Preventing Eating Disorders in Teens

by | Eating Disorder Recovery

Being a teenager is hard. Parenting a teenager is hard. Additionally, the loudness of diet culture doesn’t make either any easier. For instance, it can be challenging to know how to address food and body concerns with a teen. Or what to do to help prevent food and body struggles. Regardless of how hard we try, we aren’t perfect. Here are some tips that can help in preventing eating disorders in teens.


Don’t talk about their body, your body, or any body.

There is no right way to have a body. Bottom line: every body is worthy of food, love, care and respect. No matter what shape, size, or color it is. When parents talk about their bodies in a negative light, teens notice. Ultimately, this can lead to them thinking negatively about their own bodies. Even positive body comments can lead to teens associating their appearance with their worth. The way your teenager looks is one of the least interesting things about them. Try giving your teen non-appearance based compliments. Something like, “You always make me laugh.” Or “You are an incredible friend.” Or “ You are so smart.” When they view their worth apart from what their body looks like, this can aid in preventing eating disorders in teens.

Food is more than calories and nutrients

Yes, food gives us energy. Yes, food has nutrients. However, food is also so much more than that. It is a celebration, culture, tradition. It is joy and social. Food is something that should be enjoyed. All food provides nutrients. Your teen’s body knows exactly what to do with the food it’s given. Labeling food as “good” or “bad” can increase stress at meal times. In turn, this increases the chance of your teen developing an eating disorder. Struggling with how to talk to your teen about food? Or noticing rigidity around food? Reach out to an eating disorder dietitian for guidance. We have a wonderful team of them here at Courage to Nourish. We are also accepting new clients. 

Keep a variety of foods in the house

Restricting foods increases the risk of developing an eating disorder. Even if it’s in the name of “health”. Therefore, keep a variety of foods in the house. From berries and asparagus. To chips and ice cream. And everything in between. If your teen is requesting a specific snack. Buy it. If your teen is asking for dessert daily. Allow it. More harm will be caused by setting rules around these foods. Than allowing your teen to eat said foods.

Food does not need to be earned. And movement should be enjoyable.

Lots of teens are involved in sports. Or some kind of active extra curricular activity. And with those activities, come conversations about food and bodies. Exercise is not necessary to be able to eat. There is no “perfect” weight that makes someone good at an activity. Eating enough food is critical to being able to perform well in said activity. Additionally, it will help decrease risk of injuries. Focus on your teen’s skills and performance. Rather than their body size or shape. Practice and training lead to improvements in performance. Not shrinking your body. Before signing your teen up for an activity. Ask if it is something they want to do. And enjoy doing. The best form of movement is one that they enjoy. And it’s totally okay if movement is not a part of your teens daily life. 

Take the focus off of weight

Weight does not equal health. Period. You cannot tell how healthy or unhealthy a person is by looking at their weight. It simply tells you a person’s relationship with gravity. Other measures are much better indicators of health. Such as eating enough food. Eating a variety of foods. Getting regular health check ups. Moving (or resting) your body as appropriate. Behaviors impact health. And weight is not a behavior. Your teen is so much more than their weight. And their weight does not define them. Or their abilities. Or what they are able to achieve. 

Advocate for your teen

Teenagers have increased independence. But they can still benefit from parent support. You are always your teen’s biggest fan and number one supporter. There are several ways to advocate for your teen to help prevent an eating disorder.

  • Ask for blind weights at the doctor’s office. And do not let the doctor discuss weight with your teen.
  • Talk to family ahead of time and ask them to not make food/body comments
  • Put a stop to food and body conversations in your household
  • If a health care provider recommends a diet for your teen, reach out to an eating disorder dietitian for a second opinion and support.

Love them through it

It is second nature to want to fix your teens’ struggles. And often that isn’t what they need. The best thing you can do for your teenager. Whether they’re struggling with food and body image or not. Is to love them. Support them. Validate them. And be there for them. You won’t always have all the answers. And that’s okay. No one is better at being their parents/caregiver than you are. And it is okay to ask for help.  Providing your teen with resources. And access to an eating disorder dietitian. And a therapist. Can make a positive impact on your child’s relationship with food and help in preventing eating disorders in teens.

How Courage to Nourish Can Help

At Courage to Nourish our team of eating disorder dietitians are trained to help people from all backgrounds, including students, develop a more positive relationship with food. In addition to providing one-on-one counseling with clients, we offer family counseling and have several support groups to help guide those with loved ones suffering from an eating disorder. If a student is suffering from an eating disorder, but the student’s family isn’t sure how to proceed, we offer consults to help develop treatment plans. We also have numerous handouts and blog posts posted on our website that can serve as valuable resources for learning more about eating disorders and treatment options.

Office Locations

Courage to Nourish is a group of eating disorder specialized dietitians. We have in person locations in Alexandria, Virginia, Columbia, Maryland. and College Park, Maryland. We offer virtual services across the state of Maryland. Virginia, Washington DC. Pennsylvania, and Colorado. We offer individual nutrition therapy. As well as support groups. We would love to guide you in building a better relationship with food.

Contact us for more information. And to schedule a discovery call. Also, sign up for our client or clinician newsletter!

kathryn karukas

Kathyrn Karukas, MS, RD, LD

Kathryn is a weight-inclusive, anti-diet eating disorder dietitian at Courage to Nourish. She specializes in working with adolescents and families, athletes, and individuals recovering from ARFID. Kathryn sees clients in person at the Columbia, Maryland office and virtually throughout Virginia, Pennsylvania, DC, and Maryland. To schedule a discovery call with Kathryn, click here.

registered dietitian for eating disorders


The Body Image Workbook