Body positivity issues are severely affecting teenage boys nowadays. These issues can stem from several reasons. But in all cases, the most concerned party is the parents. Eating disorders can make a teen dissolve physically in front of their parent’s eyes. It is equally painful for parents to see their children struggling with confidence and torturing themselves.
Eating disorders severely affect the individual’s mental and physical well-being. However, parents should not be hopeless if their teen son is undergoing eating disorders because all hope is never lost. With smart and timely decisions, parents can easily help their teenagers overcome eating disorders, though it can be time-consuming.
Part of the solution is to understand the problem at hand. Parents can only help their teen son cope with eating disorders if they are well-versed about the problem, know the right steps to take, things to keep an eye out for, and the right people to contact if a situation turns awry. Therefore, the first step should be to understand what an eating disorder is and what the affected teen’s type of disorder could be.
More About Eating Disorders
Eating disorders start as psychological problems and can result in unhealthy eating practices and various physical health problems. This issue affects millions of people from all walks of life worldwide. In most cases, eating disorders start from childhood and adolescence and are especially common among teenagers because of their overly emotional nature and increased sensitivity to societal pressures.
Suffering from an eating disorder can be life-threatening and has the highest mortality rate among all other mental illnesses. Thus, timely notice and solutions are imperative to save the life of the teenager undergoing this problem. Unlike other mental health problems, symptoms of eating disorders start showing fairly early. These symptoms may include:
- Significantly reduced or even zero food consumption.
- Exponential weight changes.
- Frequent vomiting.
- Unnecessary physical exertion, that is, over-exercising.
- Irregular sleeping patterns and menstrual cycles.
- Preoccupied with measuring weight and counting calories.
- Lack of energy and temperature regulation.
- Abdominal cramps and gastrointestinal issues.
- Dizziness and fainting.
- Weak bones and muscles.
- Dry skin, nails, and thinning of hair.
Types Of Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are commonly divided into six common types:
- Anorexia nervosa: In this case, the affected individual considers themselves overweight and tries to lose weight by eating significantly less than what fulfills the recommended daily intake of nutrients.
- Bulimia nervosa: This disorder forces the affected person to eat more than their fill and binge at random times of the day. After eating more than desired, the individual then indulges in purging activities like forceful vomiting, overexercising, and intake of laxatives.
- Binge eating disorder: The symptoms and activities, in this case, are the same as in bulimia nervosa, but without purging behaviors.
- Pica: In this eating disorder, the affected individual has a tendency to consume items that do not count as food, for example, sand, buttons, soap, etc. This is one of the most instantly lethal eating disorders.
- Rumination disorder: In this case, the affected person would chew their food, swallow it, regurgitate the food, re-chew it, and then either re-swallow it or spit it out.
- Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder: Shortened as ARFID, this disorder is generally found in children under 7 years of age and stems from discomfort from or dislike for certain sensory experiences.
Knowing thoroughly about these disorders can help parents diagnose quicker and better the specific disorder their teen son is undergoing.
Reasons Behind Eating Disorders In Teenage Boys
The biggest reason for eating disorders is societal pressures. An example of this is bullying about physical traits like weight. In almost all cases, teenage boys who experience bullying for their bodies fall prey to eating disorders because they believe these eating habits will make them appear more attractive and feel more confident.
Another reason for teenage boys to develop eating disorders is the unrealistic image of male bodies projected by the mainstream media. Celebrities, actors, and models often post pictures or appear in movies and advertisements with unrealistically shaped bodies. As celebrities and their trainers admit, these body features are unrealistic and result from unhealthy eating and exercise practices, such as dehydrating the body for days or restricting normal calorie intake.
However, these truths and confessions are not as widely promoted as the results. Consequently, teenage boys are led to believe that they need to look a certain way to be accepted into society.
Eating disorders can also be genetic. Therefore, parents need to be especially careful if their family has a history of at least one person having undergone eating disorders at some point in their life. Similarly, if one child is suffering from this issue, parents should keep an eye on the other children to prevent them from developing this disorder.
Certain personality and psychological traits can also increase the risk of and lead to the development of eating disorders in teenage boys. These include impulsive behavior, perfectionist tendencies, and neuroticism.
Eating disorders like pica can develop as a result of nutritional deficiencies and other psychological and developmental conditions like schizophrenia, anxiety, and being on the autism spectrum.
How Can Parents Help Their Teen Son With An Eating Disorder?
Teenagers are already going through a sensitive phase of life. Therefore, parents have to be careful in dealing with them. Especially if a teenager is going through a difficult mental health problem like an eating disorder, parents are treading on thin ice because the smallest wrong move could trigger the teen.
An important part of recovery from eating disorders is to make the affected individual feel comfortable and welcomed. Parents can do so by avoiding passing comments about physical appearances or eating habits and discussing with other children in the family not to treat the suffering teen differently.
Though eating disorders can not be miraculously treated in a day, many effective solutions are available that parents can opt for to help their teenage son with an eating disorder.
Do Your Research
A big part of the solution is to understand the problem. In this case, it can only be done by doing proper research about eating disorders, their types, and their symptoms. Try forming your diagnosis of which eating disorder type your son is suffering from. However, getting in touch with a health practitioner or psychological specialist is also crucial. Discuss your teen son’s symptoms, habits, and activities with the expert and get their opinion to confirm your diagnosis in order to proceed accordingly. Without thorough research, it is nearly impossible for parents to know how to deal correctly with their teenager’s struggles.
Talk To Your Teenager About It
Communication between parents and teenagers when it comes to mental health problems is the key. Teenage boys undergoing eating disorders may also become distracted, withdrawn, emotional, and moody. Food and eating habits are especially sensitive topics for such teens. Though it may be difficult to start a conversation about this topic with your teen son, it is not impossible, given you know what to say and how and when to say it.
Parents can employ certain useful techniques to discuss eating disorders with their teenage sons. Start by planning what you intend to talk about and the possible directions the discussion might head. Try not to bring up his eating habits or comment on his body shape during the conversation. Instead, talk about your concern for them, how certain activities of theirs count as self-harm, and how they worry you. Gradually sail the conversation toward the underlying problems that led them to develop this disorder.
Keep the discussion about them and their problems only and try not to bring up other people’s examples. Finally, keep reminding them how much they mean to you and that their physical and emotional well-being is your topmost priority.
Parents should also try not to give the impression to their affected teenagers that they know best. By doing so, they can agitate the teen further, leading him to believe that he is wrong, and not in a positive or constructive way. Furthermore, eating disorders are complex issues, and the diagnoses made by parents without any professional consultation can mostly be wrong. Therefore, even if you are trying to reach a self-diagnosis, do not act upon it or self-medicate without consulting a healthcare specialist.
Discuss Positive And Negative Fitness-Related Habits
Once your teen is comfortable in your presence and starts participating in conversations about his health, try discussing positive and negative fitness habits with him. For example, teach him the difference between a healthy diet plan and starving oneself. Try telling him not to believe everything he sees on the internet because several fitness-promoting entities prey on the vulnerability of those that blindly believe them.
Parents should avoid labeling foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ or calling their son’s eating habits unhealthy. These actions reinforce negative notions about body acceptance.
Tell your teenager the importance of body positivity and show them their favorite celebrities that negate the idea of unrealistic body images. If resources allow, you can also offer them to join a certified gym or work with a trainer to work toward healthier fitness goals that will also be helpful in the long run. But most importantly, teach them that all bodies are beautiful and that they do not have to fit into a certain box to feel more accepted by society.
Stay Calm And Be Patient
A teenage boy suffering from eating disorders will likely never be comfortable talking about his struggles, and parents need to realize this too. Parents trying to talk about this issue with their teenagers should not expect them to start answering their questions or participating in the conversation instantly. The individuals affected by these disorders are almost always aware of their condition, which is a sensitive topic for them. In these cases, it is easy for parents to get frustrated and give up on communication when their teenage son does not engage in their discussion.
However, parents must remain patient to discover their teenage sons’ underlying struggles and help them with their troubles. In some situations, the teen might participate in the conversation but prefer to talk secretly to avoid giving out too many details. Other times, he would possibly remain silent throughout. Parents should thus know how to adapt to such situations without getting annoyed or angry at their teenagers. Sometimes, they might even have to sit in silence with their teen to get more comfortable and open up.
Some parents believe that imposing timetables, eating schedules, and forced routines on their teenagers will help them recover from eating disorders. However, this can not be further from the truth. Doing so will make the teen feel like he is a point of embarrassment for his parents and might worsen his mental health, leading to fatal consequences like self-harm.
It is also okay for parents to feel alone and need help when dealing with a critical situation like their teen’s eating disorder. For this reason, several platforms and support networks are available that can help guide them through this difficult time, such as Eagle Ranch Academy. Even if the parents believe they can handle the situation themselves, it is better to get professionals involved to prevent the matter from getting worse.
Parents can also get their teenage sons registered for eating disorder therapy or support groups and should try to accompany them to sessions for moral support. However, before involving any external entity, it is crucial to discuss it with the teenager thoroughly and not force anything on them. Forcing them can only lead to more disastrous situations, such as the teen shutting their parents out for good.
Monitor Their Activities And Get Involved
Teens with eating disorders are prone to self-harm actions. The most common example is purging. Parents must monitor their teen son’s activities if they have the slightest doubt that he may be at risk of or is undergoing an eating disorder. Try to keep a vigilant eye on his eating habits, daily routines, and any physical exercises he may be doing regularly. If you notice any odd behavior, step in and talk to him about it to better understand the problem.
Monitoring also means keeping a close eye on the teen’s circle in school or any other setting they spend time at. This is necessary because teens with eating disorders develop this issue as a result of bullying by friends and acquaintances. If your teen son is concerned about his body image, get in touch with his teachers and the school administration and request that they, too should, ensure that no negative comments are made about him.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do I Know Whether My Teen Son Is At Risk Of Or Suffering From An Eating Disorder?
If you doubt your teenage son is at risk of an eating disorder, start monitoring his daily routines and activities to confirm your doubts. Look for the obvious symptoms of eating disorders, such as sudden weight changes, rapid loss or gain of appetite, disturbed eating schedule, overworking the body, etc. If you have reasons to believe that your teen son is indeed suffering from an eating disorder, try discussing it with him calmly and neutrally. If you fear an imminent risk of self-harm, get in touch with a medical professional immediately.
In case you doubt that your teenage son is secretly adopting unhealthy eating and fitness habits, you can also get his regular blood tests done to confirm or negate your doubts. Generally, low thyroid and other hormone levels, anemia, low blood cell count, lower heart rate, and potassium deficiency are all solid indicators of a chronic eating disorder. Skin calluses, feeling cold all the time, and poor wound healing are also signs of eating disorders.
What Steps Do I Take For Eating Disorder-Related Activities?
Certain activities involved in eating disorders can be incredibly painful for the affected teen but also equally disturbing for parents. Purging actions especially include physically traumatizing actions that can also lead to fatal consequences. Parents can help avoid such actions by closely monitoring their affected teenage son.
Activities like forceful vomiting can lead to more chronic issues in the future. Therefore, one to two hours after each meal, try to keep the teen under observation to ensure they do not try to vomit. Similarly, teens suffering from this condition may also try to engage in excessive physical activity, sometimes even directly after meals, which can be very unhealthy, adversely affecting their metabolism and gastrointestinal health.
If the teen is suffering from pica, parents need to be even more careful and prevent them from swallowing inedible stuff because doing so may obstruct the gastrointestinal tract and damage the organs and their linings. Teens suffering from this health condition should be taken to get medical help as soon as possible to prevent a fatality.
What Are Some Tips I Can Use To Talk To My Teen Son About His Eating Disorder?
The first thing parents can do when talking to a teen about his eating disorder is to remember that they need to stay calm and collected no matter what turn the situation takes. This is because the teen is likely to get agitated when confronted about their struggle for the first time.
Secondly, it is important not to turn the discussion into a lecture. The conversation should be mutual, and the parents should try to guide it in a way that the teen starts participating in it. An excellent way to do this is to steer the conversation using questions instead of statements or comments. Under all circumstances, refrain from talking about their physical appearance or eating habits. Do not describe their actions to them. For example, avoid saying things like, “You should eat less” or “You are exercising too much.”
The most important aspect of your conversation with your teenager should be empathy; use it to guide your emotions and words, and tread carefully to avoid hurting their feelings. If you are consulting with a therapist, dietitian, or some other professional, try to stay in touch with them as much as you can and ask them how you can help your teenager at home in accordance with their treatment.
Is Bulimia Nervosa And Binge Eating Disorder The Same Thing?
Bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder have almost the same symptoms, usually confusing many people. However, the core difference between the two is the presence of purging behavior in the former. Teens with bulimia nervosa are preoccupied with carefully monitoring their calorie intake. As a result, although they try to consume more than their fill, they then engage in purging activities to deal with abdominal discomfort.
Parents need to understand the difference between the two disorders to judge better which of the two their teenage son is suffering from. Misjudging between the two disorders and treating them according to the wrong one can lead to more problems than solutions.
Having a teenage son go through eating disorders and compromise his mental and physical health is an incredibly difficult experience for any parent. But it is important to stay emotionally strong during this tough time to help your teenage son recover from it.
Build a strong support system by strengthening connections within your family and getting in touch with the right professionals. Additionally, make time for and open all channels of communication for your affected teen and get involved in your teenage son’s life to prevent negative forces from preying on him. Parents can encourage their teenage sons to power through this tough phase by making smart decisions.
It is also imperative that parents do intensive research about eating disorders and their treatments. But first and foremost, parents should take a moment to reflect upon their parenting and whether it is because of any shortcomings on their part that may have led to their teenage son suffering from this problem. Most Importantly, though, parents should resolve to spend more time with their children to not only help solve present issues but also prevent such troubles in the future.