The other day I heard my 13-year-old daughter complain, "I'm fat." She's started to stay away from family meals and says she's not hungry. I'm upset that she's already worried about her weight and that she may be developing an eating disorder. How do I know if there's a problem and what can I do to help her if there is? - Kirsten
It's common for teens to be concerned about how they look and to feel self-conscious about their weight. During puberty, kids' bodies change dramatically and they face mounting social pressures, like dating, making friends, and fitting in.
But when these concerns become obsessions or begin to involve abnormal behaviors or negative thoughts about body image, weight, and food, eating disorders can occur. Someone who starts to do things that are emotionally or physically dangerous in order to lose weight may have an eating problem.
Other signs of an eating disorder include becoming very thin, having a fear of weight gain, playing with or moving food around on the plate instead of eating it, exercising compulsively, loss of menstrual periods, or constantly talking about weight and food. Some people with eating disorders binge eat, then induce vomiting, use laxatives, or use diuretics.
If you're concerned that your daughter may have an eating disorder, it's important to get her the help she may need right away. Let her know that you're worried because of the things that you have noticed. Disordered eating can be very dangerous and can lead to a variety of health problems. Have your daughter talk to a counselor, doctor, or a mental health professional.