In military life, the word “normal” is just as foreign as the concept of being able to “plan” anything. In the world of a military teen, however, this can be problematic when trying to assess their overall mental and physical health or well-being.
For example, dealing with a deployed parent or the stress of moving all time is enough for anyone to lose their appetite every now and again, so how would a parent go about detecting abnormal eating behavior in their military teen?
Currently, there is very limited data suggesting military dependent teenagers may be at an increased risk for developing an eating disorder, and so far there has been no study comparing military teens to their civilian counterparts based on their eating habits. The closest one we’ve found was a 2015 study that compared overweight or obese military teens with civilian teens regarding “loss of control” eating.
The military teens in the study did report having more depressive symptoms and social adjustment issues than their civilian peers, and also reported having a greater disordered-eating habits.
But how can we, as their parents, tell if our military teen may be on the cusp of an eating disorder? Sure, there are some major red flags that anyone could notice, such as dramatic weight loss over a short period of time, bruising on their knuckles from throwing up when they go MIA after dinner, or excessive exercise. A quick internet search will show you numerous sites listing the official signs and symptoms from A-Z.
But what about the other warning signs that aren’t so clear cut? Here are a few ways our struggling teens may try to pull one over on us in the food department:
1. They’re wearing baggy clothes (and it’s NOT the “in” style)
Did your daughter ditch her jeggings for a pair of baggy sweatpants? Could you comfortably fit both of you into the gigantic t-shirt she’s been sporting? If this isn’t a new style (which, if it is, it shouldn’t be), she may be trying to hide the fact she’s had a massive weigh loss.
2. A pantry in their bedroom
Your teen may have hidden food in their room. I’m a firm believer of “sweeping” (literally and figuratively) my kids’ rooms weekly. It honestly wouldn’t surprise me to find random chip bags on their desk or a soda can in their drawer. But if I were to start finding a hoard of snacks, hidden wrappers in their socks, or an entire food pantry in their closet, I might start to wonder why. This is kind of a major sign of binge eating.
3. From human garbage disposal to picky eater
We all outgrow our favorite foods, or OD on them along the way. Our taste buds will always change over time, regardless of our age. But when you notice that ALL of your teen’s favorite foods have gone untouched for a while, you may want to inquire. If it’s just one or two types of foods they’re avoiding, there’s no need to push the subject. But if they stop eating ALL of their favorites at the same time…it’s time for the 3rd degree.
If you think your military teen might have an eating disorder, get them into their PCM as soon as possible. Not sure how to bring it up in conversation? You can always contact Military OneSource and speak to a specialist for advice. But did you know that there’s an eating disorder hotline? If you’re not sure how to bring it up to your military teen or want to know more about what you can do, the hotline will help you find the best resources specific to eating disorders. They’ll keep your call confidential and provide you with educational materials, support groups and even treatment options for your mil-teen.
Bottom line, we know our kids and when something is wrong, the mom and dad alarms go off without a hitch. If you feel something is off, it’s better to be over protective and be proven wrong.