Young Dancers Skipping Meals

My 13 year old daughter has always been a little on the bigger side but has recently lost a lot of weight, and seems to be skipping meals. What should I do, as she just gets angry at me whenever I say anything?

Many girls will begin to experiment with food intake around this age, for various reasons. Some hate the body changes that are beginning to manifest, especially if they have matured earlier than their friends, and see the growth of breasts and hips as putting on weight. Standing in front of a mirror in a skin-tight leotard is no easy task, especially when your body is coming up with new surprises overnight. Some girls have issues with classmates at school, and may be the subject of bullying. Some girls may also appear to “lose weight” rapidly with no change to their diet, if they have suddenly increased their hours of exercise,or had a recent growth spurt.

If you do have serious concerns about your daughters eating habits, please talk to a health professional trained in dealing with girls of this age for advice on how to approach the situation. Many girls are extremely defensive about their weight, so subtle techniques are often more effective than direct confrontation. Instead of confronting your daughter about her eating, look to see if there is anything else bothering her. She may be stressed over recent assignments or exams, or be having problems with peers at school. If you have never had a close relationship, this is not the time to push for one, but just let her know that you love her and that she can talk to you, which will help take the pressure off. Try not to do this in a loaded way, for example “You know if you want to talk to me about anything, you know that I am here” usually is translated by a teenage mind to “I know something is wrong and I want you to tell me about it”. Instead, try to relate to her as an adult (despite how she acts at times) in other areas, and discuss wider issues with her. Once she feels that you are accepting her as an adult, she may come to you about other issues more readily. If you continue to treat her like a child, she will often feel that she is not understood, and will turn to others, or within, to deal with her issues.

If she admits that she is scared of putting on weight, or of being fat, try not to comfort her with “but Darling, we love you the way you are” or “You don’t have to be skinny to be beautiful”. While these comments may be very true, it may give her the message (in teenage translation terms) that “Yes, you are fat” and “You cannot change how big you are”. Neither of these is very helpful to the self tormented adolescent mind! Instead, ask her why she feels such things, and ask if she would like to learn more about how to look after her body. She may agree to go with you to a nutritionist to discuss the types of foods that are best for her, or help you find books on healthy eating at your local library. Approach it as a team effort that the whole family is involved in, and treat it as a health awareness exercise rather than a weight control issue.

Encourage her to be involved in food preparation and planning of her own diet. Becoming interested in the value of food, and different ways of preparation can be very helpful in giving her tools to eat healthily. If you feel that you don’t know how to cook certain foods, or prepare foods in healthy ways, consider doing a healthy cooking course (either just you or together) at a local evening class. Getting interested in a different nationalities cuisine, especially if there is the option of visiting that country in the future, can be a great way to explore food in a fun way.

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