It's Starting: My Tween Wants to Diet

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What happened to your carefree little girl who would chow down happily on ice cream while also eyeing that brownie? You knew it was coming…maybe it came for you as well many years ago. But, maybe your feeling like it’s a little too early for your daughter? When girls start hitting that age around 10, 11 and 12, they start to notice their bodies are changing. They grow and mature a little bit differently from their friends. Things are starting to shift. And, it’s probably super scary for them. They want to put themselves into the drivers seat and control what they can about their bodies.

Around this age, you may start to notice your daughter eating a little bit less at dinner time. Or perhaps asking for salad or “no bread” with their dinner. Don’t freak just yet. Take a deep breath and then take a few days to really monitor her eating habits. Ask yourself whether or not she is eating enough, does she seem hungry, does she seem withdrawn, is she talking to you about her new lifestyle, etc.? If you are noticing some unhealthy behaviors, read more about possible warning signs and what to do here.

If you are noticing that your tween is more confused with how to deal with this new phase of life, then it’s time to mentally prepare yourself on how to parent through this phase. Regardless of how beautiful and perfect you feel that your daughter is, you need to put yourself in her shoes for a minute to understand how she is feeling. It’s time for you to get real about food, bodies, and help her develop healthy eating habits to set her up with a good relationship with food throughout her life, because this will set the stage for her long terms. Scared? We don’t blame you, but you can do this.

1.       Focus on eating to fuel their growing bodies. You child needs to understand that this is normal – her body is growing and changing and if you haven’t yet had “the talk”, then get down to it. Since the focus here is food and nutrition, the main goal is to help her understand that food is a vital part of life to help her body function properly and grow as she should be growing.

Dr. Kathleen Hart, a licensed psychologist specializing in the treatment of eating disorders recommends using “I” statements. She suggests saying something like, “I noticed that you've been skipping breakfast in the mornings. What’s changed that you’re not having breakfast anymore before school?” After your child responds, you can add, “I’m concerned that you’re not getting enough fuel in the morning.” “By directly expressing your concerns about your child’s eating patterns, you’re letting your teenager know that you're paying attention and noticing them,” explains Dr. Hart. “It’s like planting a seed in your teen’s mind that may later germinate and that they too, need to be aware about how they are fueling themselves throughout the day.”

2.       Eat together as a family. We know you’ve heard this before and with today’s crazy busy schedule, eating together every night as a family is beyond tough, but make it a point for either you or your partner to be in the vicinity when she is eating dinner. A few things here – notice her eating habits and keep an eye on things if you do start to suspect eating disorders. And, also it is very important to eat together to showcase your own habits and enjoy the food together. It may be a good time to introduce new food varieties and focus on the flavors, or get your daughter involved in cooking dinner herself to help put her in control of what everyone is eating. Overall, make it a priority to spend mealtimes together.

3.       Avoid your instinct to freak out and instead spend quality time together. As a parent, it can be super easy to freak out, but that can scare your daughter even more into possibly hiding her habits or withdrawing completely. Put aside everything and make a point to spend quality time together. Whether it’s making a point to do something active, like play tennis or go for a walk or even just hang out and go shopping, you want to strengthen your bond as much as you can at this point so that your daughter can feel comfortable talking to you in the future if and when things do get harder and she really needs you. She needs to feel as though she can rely on you (without freak outs!).

4.       Educate on eating disorders. It might not seem like the right time to talk about what happens when people do get very thin. However, helping your daughter understand the dangers of eating disorders is very important at this point. They need to understand how dieting can become a compulsion and how dangerous it can be, leading to life-threating circumstances and even death. The more aware they are of how this affects them in the future is critical to understanding how they can live their best life both now and in the future.

If you’re thinking that this is more then just a phase and could be dangerous, read more in “I think my child may have an eating disorder.” For more resources on eating disorders, visit the resources section of our website or also information from NationalEatingDisorders.org.


Written by Phase2Parenting


PLEASE NOTE: The writers of this article are not medical professionals. The information in this column is not intended and should not be construed as providing medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information and provide a perspective to better understand the lives of themselves and their children. Articles on this website may be opinion based. The articles are not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist, psychotherapist or other licensed medical professional. If you do have health or safety concerns, please get in touch with a healthcare professional.