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Does your teen have an eating disorder?

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Healthy body image

Body image and weight issues for many of us - and teens are no different. Those issues can manifest themselves in numerous ways, including specific behaviors related to daily food intake. And that's why questions about perceptions of weight, specific food intake and specific other eating-related behaviors are included on the Center for Disease Control's biannual survey of risky behaviors in youth.

Teen girl taking diet pillsNutrition affects everything from appearance to the ability to learn. It's as simple as what keeps us alive yet it's also much more than that. With the amount of time we as moms spend worrying about our children's nutrition and food intake, we may think the importance of a healthy and balanced diet is already understood by our teens. In some ways it is understood - but it doesn't seem to prevent some adolescents from engaging in risky weight control behaviors.

Crash dieting and weight-control substances

Even youths who consider themselves "about the right weight" admit to engaging in behaviors such as fasting, vomiting or using laxatives in an effort to keep weight at a particular level or lose more weight. The problem is, of course, that this behavior can affect the appropriate balance of nutrients in a child's body at a time when proper nutrition is critical to still growing bones and brains. The risky behavior has possible long-term consequences as well as short-term ones; that nutrient deprivation at such a critical time can't be filled in later.

Adolescent decision-making

As with other issues, your almost grown child isn't grown yet and still needs your attention and guidance. Between their still-developing decision making ability and the sense of invincibility many teens evoke, kids need ongoing parental input into balancing nutrients with calories and staying appropriately physically active. Kids need to be reminded that healthy eating is a life-skill.

Stay alert

Changes in your child's behavior over food and eating can, as with other risky behaviors, signal more serious issues. Staying alert to your child's appearance, mood, and food intake - without becoming overbearing, of course - can help you help your child head off some of these risky behaviors. And as with other behaviors, modeling appropriate decision making and behaviors is a way to teach your child about balancing healthy eating - and healthy weight control.

While we as parents won't be able to prevent our children from engaging in any or all risky behaviors, we can continue to be aware and help them learn to make good decisions.

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