Help! My Teenager Won’t Eat

Dear Selfless Esteem,
My teenage daughter won’t eat and says she’s not hungry.
I’m afraid she has an eating disorder. She’s so worried about gaining weight. She says she “feels fat” but she’s very thin.
Scared Dad

Dear Scared Dad,

It’s good you’re so attentive to your daughter that you notice potential red flags. Your concern does need some looking into. Read on for some suggestions of how to proceed. ☟

Use a Team Approach

Teenager won't eat

First of all, put together a team of professionals, starting with her pediatrician, who can give her a physical examination and may refer her to other service providers, such as a dietician. Then find a competent therapist, who can use techniques, such as a cognitive behavioral approach. The Eating Recovery Center offers a free assessment as well as information and resources.

Is there a co-parent or other adults in her life, who are willing to help? Is your family a member of a church, which is supportive and has a good youth group? The more people you have on your “team,” the less overwhelmed you will feel as a parent.

Strengthen Your Relationship

Your daughter may have been Daddy’s little girl, but teenagers start to individuate, which usually causes misunderstandings and arguments. On top of that, she has her own opinion about her weight. Consider having a family therapist facilitate discussions about this and other sensitive subjects. Also, you may be interested in this article, “Help Teens Build a Healthy Body Image,” by WebMD.

While it’s important to address this topic, it’s also important to pause and just enjoy each other’s company, whether it’s a simple, quick card game or a weekend YMCA family camp. This article, “50 Father-Daughter Bonding Ideas Your Teen Girl Will Love,” by Raising Teens Today, has some fun ideas, such as building something together and surprising her with concert tickets.

Take Care of Yourself

As you tend to your daughter’s needs, don’t neglect your own. Fatherhood is a tough job so take little mental breaks from parenting through a hobby or exercise. See the post, “6 Effective Ways to Manage Stress,” for details.

I recommend finding healthy outlets for your emotions, such as individual therapy, a support group, or journaling. (See the posts, “What is Wise Counsel and Good Therapy?” and “Why You Need a Therapist ASAP.”) This will reduce the chances of reacting with anger or anxiety when your teenager won’t eat, which could make matters worse.

Pray and Trust God

You expressed that you feel scared. Ask God for help and He will give you peace (Philippians 4:6-7). See the post, “Finding Hope in Difficult Times,” for details.

Isaiah 26:3 says, “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You because he trusts in You.” An example of this is when Peter was walking on the lake toward Jesus. (See Matthew 14:22-23.) When Peter saw the strong wind, he was afraid and started to sink. This story is a reminder of having faith in God and keeping our eyes on Him. For more details about focusing on God, see the posts, “Why Selfless Esteem Is Better Than Self-Esteem,”The Real Truth About God,” and “How To Pray in 5 Simple Steps.”

Thankfully, there’s hope because God loves you and your daughter so very much (John 3:16). Thus, He’s trustworthy to strengthen you, help you and uphold you with His hand (Isaiah 41:10). (•◡•) /

All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version®. Copyright © 1984 by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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  1. TC

    That was very helpful information regarding the Eating Recovery Center, Gina! I did not know such a place existed. So happy to hear about it, because eating disorders are so destructive and dangerous. 😔 Glad this Dad was attentive to his daughter, some don’t notice until a major health breakdown happens.

    1. Gina Leggio

      Thanks so much for your comment. Glory to God! Yes, it’s better to be safe than sorry by bringing youth to be assessed by professionals.

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