From Eating Disorder to Isolation

anorexia, eating disorders, bulimia, teen health, teen girlsNicole is a 16-year-old from Philadelphia, PA. She loves music and can often be found singing or
playing the piano or guitar, but largely focuses on academics as well with aspirations to one day be
an editor or journalist.                  


Arguments, emotions, and worries about the future can all break down the bonds of what may be even the strongest of relationships. Deceit, shame, and anger may further widen the gap between people who may think they know everything about each other. Unfortunately, all of these things are common feelings, battles, or results of an eating disorder. And even more unfortunately, they consistently lead to the downfall of even the most precious of relationships- parent and child. How does a child that is a victim of an eating disorder cope with this? Isolation. It is often forgotten that there are many symptoms to an eating disorder that have little to no relation to food. Isolationism is one of them.
When I fell into my eating disorder, I didn’t realize that I was isolating myself until one of my doctors told me that it was a very common symptom of my disease. All of a sudden I started noticing myself becoming more and more distant from others, specifically my family. I spoke less and less around my mother and father. Family game night became a thing of the past. Even the littlest of things, such as sitting together on the same couch to watch TV, no longer occurred. I was on auto-pilot every time I entered my house– I would make a beeline straight to my room. I couldn’t bear to be around people whom I felt I no longer had any sort of connection with.
To put into words the suffering one goes through when fighting an eating disorder is nearly impossible. As a mother or a father, this experience may be somewhat relatable to trying to explain to a child how much you love them. In the end, the explanation often comes down to “you’ll understand when you’re a parent”, for no words can truly convey to your child exactly how you feel for they have not yet shared your experience of having a child of their own. However, when attempting to convey the brutal misery of a disease such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge-eating, a sufferer cannot simply state “you’ll understand when you have an eating disorder.” More often than not, they cannot convey their despair at all. This failure to have someone understand, this inability of others to relate to them, causes the victims to feel further alienated from everyone around them. Thus, the isolation beings and will continue to be fueled as the disorder digs deeper and deeper into the mind of the victim.
In my personal experience, what drove my need to isolate myself at home was my unexplained anger (later explained during family therapy sessions while I was in treatment) towards my parents. I learned that the only way to temporarily ease my frustration directed at them was to completely avoid them altogether. Thus, my malicious anger created even more distance between me and my family, subtly fueling my need for isolation.
One day, on the way home from a doctor’s appointment distended with bad news, my mom and I got into a severely heated argument. It reached the point where I was almost sure that passengers in the cars next to us on the highway could hear word for word my mother’s frantic attempts at reasoning with me and my hopeless retaliation of why I felt I could not change. After I had tried in so many ways but repeatedly failed to have my mother comprehend my struggle, I could do nothing more than desperately cry, “You won’t ever understand.” My mother’s reply was something I’ll never forget: “You’re right, I won’t, and I don’t know what to do.” These few words, this honest truth, restored threads of our relationship that had been long lost. For so long she had felt that as a mother it was her duty to stay strong, to appear as if she knew what the right thing to do was. But her tearful and helpless honesty had exposed a vulnerability that I could so easily relate to. We were now both completely open with each other, and through this we realized that we were just as lost as the other, not knowing how to cope with this disease that was slowly but surely plaguing our entire family.  Although our relationship had long been shattered by continuous fights and tears, the fragments were still there, waiting to be picked up and put back in place.
It was after this bout of honesty that I realized that although my parents could not understand exactly what I was going through, this didn’t mean that we could no longer connect. Although the struggle of a child with an eating disorder is very different from the struggle the parent of the suffering child faces, both the child and the parents are fighting against the same thing. As a parent, it is important to remind your child that you are fighting this disease together. Be honest and open about how you feel, and through this prevent isolation by maintaining threads of your relationship with your child. What they need most is to know that you are just as vulnerable as they are. It’s okay if you do not know what to do next, or how to “fix” the problem, what matters is that you still find ways to connect with your son or daughter.

An Interview With A Diabetic Teen: Food Police, Glucose Tablets, Insulin Shots

diabetes, insulin, doctor, teen health, bullyingGabriele is a 17-year-old aspiring writer from Jacksonville, FL.  She loves the wit of Charles Dickens, the smell of sharpened pencils, and the charm of coffee shops. She lives her life by a Benjamin Franklin quote: “If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write the things worth reading or do the things worth writing.”

We wanted to go to the lake. We were in Georgia—hot, humid, hollow. The summer dragged on and we craved the cooling care of water. We prayed for breezes that would sift through our hair. We desired the laughter of small children when they discovered how splashing annoys adults and we paraded our decision to visit the overvalued body of water that very day when we had absolutely nothing to do. Our plan was unfaltering. We wanted to go to the lake.

“After the doctor.” My best friend, Brandi, was supposed to go to the doctor that day. “After the doctor we can go to the lake.”

We grudgingly accepted only because we were ten years old and the law required us to do so. It was a doctor’s visit we would never forget.

Brandi had a blood sugar level of 500, which would have sent her into a coma had we gone to the lake that day. We did not believe the doctor, but it was true all the same: Brandi had type 1 diabetes.

It was a struggle the next few weeks with Brandi in the hospital learning how to cope with her newly diagnosed diabetes. Nobody really knew how to react. We didn’t want to believe that her life would never be the same.

Brandi is eighteen years old now and her and her parents have learned how to make a new “normal” of living their everyday lives with diabetes. Through their journey, they have learned about themselves, diabetes, and their relationships. I had the opportunity to sit down with Brandi and her mother, Denise, to ask them a few questions. I hope their answers are helpful to teenagers and parents who are trying to cope with diabetes.

Brandi’s Interview:

Describe the main symptoms of diabetes.

Symptoms can vary from person to person, but the ones I’ve heard of most are having to use the bathroom a lot, eating a ton of food and still losing weight, and drinking a lot. I had all three of those.

What advice would you give to parents who have teenagers diagnosed with diabetes?

I would say don’t freak out. Don’t try to take too much control over your kid’s diabetes, because in a few years when they move out, you won’t be there to help them. The teenage years is when the kid really needs to have as much control as possible so they’ll know how to manage in college.

What can parents do to make the transition to being diagnosed with diabetes easier?

I don’t know that there’s a lot that you can do. It’s a HUGE change, and sometimes it’s really hard. I think the only thing you can do is learn all you can so you can answer their questions and just be supportive. Remember that they can do ANYTHING they want, with or without diabetes. For example, Chris Freeman is a type 1 diabetic on the American Olympic ski team, and Will Cross is a type 1 diabetic who climbed Mount Everest. They’ve proven that diabetics does not limit them in what they can do.

What are your biggest pet peeves when it comes to other people and your diabetes?

Definitely when people tell me what I can and can’t do or eat. I’m always hearing “oh are you SURE you can eat that?” I’d like to just say “um. Believe it or not, I do eat food. By myself. Without your help. Stop policing my food, please.” But I think I’d get in trouble…so I’ll settle for the simple reply of “yes, I can eat this.”

Describe the bullying you went through. How can parents help their teens who are being bullied for their diagnosis?

I was bullied for diabetes since my first year of public school in 7th grade. The kids would tell me things like my insulin pump site looked nasty, or when I’d check my blood sugar they’d tell me it’s disgusting and to go somewhere else. I still get some of these comments. For instance, just recently I had to take an insulin shot in chorus and half the class totally freaked out. Even the teacher told me to not do that in class again. It’s really hard, and most kids don’t feel comfortable talking about it with their parents. Again, all you can do is be supportive and let them know that they really aren’t that different. What helped me more than anything was finding diabetics who are older than me so I had someone to look up to. My friend Bethany is a few years older than me and has probably been diabetic as long as I’ve been alive. When I was a little younger, I could look up to her and think “Hey, this isn’t so bad. Look, Bethany can do it.  And Bethany looks like everyone else, which means I must not stick out as much as I think I do. If she can do it, so can I.”

Why and how did you train your diabetes alert dog?

I learned about diabetes alert dogs my first year of Camp Kudzu, a program in Georgia for children with type 1 diabetes. I think I was about twelve years old. Years later, I trained my dog, Clank, because I stopped feeling the symptoms of blood sugar highs and lows. I had learned how to train a service dog from a friend of mine that’s a professional diabetes alert dog trainer who had also given me my first dog.  It was too expensive to make a trip to where she is to get another dog, so I had to train my own. I had already had Clank since he was a tiny puppy. When I needed him to go to work, he was four years old. I took a rag and rubbed it on me when my blood sugar went low. Then when it went back up to normal, I hid the rag in one hand and showed both hands to Clank. When he found the rag hidden in one hand, I gave him a treat. We did a few more “games” like this until he could alert me when my blood sugar really was changing. Please note that diabetes alert dogs are only for those of us that can’t feel blood sugar highs and lows, or for small children whose parents may not be able to tell when their kid is having a blood sugar problem. Not everyone has the ability and patience to train one of these dogs and not every dog is suitable for the job. If you’re a candidate for a diabetes alert dog, I would recommend working with a professional trainer before attempting to train your own dog.

What would you say to teenagers who are struggling with diabetes?

Hang in there and don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are tons of diabetes networking websites where you can find other diabetics who can answer your questions. Also, don’t be afraid to try something new because you’re afraid of how it’ll affect your blood sugar. I’ve played volleyball with diabetes. I ride horses with my pump. I run half a mile most days in the summer with diabetes. It’ll take time to figure out how everything will affect your blood sugar, but that’s okay. Take your time.  It’ll be worth it in the end. Just do what you love to do and don’t let diabetes get in your way. The last thing I’d say to them is sometimes it is helpful to pick one or two friends to help you out. My friend Alyssa has learned how to check my blood sugar, use my pump, give me shots, and just in case I ever go super low and go unconscious, she knows how to use my glucagon kit. When my blood sugar shoots over 300, sometimes I’ll feel it. If Alyssa is there, I can have her check and treat my blood sugar for me. It gives me a small break and that makes life SO much easier. Plus I know that if anything ever happens while she’s around, she’ll be able to take care of it.


Denise’s Interview:

Describe what was going through your head when you found out your daughter was diagnosed with diabetes.

Denial first. They just had to be wrong. We even took her to another hospital after she was released and having problems. It was just overwhelming not knowing anything about diabetes. Not knowing how this was going to affect her for the rest of her life. And just the fear of doing something wrong that would cause great harm to her. Absolute panic.

How did you learn about the disease?

It just takes time. You can’t sit down and absorb everything overnight. You can’t read a book and have a good understanding of it. It literally has to be something that you walk out day by day and learn as you go. All diabetics are different and respond to treatment differently. Diabetes is just one of those things everybody thinks they are an authority on. They also treat all diabetes types the same and they’re just not the same at all. We’ve often wished they would have named them two completely different things.

What would you have changed if you could go back and do this process again?

I guess I wish we wouldn’t have felt the need to explain to everybody so they wouldn’t treat her improperly. The goal was to educate people so they don’t “police” her food, so they don’t respond to her out of misunderstanding in a negative way. It makes it hard for her because she doesn’t want to be singled out with a neon sign over her head saying “I’m a diabetic.” It’s a fine line because you don’t want people hurting your child either.

What supplies do you need?

You have to have insulin and a way to administer the insulin. You need needles no matter what. You may choose the option of a pump, pen, or shots. You need glucose tablets to bring the blood sugar up. You need a way to test for ketones whether that’s through urine strips or blood strips. You need a meter to test the blood sugar and test trips for the meter. Alcohol pads are nice to sterilize the skin for the pump site. You have to have to have a glucagon kit. You need a lancet device. You need a medication to keep you from vomiting when you’re sick (anti nausea medication). You can find it all in the pharmacy and an online medical supply service that mails you your supplies.


What advice would you give to parents?

The biggest advice is to try to stay on top of it in the background. Don’t overwhelm them with all the little details. Some teenagers go through it when they just don’t want to be diabetic anymore. They’ll quit giving themselves insulin because they don’t want to deal with it. In that instance, you do need to stay on top of it because that can cause them serious harm. But if they are handling it well the best thing to do is be encouraging and stay in the background because they’re thinking about it more than you could ever imagine.

What is the biggest mistake parents often make?

Baby them and try to do everything for them all the time because they feel sorry for them. Eventually they’re going to have to be on their own and do it themselves.  Nagging is another. Nagging only overwhelms them and makes the situation worse. Pick a day of the week to sit down and go over what the numbers are for the week and fax in or if your doctor allows make the corrections. Due to hormones in the body you don’t just set it and forget it. It always has to be tweaked to keep up with what the body is doing. Complications may arise. Brandi became hypoglycemic unaware. She can no longer feel the highs and lows, which makes it more dangerous. We needed a solution to keep her safe. Instead of a CGMS (Continues Glucose Monitoring System) which would be another thing sticking in her she chose a service dog. Make as many of the decisions that you can their choice. They have to live with it. For your sanity, have someone to talk to and vent to. They don’t have to have a degree just a sympathetic ear.

What would you say to parents who have diabetic teenagers moving away from home?

Trust that you have prepared them for the journey and just let them know that you’re always going to be there as a support that they can fall back on but allow them to go ahead and stand on their own feet. Make a plan for how they’re going to get their supplies and everything they’re going to need while they are in college so there’s no danger in them running out. Make sure the staff is informed of their condition also. It’s good for them to have a friend or roommate that can help out in an emergency.

How do you deal with other siblings involved?

Talk to the other children about it. Let them know that the child with diabetes does not always get a positive type of attention and that they hate having the disease. If they’re willing to get involved and learn, let them do it. Let them be a part of the process, even if it’s just by being able to detect when there may be a blood sugar low.

Anything else you’d like to add?

It’s always going to be a struggle. They’re going to be upset with you because they feel that sometimes you embarrass them or you’re invading their space too much and that’s just part of the process. Try to be as loving and understanding as possible but also informed. Should a serious event arise, like if she’s been running in the 3,00s all day, you don’t want something like that to continue.


Photo Credit: Jill A. Brown from Flickr

Orthorexia: New Teen Trend

August is a fifteen year old girl who has lived in Maryland most of her life. She loves writing and music, her favorite subject is Science, and she’s a vegetarian. She wants to become a journalist and is working as hard as she can towards this goal.


Vanessa: What is orthorexia?

Answer:  Orthorexia, simply put, is the unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. The goal of orthorexia is not to lose weight or be thin, but to improve eating habits and have a healthier lifestyle. Though it may sound like a made up condition it is a real process affecting many different types of people. Orthorexia may begin as a desire to lose weight, go vegetarian or vegan, or simply to improve one’s health. It then evolves into orthorexia when individual begins cutting out other types of food in fear of ingesting artificial ingredients, such as colorings and flavorings, or because of uncertainty of food quality. Orthorexia may be so severe that the individual may eat only certain foods that they have prepared themselves.1


Vanessa: Why is this a concern?

Answer:  Orthorexic’s lives revolve around the foods they eat. Orthorexics tend to plan their lives around food and may isolate themselves from any social setting. Orthorexics also lose the ability to eat naturally and are often unaware that they are hungry, but instead only know that they need to eat and when, this behavior will more often than not result in malnourishment.2 In some cases orthorexia may lead to a more severe eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia.1


Vanessa: How is it affecting teenagers?

Answer:  Teens and young women are the highest risk of developing any eating disorder as they tend to be the ones who are expected to live up to a physical ideal. In 2004 a survey was conducted with students in the University of Rome and 6.9% were found to have orthorexia.1


Vanessa:  What are some signs of orthorexia?

Answer:  Typical signs of orthorexia include3:

  • Constant worry over the quality of the foods you eat
  • Always looking for healthier foods
  • Your diet is the center of your life
  • Feeling of control when you eat the “right” foods
  • May avoid eating out because of lack of control over food preparation
  • May speak often of foods and their health benefits
  • May isolate themselves socially

Orthorexia may also be paired depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, or other anxiety disorders.


Vanessa: What can friends and family do if they are worried about a teen?

Answer:  Friends and family have to be able to help the orthorexic realize that there is a problem and what the teen is doing is not simply healthy eating, but much worse. This can be difficult as many forms of media and parts of our culture suggest healthy eating and the orthorexic is often highly convinced that they are following a healthy and “correct” diet. Friends and family can help by making the orthorexic realize that there are more important thing in life than eating healthy as orthorexia would cause them to put food before everything else.2 Therapy and eating disorder support groups may also be beneficial to the recovery of orthorexia.






Photo:  A Voice in Recovery from Flickr

Five steps to help your teen take care of their skin

hygiene, face wash, acne, teen acne, skin, teen health Lori Ferraro is the author of the blog where she writes about her life long obsession with make up and her past obsessions with big hair and boys.


Acne stinks. My skin used to be bad – really bad.

It was probably my junior year of high school when my flare ups went from pimples to full blown acne. I of course tried anything and everything over the counter to make those awful zits disappear. I was like a soldier headed off to battle with my teenage skin. And I was going to win, no matter what the price was.


Noxzema, Buf-Puf’s, Sea Breeze, and Stridex Pads each burned, buffed, and blasted many layers of skin off my poor teenage face.


If I could go back to my sixteen year old self, here are some kinder, gentler products and words of wisdom I would give to young Lori:


Don’t be so harsh.

Dousing your skin with harsh, drying chemicals like alcohol is not going to get rid of your acne. It will leave you with pimples that are not only red and angry, but flaky and peeling as well. Pretty! If you are buying over the counter products I highly recommend Neutrogena’s entire anti-acne skin care line, especially their Pink Grapefruit Oil Free Acne Wash and Pink Grapefruit Foaming Scrub. It is gentle yet tough, and clears breakouts and blackheads – and it smells fantastic!


Wear sunscreen.

I know everybody tells us that and it is such common sense, but my young self sure didn’t listen to that advice. And good God, I lived in Florida! I would slather myself in Crisco and lay on the roof of my house. Guess what? That is not a good idea. When I went back for my twenty year high school reunion you could definitely tell who still lived there and who got out after graduation. Not only did the lifetime Floridians look bronze, some of them looked–and I hate to say this– old. That is what sun damage can do to you, and who wants that? Not me! So wear sunscreen, especially on the sensitive skin on your face. Any good daily moisturizer contains SPF, so get yourself some.


Don’t go to bed with your make up on.

Talk about pore clogging! Don’t do it. Enough said.


Prepare for the future.

My mom was fanatical about her skincare regime. When I was a little girl, I would lie on my parent’s bed and watch her nightly routine of cold cream, lotions, and potions. It stuck with me, and all through high school and college I took the time to take care of my skin. And I think it was worth it, as people tell me my skin looks good today. Thanks Mom.


See a dermatologist.

If you have acne that just isn’t being helped by products you can buy at the drugstore, see a doctor. Sometimes the problem can’t be solved by any scrub, wash, or cream you buy at the store. Let a professional prescribe something that will get to the root of that evil zit. It is the best thing my teenage self ever did.


There are a million things in your teenagers life that they can stress out over. Follow these easy steps and skin care won’t be one of them.


Lori Ferraro is the author of the blog where she writes about her life long obsession with make up and her past obsessions with big hair and boys.

The Teacher That Saved Me

school teacher, eating disorder, anorexia, teen dieting, teen health

Christine is a 15 year old from St. Paul, MN. She is an avid writer and also enjoys running, reading, and travelling.


All it took was a tear in my geography teachers’ eye to save my life.

I had been battling an eating disorder for over six months- living off a ½ cup of cereal for breakfast with no milk (120 calories), a small cup of lowfat yogurt for lunch (80 calories), and a ½ cup of pasta with tomato sauce for dinner with a ½ cup of milk (300 calories). I don’t know how it all started. Maybe it was when my brother called my skinny body fat, maybe it was when my dad congratulated me for being more muscular than the other girls on my volleyball team, maybe it was watching my mom excercising and dieting all the time. Whatever it was, my eating disorder hit me hard. I ran on the tredmill for 20 minutes before school, I biked 3 miles to get to school, I went to Nordic Ski practice for 2 hours after school, and I biked 3 miles back home.  Pounds melted off of me and I felt strong, fit, and fast… until my symptoms began to hit me hard.

I became chronically cold- shivering in eighty-degree rooms. I became pale and weak. I was dizzy and light-headed, almost fainting when I stood up. But I loved my new body. My previous too-muscular thighs had become thin and sleek. My round facial cheeks faded into sharp angles and high cheekbones. I was addicted to improving my body.

Then, one day in May, my geography teacher pulled me out of class.

He was my favorite teacher in the world. He was funny, kind, and like a father to me. He seemed to always keep an eye out for me. He made me feel special.

When he pulled me out of class I was shivering from my eating disorder induced chills. He shut the door behind me and looked me straight in the eye.

“Are you okay?” He asked. “You haven’t seemed quite right in class.”

“Yeah,” I lied, casually. “Just tired.” I feigned a yawn and looked away.

I realized he was staring at me oddly, so I looked back in his eyes. I was shocked to see his eyes looked wet. An uncomfortable knot formed in my stomach.

“Christine, I don’t know what’s going on with you, but I want you to know that everyone here cares for you. You’re strong, beautiful, and smart. I want you to beat whatever it is you’re going through. I don’t want to lose you. You understand?”

“Y-yeah…” I said, awkwardly, before hastily retreating back through the door to my seat.

The rest of that class I didn’t make eye contact with him and sat in my seat, many confused thoughts going through my head. What was wrong with me? Why was I starving myself? How did he know?

When I got home I almost passed out again. Hunger gnawed at my stomach like a knife, but I couldn’t make myself eat. I just couldn’t. When my mom came home I reverted my gaze, before impulsively deciding to speak.

“M-m-om?” I asked, my voice breaking. “I think I need to go the hospital- to get help.”

I expected her to break into a panic, asking me what was wrong, but to my surprise my mom looked at me calmly and replied. “I know.”

That evening I was driven right to the eating disorder hospital. I was admitted into the top floor, where I was moved into a room of my own with other identical, teenage stick figures. I didn’t show up to school for those last 3 weeks of school. Instead, I lived at the hospital in a small bedroom. I slept, ate, then ate again, then ate again. I ate six meals a day. I had lost 30 pounds in a month, had a heart rate below 40, and I was at high risk of sudden death or cardiac arrest. I didn’t want to die. Instead, I ate everything served to me.

Never had food been so delicious. I felt as if it was the best thing in the world. The sourest strawberry tasted like a piece of heaven. An uncooked piece of chicken seemed to melt in my mouth like a piece of cheesecake. Food…. Food… food.  My deprived brain couldn’t stop thinking about it.

After three weeks I moved back home and steadily gained all my weight back over the next few months. My thighs that I had hated so much came back. My cheeks reappeared. My prominent ribs faded back from my skin. At times I cried, feeling as if all my hard work had been for nothing, but soon I began seeing myself for who I really was. I was strong, smart, athletic and… beautiful.

Now I am going to high school. Although many of the girls I met at the eating disorder center have relapsed, I know that no matter what, I will never fall into such a terrible loop. Instead, I think of my favorite geography teacher, and the tear in his eye, and remind myself that no matter what, I have all the friends and family I need to support me, without killing myself through an eating disorder.

I never got to see my favorite teacher again after going to the hospital, but I won’t let him down.  After all, it’s the least I can do to thank him for saving my life. Without him, I wouldn’t be around today.




Communicating With Your Emotional Teen

Emotional Teens, Emotional Health, Communicating with Teens, Teen AngstThis guest post is by Sheri Van Dijk, MSW, is a mental health therapist in private practice and at Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket, ON, Canada. She is the author of Don’t Let Your Emotions Run Your Life for Teens.

Unfortunately, emotional problems are often a part of growing up – as teens go through hormonal upheavals, while at the same time learning how to separate themselves from their parents, and learning how to interact and fit in with their peers. It’s certainly not an easy time; of course, some teens also experience mood or anxiety disorders which compound this problem. But whether your teen is going through simple teenage angst or is experiencing more severe emotional problems, there are things you can do to help. In this article I’ll first give you some tips to identify when your teen likely needs professional help; then I’ll discuss two skills to help you communicate in a healthier way with your teen, which will also help her learn to manage her emotions better.

There’s no wrong time to offer your teen professional help – it doesn’t make you a failure as a parent or say anything about the relationship you have with your child. On the contrary, offering that option – even if it gets shot down – shows her that you want to help and you’re willing to offer her options if she feels she can’t talk to you. If she does take you up on the offer, don’t take it personally! Rather, be grateful that she’s agreeing to speak with anyone, even if it can’t be you right now. So, there’s no wrong time to offer professional help, but there definitely are some right times:

  • If your teen has talked about suicide or if you see signs of self-harm such as cuts or burns on her body, you definitely need to get her to see a professional immediately.
  • If your teen is isolated, with no friends or very few friends that she socializes with, this can be a problem in more than one way. Of course we all need people in our lives; as humans we’re simply social creatures. But in the adolescent years, kids are learning a lot from their peers about what’s “normal” or “acceptable” and what’s not. If your teen doesn’t have anyone to share feelings and ideas with, this can leave her confused. Social isolation can also be a sign that your teen is being bullied.
  • If your teen is suffering from an addiction – such as drugs, alcohol, videogames, or the internet – she needs professional help. Of course, it’s often hard to know when your teen has an addiction, but look for warning signs: apart from the typical signs of intoxication such as slurring of speech, staggering, symptoms of hangover and so on, look for mood swings; change in school performance; paying less attention to hygiene; increase in requests for money; or isolating herself more from the rest of the family.

Of course, many of these symptoms are also just signs that you have a teen in the house, so remember to look at the big picture.

  • If your teen’s anger is out of control – for example, if she starts becoming physically aggressive, she needs to speak with a professional.

These are just a few suggestions as to when it’s important to offer professional help to your teen, but also trust your instincts. Even though your teen might seem completely different from the child you’ve known for the past 14 years, you still know your child best, so listen to your gut. And, start using the following skills to help you communicate in a healthier way with your teen.

The first skill is about not judging your teen. Often the behaviors you’re seeing are the result of your teen not knowing what else to do to alleviate the emotions she’s experiencing. So instead of judging her or her behavior, just describe what happened factually, and point out the consequences. In other words, instead of saying, “It was stupid of you to skip class”, be nonjudgmental: “Because you skipped class you’ve now got detention, your grades are falling, I’m angry with you, and you’re grounded.” The language we use will often make things worse, or will help us to calm the situation, so even when you’re furious with your teen, try to speak to her in a nonjudgmental way.

The second, similar skill that will help you communicate in a healthier way with your teen is known as validation. Validating your teen means telling her that you understand how she’s feeling, and that it’s okay – she’s allowed to feel that way. Even if you don’t like the way she feels (or the way she’s acting because of that emotion); even if you don’t completely understand why she feels that way; let her know that you understand the emotion, and that it’s not wrong or bad to feel that way.

These are just two skills that can help you keep the doors of communication open. It’s most important, of course, to let your teen know that you still love her in spite of her behaviors, in spite of the arguing, fighting, or other problems you’ve been experiencing, and that you want to help.

This guest post is by Sheri Van Dijk, MSW, is a mental health therapist in private practice and at Southlake Regional Health Centre in Newmarket, ON, Canada. She is the author of Don’t Let Your Emotions Run Your Life for Teens.


Teens and Health

Teen Health, Teen Mortality Rate, Quality of Life, Troubled Teens, Teen Depression, Emotional Health, Health CareThis guest post is by Messengers in Denim. A copy of GAPS can be found at: A summary can be found on my website, and click on “Appendixes”. It is also available as Appendix A of Messengers in Denim; Appendix B lists the questions I ask each teen to assure I am heeding the AMA’s guidelines; request that your kid’s doctor does the same. Feel free to make a copy for you doctor. He/she will appreciate it!

Everybody is talking about health care, but few are mentioning that with all the money spent on health our teenagers are no healthier today than they were decades ago.

Modern medicine has improved the lives of most everybody. Infant mortality has decreased, childhood deaths from infectious diseases are extremely rare, many types of cancer are treatable and some can be prevented or cured, and organ transplants are commonplace. All in all, the quality of life has improved, and life expectancy has increased. Unfortunately, however, the mortality rate for teens and young adults is little changed.

In many ways teens are less healthy than they were ten, twenty or thirty years ago. This decline is health is seen across every social group – rich and poor alike. Twenty per-cent of kids from every part of town smoke cigarettes, approximately 15 – 20 % use marijuana and/or other drugs, 20% start to drink alcohol before age 13, 40% of have had an alcoholic drink in the past month, and 1/3 of all girls will get pregnant before the age of 20. And, 35% of those pregnant will have an abortion.  And it gets worse, many become depressed, attempt suicide, commit murder or are murdered, have developmental disorders, and become disabled or die from accidents. Murder and suicide continue to be the second and third leading causes of teen deaths; number one is fatal accidental injury.  Adolescents are the most medically under served group in our population.

If we are to change this bleak picture of our young people’s health, it has to start at home with the parents and help form their physicians. Teens need a “Medical Home” with their own compassionate doctor who knows and uses the Guidelines for Adolescent Preventive Services (GAPS).* GAPS was created in 1992, and up-dated many times since, by the American Medical Association as an attempt to improve medical care for adolescents.

Your teen’s physician should have an interest in teenagers and should review the AMA guidelines with every teen as part of their annual physical. While it is imperative that each teen has a personal physician almost half of all them do not. I am sorry to admit that many doctors who see teens have absolutely no interest in them. Like one of my patients told me, “They have their hand on the door knob.”

As a start, teens need to have an annual health evaluation, which includes time alone with their doctor to discuss sensitive issues in confidence. Also, parents must trust that the physician has the same values that they have. Choosing a doctor for your teens is not a simple task! But, having an understanding physician is necessary for your teenager’s well being. Study the GAPS, discuss them with your teen and his/her physician, if the doctor does not know about them or if he “does not have time” to discuss them, then it is probably time to find a doctor with enough interest in teenagers to serve them well.

But, there is good news among teens, 87% ARE NOT smoking, 76% ARE NOT drinking alcohol, 82% ARE NOT binge drinking (5 drinks in a row), 85% ARE NOT using marijuana, and almost 60% have not had sex!

This guest post is by Messengers in Denim. A copy of GAPS can be found at: A summary can be found on my website, and click on “Appendixes”. It is also available as Appendix A of Messengers in Denim; Appendix B lists the questions I ask each teen to assure I am heeding the AMA’s guidelines; request that your kid’s doctor does the same. Feel free to make a copy for you doctor. He/she will appreciate it!


How to Get Teens to Eat Healthy

This guest post is by Dr. Heather Manley, who in 2001 received her medical degree from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon, is a practicing physician whose primary interest is preventative healthcare for families. She is the author of Human Body Detectives, her educational series for children and promotes wellness and naturopathic healthcare on her website She lives on the Big Island of Hawaii with her husband and two daughters, and is currently at work on the next Human Body Detectives adventure.

With an emerging tween and teenager in my house, who are spending more time with their friends eating, it has been on my mind … what are they eating when I am not around? Instead of just pondering the thought, I decided to go straight to the source.  I asked my 12 year old daughter what she and her friends are eating at school and after school.


She replied, “green stuff mostly.”


I asked her what type of “green stuff?”


“cucumbers, apples, kiwi, edamame.”


I was impressed. But I decided to dig a little harder because as the daughter of a naturopathic physician, she knows how to answer my questions well. As I probed her a bit more, I soon realized there were no obvious signs of truly poor eating habits … except for the occasional trip to the local coffee shop for pastries and frappuccinos. I clearly needed to move on.


I proceeded to ask a 16 year old boy.


He said that he and his friends eat pretty much whatever they want. However, they do want to eat healthier foods but find it difficult figuring out what is best for them.


“The food industry is very commercial and we are just unsure on how to obtain reliable resources on what is healthy or what is not not. Plus, we don’t have much time.”


This had me thinking. Kids want to eat healthy and most kids do understand that eating healthy foods makes them feel better, allowing for more creation and more productivity. With all the commercialism with food and the easy (and cheap) assess to fast foods, they really do not have the tools to allow them to find and choose the best foods. I came up with a plan … actually an acronym that would help them.



Whole ~ Color ~ Variety

Think whole

why: Whole colorful foods contain a multitude of nutrients that boast nutrition and allow our bodies to function, optimally.  Whole foods do not have the added food coloring or additives that can aggravate the digestive system and possibly be partly responsible for food sensitivities and allergies.


how: Gravitate to the periphery of the grocery store. This is where you will find the whole foods ( fruits, vegetables, produce, dairy). The center of the store is filled with processed foods like boxed cereals, crackers and canned foods.

Think color

why? Phytonutrients, found in fruits and vegetables, give vivid color to our food and promote health by packing powerful health benefits. They help stimulate our immune systems and prevent disease.  Common phytonutrients include; flavonoids and lutein.

how? Color Thy Plate. Every time you grab a plate think about coloring it up. With a bowl of cereal or oatmeal, add some blueberries or strawberries, with a sandwich add avocados, sprouts and tomatoes.

Think variety

why? We all have a tendency to eat the same foods over and over. It is convenient and easy. However, different foods have different nutrients – more of some and less of others. Our bodies need to eat a variety of whole foods to obtain all the different nutrients that are offered in the certain food.

how? Munch on your apple but also try other fruits such as kiwis, mangos or pears. Or if you are a frequent almond eater, try cashews or walnuts instead.


And for parents, encourage healthy eating by not telling your children to eat healthy foods but to have healthy foods readily available. Keeping fruits, nuts, yogurt and cut up vegetables readily accessible makes it much easier for your child to grab.  And if chips are a favorite, have not only salsa but avocados ( guacamole), bean dip and hummus close by.


Keeping WCV in mind, tweens and teens will have a clear insight what to gravitate towards when choosing foods thus will be fully nourishing their bodies, which will both keep them optimally healthy today and in the future.


Ready to indulge your taste buds?


Be well,





Dr. Heather Manley, who in 2001 received her medical degree from the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon, is a practicing physician whose primary interest is preventative healthcare for families. She is the author of Human Body Detectives, her educational series for children and promotes wellness and naturopathic healthcare on her website She lives on the Big Island of Hawaii with her husband and two daughters, and is currently at work on the next Human Body Detectives adventure.

This guest post is by Dr. Heather: Twitter @drheathernd ~ Become a fan of HBD on facebook!



Healthy Role Models: “As Long As It’s Healthy” [Guest Post]

This guest post is by Chuck Runyon, CEO of Anytime Fitness, sponsor of the Coalition of Angry Kids campaign to help parents be healthier role models.

This is a common phrase uttered by expectant parents when responding to the question, “Are you hoping for a boy or girl?”

But what happens after that couple is blessed with a healthy baby? Do we keep that child healthy, or do we begin feeding them a lifelong diet of sugar, processed foods, fat, sodium, fast food, and unbalanced meals?

As parents, we strive to instill positive habits, values, and education in our children that will fortify them throughout their life. But do we instill an understanding of the food they eat? Do we encourage regular physical activity and other healthy habits?

In many aspects of their lives, we challenge our children and assist them with projects—in the hope that their accomplishments breed self-confidence and a positive self-esteem, both of which are critical to living a more fulfilling life. Yet, having a poor body image and being overweight siphon self-confidence and self-esteem at an alarming rate.

We fiercely protect our kids from strangers, inappropriate images, words, viruses, and any negative external forces that could endanger them. Yet, the biggest threat to our children may reside within our own homes—in the kitchen cabinets and refrigerator and in the unhealthy habits we portray on a daily basis.

On June 10, 2010, the American Heart Association reported the following on overweight children:

Today, about one in three American kids and teens is overweight or obese, nearly triple the rate in 1963. With good reason, childhood obesity is now the No. 1 health concern among parents in the United States, topping drug abuse and smoking.


“Because of the increasing rates of obesity, unhealthy eating habits and physical inactivity, we may see the first generation that will be less healthy and have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.”

It’s easy to blame society, the government, or the food industry for this problem. It’s easier—and cheaper—to eat unhealthy, processed foods. Along those lines, wouldn’t it be easier to let our kids set their own bed times and roll out of bed whenever they want? How about letting them decide if they should attend school or complete their homework? We’d never model behaviors that would encourage those actions—because we know our kids are observing us. Ultimately, our kids will eat what we eat. They will be active if we are active. It starts and ends with us.

So think back to that initial hope, “As long as it’s healthy.” When it comes to healthy children, it’s like everything else in life. If you want something, you have to work at it.

Summer Fitness

Rachel is a 16-year-old born and raised in NYC.  She enjoys singing, debating, traveling and writing.  Her favorite subjects are English and Science; she wishes to pursue  a career in either of them in the future.

I’m quite sure that we all can admit to gaining what I like to call the “holiday gifts.”  We all snuck in the extra cookie or slice of apple pie, but it’ll soon be summer aka beach season.  So how do we become our fit selves again?  I compiled several natural ways for feeling and being healthy.  Enjoy and feel free to comment on your own natural remedies!

1.       Jogging – One of my personal favorite cardio exercises is running.  Muscle is more easily built if there is already some body fat that could be converted into the said muscles.  Therefore, the holiday splurging might actually help you tone some muscle.  Exercising helps you sleep more soundly as well as boost endorphin levels, which makes you feel happy.  Jogging helps you become healthier and happier.  I usually jog before or after school; the endorphins really help improve your mood on a bad day or relieve some stress.  Less stress means less cortisol, a hormone that helps store fat in your body.

2.       Water – Stay hydrated this summer!  Water helps flush out excess salts and sugars from your body.  Drink water 15 minutes before you do an active exercise (running, sports, etc.); it gets you hydrated for the activity without having that sloshy feeling or stomach cramps.

3.       Snacks – When your metabolism is more active, it is less likely for some of the food to become fat.  A fun sized fruit snack pack is healthy as well as curb your hunger.  When you have tiny snacks throughout the day, you won’t eat as much during your main meals.  Don’t forget to eat slowly: it takes a good 15 minutes before your stomach realize it’s full!

4.       Lemon Juice – Vitamin C is a known helper of good moods!  It also has many uses.  Applying it topically may help clear skin as well as reduce the appearance of acne scars; try it on a small area first, in case a concentrated application irritates it.  If that’s the case, dilute it and/or mix it with a bit of honey, which promotes healing. (I don’t think I really need to say to AVOID OPEN CUTS when applying.)  Another option is to add a little lemon juice in your water; the results happen slower, but at least you don’t have to worry about stinging.

5.       Comfortable shoes – When you have comfortable shoes, you are more likely to walk to your destination!

6.       Planning – Scheduling your homework, even your life in general, makes sure you have enough time for everything (therefore preventing cramming) and prevents the occasional forgotten project.

7.       Sunlight – Soak up some vitamin D.  Sunlight helps improve moods.  On a nice day, do some work out on your porch and breathe some fresh air: it can easily improve your mood.  Don’t forget a bit of light sun block!

8.       Sleep – Lack of sleep can seriously mess up your metabolism, which may cause weight gain.  Serotonin (makes you feel good) is a precursor for melatonin, a regulator for sleep.  Sleeping also allows growth hormones to circulate in your body.

9.       Buddy system – When you have someone to encourage you, that person can keep you company and help motivate you (and make sure that you don’t sneak in that fudge brownie you’ve been eyeing).  You’re less likely to sway from daily exercising or walking up those stairs instead of taking the elevator.