Boys have eating problems, too

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  June 15, 2012 06:00 AM

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I am the mother of a 13-14 year old whose diet is not terribly good. I am very worried that he is underweight and whilst I see his school friends shooting up, he still seems very small. When I ask him to try other foods, he just shrugs and avoids conversations about foods. I feel sad that he isn't trying new stuff and worry for his future. What should I do?

From: Joann, Paignton, UK


Dear Joanne,

Have you checked with his doc to make sure this isn't a medical growth issue?

Have you considered that
boys can get anorexia, too? Consider whether this is disordered eating that could lead to an eating disorder, or whether it's just that he's got picky taste. The most likely profile for a boy who has an eating disorder is a teen who is trying to make weight in a sport, or an over-achiever who is anxious to please.

Has he been a picky eater always? That would speak to issues of food texture, food color and taste. If this is a new development, it speaks more to a teenager wanting control over his life. Is it possible he feels you are smothering, treating him more like a little kid than the teen he is?

I suggest conversations with your son. Make "I" statements ("I worry about your weight...."), not "You" statements ("You don't eat enough...." "You don't try new things..."). Ask questions: Does he worry about his size and weight? Does he get picked on because of it? Would he like help with learning how to eat a more nutritional diet? Is he aware that eating issues are not just a girl thing? He may be more responsive to a dietician than he will be to you.

I hope we get comments/advice from men/dads who have had eating issues and from parents of boys who do.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
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5 comments so far...
  1. I am no doctor but I don't think this boy not "shooting up" like his friends has much to do with his diet. He just hasn't hit his growth spurt yet.

    If you want him to have a more nutritious diet, focus on that. Don't make it about him not growing when he can't do anything about that. You will likely make him feel self conscious about being smaller than his peers.

    If the doctor has concerns, that's another story. But this sounds like a mom worrying somewhat needlessly.

    My son is the same age and was, until the last year, among the taller kids his age. Now he is smaller. Our doctor says that starting puberty later means it goes on longer and he'll end up taller than all the kids who are ahead of him now. Since his dad is 6'4", I won't be surprised!

    Posted by ActonMom June 15, 12 09:24 AM
  1. I'm usually not in favor of the "I" statement gambit...often it's used as a way to pretend one is not criticizing another person when one clearly is. But here an "I" statement is perfect. It will show that this is about you, not him.

    Posted by di June 15, 12 05:38 PM
  1. While your son may be slightly young for this issue to manifest this way, it is possible that your son is gay and the undereating is due to a body image/body comparison issue....

    A friend of mine is in a counseling profession and has said to me that the only teenaged boys he personally has counseled that have eating issues involving undereating have been gay.

    Posted by steve in w ma June 16, 12 06:36 PM
  1. Its never good to paint with too broad a brush, but I think that the previous commenter (steve in w ma) does have a valid point. Aside from the occasional wrestler, the only boys I've ever known who had serious undereating disorder were gay and facing self-esteem and body image issues. Is it any wonder, after seeing the near-porn at stores like Abercrombie and Fitch? Boys are now being bombarded with the same plasticine air-brushed images that girls have dealt with for the past 30 years.

    Posted by Frederick June 17, 12 10:25 PM
  1. "The only boys with eating disorders are gay..."

    Are you serious? What a short-sighted, ill-informed statement. I'm sure that attitude helps to keep heterosexual boys with eating disorders from seeking help.

    I couldn't let this discussion thread end on your comments without anyone challenging them. Like many other emotional disorders, boys are more apt to hide things and parents are less likely to focus on it where their boys are concerned. But they do exist. Regardless of their sons' sexuality.

    Good grief!

    Posted by just cause June 20, 12 01:20 PM
 
5 comments so far...
  1. I am no doctor but I don't think this boy not "shooting up" like his friends has much to do with his diet. He just hasn't hit his growth spurt yet.

    If you want him to have a more nutritious diet, focus on that. Don't make it about him not growing when he can't do anything about that. You will likely make him feel self conscious about being smaller than his peers.

    If the doctor has concerns, that's another story. But this sounds like a mom worrying somewhat needlessly.

    My son is the same age and was, until the last year, among the taller kids his age. Now he is smaller. Our doctor says that starting puberty later means it goes on longer and he'll end up taller than all the kids who are ahead of him now. Since his dad is 6'4", I won't be surprised!

    Posted by ActonMom June 15, 12 09:24 AM
  1. I'm usually not in favor of the "I" statement gambit...often it's used as a way to pretend one is not criticizing another person when one clearly is. But here an "I" statement is perfect. It will show that this is about you, not him.

    Posted by di June 15, 12 05:38 PM
  1. While your son may be slightly young for this issue to manifest this way, it is possible that your son is gay and the undereating is due to a body image/body comparison issue....

    A friend of mine is in a counseling profession and has said to me that the only teenaged boys he personally has counseled that have eating issues involving undereating have been gay.

    Posted by steve in w ma June 16, 12 06:36 PM
  1. Its never good to paint with too broad a brush, but I think that the previous commenter (steve in w ma) does have a valid point. Aside from the occasional wrestler, the only boys I've ever known who had serious undereating disorder were gay and facing self-esteem and body image issues. Is it any wonder, after seeing the near-porn at stores like Abercrombie and Fitch? Boys are now being bombarded with the same plasticine air-brushed images that girls have dealt with for the past 30 years.

    Posted by Frederick June 17, 12 10:25 PM
  1. "The only boys with eating disorders are gay..."

    Are you serious? What a short-sighted, ill-informed statement. I'm sure that attitude helps to keep heterosexual boys with eating disorders from seeking help.

    I couldn't let this discussion thread end on your comments without anyone challenging them. Like many other emotional disorders, boys are more apt to hide things and parents are less likely to focus on it where their boys are concerned. But they do exist. Regardless of their sons' sexuality.

    Good grief!

    Posted by just cause June 20, 12 01:20 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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