Teen Wonders If Her Eating Patterns Are ‘Normal’

By November 21, 2012

I am 15 years old and I am *** lbs and 5′ 8½”. I have recently been very concerned with my eating habits. I really want to eat healthy and be healthy. Here is my usual plan: during the weekdays, I try and eat as healthy as possible: banana or granola bar for breakfast, salad with lean protein for lunch with a bag of popcorn or something, carrots and celery with rice cakes for snacks and for dinner I usually have lean protein with LOTS of veggies and brown rice or whole grains. For dessert I usually have 1/4 cup frozen yogurt with dark chocolate. It usually ends up adding up to about 1200 calories a day. Then, when it comes to the weekend, I just end up eating more than usual. Its not really junk food, but its like eating more white bread, more frozen yogurt, popcorn at the movies, pizza, eating Thai food or sushi. Then, my calorie intake goes up to about 1500 or 1700. I was wondering if these patterns are normal, if they are healthy and if they will make me gain weight in the end. Hope you can help me. – F. Alexis

Dear F. Alexis:

Thank you for writing to us. On the positive side, it is good that you have a desire to eat healthy foods. The types of choices you include—plenty of vegetables and whole grains—supply your body with needed fiber and nutrients.

But I am concerned that you are actually not providing your body with enough fuel because your eating sounds restrictive and limited. I don’t have the benefit of a full nutritional assessment, but your caloric intake is low for your age and height—throughout the week. Regarding your question about the weekends, even though you eat more, you certainly aren’t bingeing or overeating, and it is actually good that you are relaxing your approach to food selections compared to the rest of the week. Overall, however, if you chronically take in too few calories, you can actually slow your metabolism because your body will try to conserve energy.

There are other aspects of your letter that concern me, as well. Depending on your body’s stage of development and weight history, you could be gravitating towards or meet the criteria for EDNOS or even anorexia nervosa. Have you lost weight? Your current level is definitely on the low side for your height, but that also depends on additional factors like your frame size. There is also a type of disordered eating called “orthorexia,” which is an obsession with trying to eat healthy. But your fear of gaining weight makes it less likely that you fall into that category. Consider taking our self-tests to dig a little into some of your thoughts and behaviors.

Well-intentioned attempts to be healthy can go overboard, to the point that we become unbalanced in our lives or even develop disordered eating. I strongly recommend that you see a nutritionist who specializes in disordered eating to help you assess your practices and guide you towards living a life that is balanced both physically and emotionally. See “Finding a Nutritionist” for further information. In the meantime, we have lots of information on the site to help you learn more about eating healthfully—without obsession.

Please write back if you have more questions.