you refuse to eat breakfast or lunch.” Or, “It makes me afraid to hear you vomiting.” Avoid giving simple solutions. For example, “If you’d just stop, then everything would be fine!”

Dad talking to Teenage daughter about pursuing treatment for anorexiaHighlight the importance of talking with a trusted adult or medical professional. For example, an eating disorder specialist, doctor, school counselor or nurse, parent, or clergy.

This is likely to be a challenging time for both of you. It could be helpful for you, as well as the teen, to discuss your concerns and seek support and assistance from a professional who specializes in disordered eating.

Problems that are particularly troubling and warrant immediately seeking help include: if the teen is binging and purging several times throughout the day, passes out or complains of chest pains, complains of severe stomachaches or vomiting blood, or has thoughts of harming themselves or suicide.

Encouraging a teen to pursue treatment for anorexia is challenging; however, having this tough conversation is in the best interest of the teen who is struggling. It is crucial for them to get adequate support and treatment so that they can fully recover.


Resources:

  1. National Eating Disorders Association www.nationaleatingdisorders.org
  2. Fielder-Jenks, Chelsea. (Feb 2, 2018). Thrive Counseling & Consulting Blog. NEDA Awareness Week: How to Help Someone with an Eating Disorder. Retrieved from: https://thrivecounselingaustin.com/blog/2018/2/27/neda-awareness-week-how-to-help-someone-with-an-eating-disorder

About the Author:

Chelsea Fielder-JenksChelsea Fielder-Jenks, LPC is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice in Austin, Texas. Chelsea works with individuals, families, and groups primarily from a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) framework.

She has extensive experience working with adolescents, families, and adults who struggle with eating, substance use, and various co-occurring mental health disorders. You can learn more about Chelsea and her private practice at ThriveCounselingAustin.com.


The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective on eating disorders. These are not necessarily the views of Eating Disorder Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.

We at Eating Disorder Hope understand that eating disorders result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors. If you or a loved one are suffering from an eating disorder, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.

Published on May 17, 2019.
Reviewed & Approved on May 17, 2019, by Jacquelyn Ekern MS, LPC

Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

About Baxter Ekern

Baxter is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He is responsible for the operations of Eating Disorder Hope and ensuring that the website is functioning smoothly.