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Ask a Professional: My 13 year old is restricting food

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Ask a Professional: My 13 year old is restricting food

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Ask a Professional: My 13 year old is restricting food

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My 13-year-old daughter has begun food restriction for several weeks.

I feel so helpless. The doctor wants to medicate her, she refuses.

There must be more helpful things to do rather than medication?


Hi @Rainbow22 ,

Medication can be a helpful part of treatment for disordered eating, and is often used alongside other treatments like psychotherapy, nutrition management or family-based approaches. It’s not the only option and not everyone with an eating disorder needs to be on medication to recover.

Because eating disorders can be complex, often treatment will involve more than one health professional - for instance there might be a psychologist, GP and dietician. It’s great that you have already taken your daughter to see a doctor, and it looks like you have acted quite soon after noticing concerns, which is really encouraging.

I can understand how having your daughter refusing to take medication has left you feeling helpless. It’s really common for a person with an eating disorder to be reluctant to get help, and that’s where having health professionals who are knowledgeable about eating disorders is important. Not all psychologists or GPs will specialise in this area, but those who do will be familiar with teens feeling reluctant to engage and can help you work out how best you can support your daughter. The Butterfly Foundation which Maddy and Philippa mentioned has a search engine which allows you to look for professionals in your area who are specifically trained in eating disorders (or if you give them a call and they can have a chat with you about this).

Depending on your location, in addition to the Medicare-rebated sessions which Maddy mentioned, there may be programs for children with eating disorders available through your local public health service (if you contact your local Child and Adolescent Mental Health service or local hospital they will be able to direct you).

It’s pretty common for someone who is restricting food (or having other difficulties around food) to be also experiencing anxiety, depression or other concerns, so if you haven’t already had a chat with your daughter about this, it is a good idea to check in around how she is feeling in general. She may or may not want to talk about things right now, but just knowing that you support her and are there to listen is important.

Sometimes in this situation parents may feel the urge to reassure their child about their weight or appearance. This is really understandable, but it’s best not to focus on weight or appearance (even by saying something positive) as it may still be interpreted in a negative way and can encourage a preoccupation with weight and appearance. If you’re expressing concerns it’s better to focus on health and behaviour.

It can also be helpful to look for opportunities to provide positive feedback to your daughter in general. This can involve noticing things she does well, or positive qualities she has, and mentioning them in a way feels genuine and natural to you. I’m sure that this is something that you already do, but when someone is going through a tough time, making a specific effort to notice what they are doing well can be really meaningful.

Lastly, I want to just acknowledge that this is a tough situation, and encourage you to also look after yourself. This could be involve making sure you are taking time for self-care, talking to a friend, or reaching out to professional options (the Butterfly foundation provides support to carers too).

Best wishes,


Linda is a psychologist experienced in working with people across the lifespan, including teenagers and their families, in a variety of settings, and is ReachOut's Clinical Lead.