Care and Feeding

My Teen’s Healthy Habits Have Suddenly Changed. Should I Be Concerned?

I’m worried about body-shaming her or making her feel insecure about herself.

First-person view of a teenager lying across a couch with their feet, in low-top Chuck Taylors, propped on the armrest
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Dear Care and Feeding,

I have a 17-year-old daughter who is very thin. Her hip bones and collarbone stick out, and when she wears a sports bra, you can see her top two rib bones. She used to be very active and ran with her school’s running team for four years. She has since stopped running, and I noticed she’s started drinking pop more often, and her diet isn’t super healthy like it was when she was training.

I don’t want to body-shame her or make her feel insecure about herself, but should I be worried about her health? She looks healthy, and I don’t think she’s going to start gaining weight, but should I gently encourage her to start running again? How do I handle this decrease in exercise and nutrition?

—How to Handle Health

Dear HHH,

I have a lot of questions, and I think you should as well! Why did your daughter stop running? Was it a byproduct of COVID, or did she lose interest? What has she said about this either way?

What, if anything, is your daughter saying to you about her body? Does she ever comment on how she feels about it, how she looks in certain clothes? Does it take her hours to get ready because nothing “fits”? What sorts of images of other young women her age seem to capture her attention? Does she seem to find anything aspirational about being thin?

As far as the unhealthy diet, is she getting these items out of the family refrigerator, or does she purchase them on her own? Or both? Is she eating a normal amount of food, or does she seem to be skipping meals and subsisting on snacks? Does she seem to feel stuffed easily, or complain about certain meals being too filling, too fattening, etc., in a way that implies guilt or shame? Do you cook and purchase primarily healthy foods, foods that are both rich in nutritional value and tasty enough for a 17-year-old?

You need to better understand your daughter’s relationship to her body and to food. Talk to her. Also, if she hasn’t seen a doctor in the past year, it’s a good time for a checkup; you can find out if she’s taking in enough nutrients, and if not, how you can turn that around. Teenagers are notorious for making terrible dietary choices, but you can certainly make that harder by keeping certain foods in limited supply and others readily available.

No matter what you do, continue to be mindful about the potential for body shaming and creating insecurities where they do not already exist. No judgments—just thoughtful questions and encouragement. Sending you all the best.

—Jamilah