Is Food Making My Teen Anxious?

There are different ways food can make teens anxious. Often times food-related anxiety is is linked to body image issues and poor self-esteem. Teens can overeat, causing them to develop a compulsive (binge) eating disorder; or they can eat too little, causing anorexia or bulimia.

No matter which type of issue their anxiety manifests as, it’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms and know how to help them through.

Here are some common signs your teen may have an eating disorder:

  • Change in eating habits
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Binge eating
  • Throwing up after eating
  • Extreme weight gain or loss
  • Lethargic and tired
  • Eating without the family/in secret
  • Excessive exercising
  • Withdrawn

Of course, these symptoms are not something to obsess about—many teens will exhibit some of these things from time to time. Rather, be observant and watch for patterns and seek help if needed

In fact, it is not known for sure what causes eating disorders but, reassuringly, they can be treated and managed. Treatment should be sought out early to prevent these disorders from causing other medical issues and mental illness. If you have reason to believe your teen has an eating disorder or poor relationship with food, talk to them in a calm and caring way, and make sure to listen to them, according to the University of Michigan Health System—approaching the with compassion and sympathy will more likely allow for a conversation. Also know that your teen probably feels ashamed of their eating habits and may not want to talk right away. Be patient with them and seek medical help if necessary.

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Image: Mizina Oksana

If you have reason to believe your teen has an eating disorder, educate yourself on the dangers of over- and under-eating. Chances are your teen is too scared to ask for help if they are having food-related anxiety, so it is best to confront them, even if you are nervous or worried you’ll offend them. Rather than commenting on how they look, tell them you’re concerned for their health and focus on feelings and relationships. Your teen may be defensive or angry if this is the first time they have been confronted about their food-related anxiety but it is still important to talk to them and to seek medical help from a doctor and counsellor.

Our relationship with food can be complex at any age. Because of the prevalence of eating disorders and pressures on people of all ages to look a certain way, it’s important to have an understanding of the symptoms when you see them and the right approach when discussing over- and under-eating. This can allow you to help your teen when they’re in need.

Featured image Ursula Ferrara/Shutterstock