National Eating Disorders Association
Blog

How to Open a Conversation with Teens About Healthy Eating

UPDATE: Trump's recent comments about former Miss Universe, Alicia Machado (who has publicly shared her struggle with an eating disorder) are an example of the kind of weight shaming that can contribute to poor body image and eating disorders. See below for positive ways to talk about health and body image.

Did you know that over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting and taking laxatives? 

Oftentimes, teens’ opinions on weight, health and their own bodies are heavily influenced by parents, doctors and other trusted adults. It’s been shown that kids whose parents and doctors focus on healthy eating and physical activity rather than weight are less likely to have an eating disorder or engage in unhealthy weight control behaviors. 

With this in mind, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released new guidelines for pediatricians and parents to help teens avoid both the development of eating disorders and obesity. 

Neville Golden, MD, lead author on the report and member of NEDA’s Medical Advisory Committee, stated: “Dieting and size-related shaming are closely linked to the development of eating disorders. Parents and physicians are not to blame, but they can play an important role in setting healthy examples and working to prevent dangerous habits.”

AAP’s recommendations include: 

  • discouraging dieting
  • promoting a balanced diet and exercise for fitness (not weight loss) 
  • encouraging more frequent family meals
  • avoiding talking about weight all together

Below, you’ll find personal stories from those who have experienced body-shaming and eating disordered behavior as a direct result of weight stigma. 

Opening a conversation with your teen about weight and health can be difficult – these resources will get you started!

  • NEDA’s Parent Toolkit - Learn about eating disorder myths, treatment and insurance information, and how to support a loved one in recovery. 
  • What Is Weight Stigma? - This blog post defines weight stigma and examines how these beliefs can lead to discrimination. 
  • The Truth About Weight Stigma - In this blog post, Wendy Oliver-Pyatt, MD, FAED, CEDS, breaks down the truth about weight stigma and pervasive – and inaccurate – stereotypes about those who are considered “overweight.” 
  • Can You Tell Anything By a Person's Weight? - Weight stigma hurts people of all sizes. Here are the most common traits associated with fatness and thinness, along with ways to challenge them. 
  • What is Prevention...and Does it Work? - Learn about the different types of prevention programs available and their effectiveness. 
  • Assisting Physicians in Eating Disorder Prevention - Physicians can make mistakes, too. These helpful tips will guide you through ways to influence your primary care doctors and other treatment providers.