Vulnerable Times For Teenage Disordered Eating

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This article was written by Sarah Idakwo, Eating Disorder Specialist Dietitian in the Dietetically Speaking Clinic.


The teenage years are referred to as the ‘vulnerable years’ as they are marked by physical, emotional, social and of course hormonal changes.

Navigating these years is a transformative journey. It’s during this period that children become more susceptible to various pressures, including those that could contribute to the development of eating disorders. Hence its important to shed light on the significance of addressing eating disorder concerns during transitions and stressful times.

The Vulnerability of Transitions

Transitions, such as starting a new school year, moving to a different city, or even experiencing familial changes (like a death in the family, divorce, illness, siblings moving away), can trigger emotional upheaval. For some teenagers, these transitions may amplify feelings of anxiety, low self-esteem, and body dissatisfaction. It’s crucial for parents and caregivers to be vigilant during such times and to foster an open dialogue with their children.

Recognizing Warning Signs 

As a parent, knowing how to recognize early signs of potential eating disorders is essential. 

Watch out for:

  • Sudden changes in eating and exercise habits
  • Drastic weight fluctuations
  • Obsession with appearance
  • Withdrawal from social interactions 

If you notice these signs persisting through transitions or stressful phases, seeking professional support is paramount.

Offering Emotional Support 

Emotional support is instrumental in helping teenagers navigate these challenging periods. Encouraging open conversations about emotions, body image, and self-esteem can create a safe space for teenagers to share their feelings. 

Parents can help by actively listening, validating their child’s emotions, and emphasizing that seeking help is a sign of strength.

Healthy Coping Mechanisms 

During transitions and stressful times teenagers may turn to food, or controlling their food intake/dieting, as a coping mechanism. Being non-judgemental about this is so important, as well as educating them about healthier coping strategies, such as engaging in hobbies, physical activities, socialising and mindfulness practices. A mental health professional can also support with finding healthy coping mechanisms. 

Professional Guidance 

If you suspect your teenager is struggling with an eating disorder, disordered eating or a difficult relationship with food, seeking professional guidance is essential.

A paediatric eating disorder dietitian can provide specialized support, helping your child develop a healthier relationship with food and their body. Together, we can work to identify triggers, implement practical strategies, and promote overall well-being.

Addressing eating disorder concerns during transitions and stressful times is vital for ensuring your teenager’s emotional and physical well-being. By fostering open communication, recognizing warning signs, and seeking timely professional support, we can empower our teenagers to overcome challenges and thrive during these transformative years.

For more information and guidance on supporting your teenager with their relationship with food, you can set up a free 15-minute discovery call with one of our Specialist Dietitians here


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