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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    How can we help our 12 year old daughter manage her eating problem?

    My 12 year old daughter weighs over 80kgs, she is about 5'3. Food has become a real issue in the house over the years. We have tried educating her about healthy choices. We limit the number of sugar/fat treats (haven't taken them away completely).

    The problem is she just constantly eats. When we leave her alone for a few minutes, we come back and she is eating. We find wrappers in her room hidden in cupboards. She gets defensive if we try to take food off her. We have tried various ways to encourage her to slow down with her eating. Recently, we told her she could have a lizard if she lost 5 kgs, (she really wants a lizard). She lost 3 in four weeks and then all of a sudden just started over eating again. She is very upset. She gets bullied at school. The other day she didnt want to get out of the car because she felt fat. I try to make her feel good about herself, but I'm worried she is going to become seriously ill and she can't seem to stop. What can I do?
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    Alysha Coleman

    Clinical Psychologist, Counsellor, Psychologist

    Alysha is the Primary Clinical Psychologist and Director of The Institute for Healthy Living, a clinical psychology practice in Bondi Junction. Alysha has worked with … View Profile

    It sounds like your daughter is having a very difficult time. From your general description, it sounds like your daughter's eating may be driven by two things: conditioned habits and emotional distress. In other words, food has become a source of comfort. 

    Putting your daughter on a diet or restructing her intake will not solve her difficulties. She needs to make changes at a deeper level. I can see that there are a number of complex factors interacting. For example, being bullied and not feeling good about herself are likely triggering and strengthening her tendency to overeat. 

    An important starting point is having your daughter connect with a warm and understanding Psychologist who can help her to learn psychological tools to take back control of her body and emotions. Research shows the clear role that thinking and emotions play in gaining and losing weight. Your daughter will greatly benefit from understanding what leads her to eat, and how she can make healthier choices for herself. 

    This is an area I help many people with. Please do get in touch if you have more questions. I wish you and your daughter all the best

  • I think the best place to start is your GP who can help you with a comprehensive plan to help your daughter's health and mental wellbeing.
    There are a number of healthcare professionals which your GP may recommend but I agree that support for mental health and wellness will be very important. However I also find that teenagers often have a distorted idea of what a healthy diet is and set themselves up to fail with unrealistic goals and dietary practices. Help with this may be valuable for your daughter also
    Headspace is a good place also
    This is for teenagers aged 12-25 years. The cost of this can be picked up by Medicare if a Plan is written by your GP . This organisation can also help you as parents during this time.

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