Category Archives: For Parents

Helping Teens Get Over Overeating

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT

Parenting a teen can be a bumpy ride—they need you around, but often don’t want you around as they navigate friendships, love interests, school, homework, hormones and future goals. And as if all that wasn’t enough, today’s teens also have to contend with the constant images and messages they see on social media, telling them how they should look, eat, exercise and feel. Many teens simply aren’t equipped to handle the traditional pressures of adolescence, as well as the additional pressures of being a “screenager.”

As a society, we’re all given endless rules about food and fitness. It’s hard enough for adults to navigate all of this in our perfectionistic, plugged-in, fast-paced, image-obsessed culture. For teens, it can be really easy to slip into body hatred, depression, anxiety, addiction, food restriction or overeating—and sometimes all of these.

With diet ads, fad fear foods and air-brushed images enticing them on one end of the spectrum and supersized portions, big gulps and carb-laden drive-thru meals on the other, our culture sets up many teenagers to ride the diet/riot roller coaster. Then they have the constant “shoulds” and rules about exercise, which break down their natural rhythms of movement and rest. Here, one end of the spectrum beckons them with cardio calculations and images of six-pack abs, while the magnetic pull of their screens and a good dose of hopelessness beckon them toward the couch. Constant images of perfectionistic bodies have most teens anxiously striving to look a certain way, leaving a wake of millions feeling depressed and ashamed about looking the way they do.

I started hating my body and yo-yo dieting when I was a teenager, and because the only solutions I sought were fad diets or Jane Fonda Feel the Burn workouts, my struggles escalated from there. It would be many years before I would finally unlearn the cultural craziness and relearn the natural wisdom we are all born with. I then decided to devote myself to helping others—the ol’ lemonade out of lemons deal.

Having spent the last twenty-five years counseling people who struggle with eating and body image, I’ve recently become dedicated to early prevention. The sooner someone gets help with disordered eating and body hatred, the higher the rate of success in overcoming them. While there is certainly hope for improvement at any age, an early start can save someone years of futile dieting and painful overeating. My latest book, Getting Over Overeating for Teens, is geared toward just that: helping adolescents who are struggling with overeating, binge eating, ineffective dieting and body-image issues. Parents and health professionals can also utilize the tools and activities to help the adolescents they are concerned about.

In this book, I teach readers about four important areas that need to be addressed in order to get over overeating: emotional, mental, physical and spiritual. Of course, I use much more teen-friendly language but knowing that all four areas need to be addressed in order to create what I call a “Stable Table” will help teens, parents and health professionals heal the pervasive problem of overeating in our diet-crazed, supersized culture.

In section one, “Healing What You’re Feeling,” I help teens learn how to identify their emotions and exactly what to do with them other than turning to excess food. I write that “one of the biggest reasons people overeat is to try to stuff down their painful feelings. Overeating is like saying ‘go away’ to your feelings, especially painful ones. The only problem is that when we overeat to try to make our pain go away, it ends up causing more pain. This is because once we finish eating, we still have the original feelings we ate over, plus all the feelings we have from overeating. It’s a good try, though. Food does give us some comfort and distraction—for a little while anyway. Once you learn healthy ways to deal with your feelings, you’ll no longer need to use food like a drug, to try to make your feelings go away, and you can eat what you really like, in healthy amounts.”

So the emotional aspect of getting over overeating entails learning how to cope with difficult emotions rather than eat over them. Most of us have been taught that we are supposed to feel happy all the time, so feelings like sadness, anger, loneliness and fear get a bad reputation. Ironically, this has contributed to an epidemic of depression and anxiety. So learning to identify, tolerate and even welcome our uncomfortable emotions is a huge part of healing overeating. One metaphor I use is riding a wave. I write that “we can learn to ride a wave of emotion just like a wave in the ocean.”  I teach teens that happy people are not always happy and that just like the weather has patterns, so do we. This will arm them, not only to get over overeating but to be much more equipped for healthy living in general.

Section two, titled “Pay No Mind to Your Unkind Mind,” is all about our thinking. I write that “we all have automatic thoughts that pop up in our minds, just like we have automatic pop-up ads on our computer screens. It’s so easy to believe our thoughts. After all, they are our thoughts! They seem and feel so real, but the truth is, our thoughts aren’t always real, and they sure aren’t always helpful, kind, or true. The good news is that, just like we can close those unwanted pop-up ads on our computers with a simple click, we can learn to close the pop-ups in our minds.”

Readers will learn the concept of having different “mind moods.” We can have an “unkind mind, kind mind or quiet mind.” Oftentimes, people who turn to excess food have loud unkind minds and they use food in an attempt to soothe, quiet or even confirm their unkind thoughts. Teens will also learn about different ways to combat their unkind minds. “Strong, soft, silly or silent” is one chapter that gives them a menu of different tones they can take with their unkind thoughts.

The third section of the book, “Befriending Your Body,” teaches readers how to take care of what I refer to as their “body battery.” Many adolescents who struggle with overeating are disconnected from their bodies’ natural signals. They, like many adults, turn to the only solutions our diet-crazed culture has up its sleeve—eat less and exercise more. But if this simple advice worked, most people would have a healthy, peaceful and natural relationship with food and movement (something we certainly cannot accuse our culture of having!).

In this section of the book, I teach readers how to “step off the diet/riot roller coaster”; how to identify their “hunger number”; how to “find their natural weight in a natural way,” and much more.

Teens will learn to “follow the clues of the foods that they choose.” This will help them see that the foods they overeat hold important clues as to what need they are trying to meet. For example, excess sugar may mean they need more sweetness in their lives (externally and internally). Turning to comfort foods might mean they need more comfort, and so on. They also might be choosing a certain food because it reminds them of when they were little and felt more taken care of and less pressure; or a certain food reminds them of someone they miss or resent. It’s so important to know that overeating is not about being weak but about important feelings and unmet needs. And as those get addressed, food will take its proper place.

In the final section, “Filling Up Without Feeling Down,” I teach readers many ways to feed their spirits. I write that “it’s pretty easy in our fast-paced world to focus on feeding our bodies and feeding our minds. But if we want to get over overeating, we also have to feed the deeper parts of ourselves that can’t be seen, the parts of us that have nothing to do with the material world—our hearts and our souls. These are places that food won’t fill. If we overfeed our bodies, we might be full, but not truly fulfilled. If we feed only our minds, we might think and learn a lot, but we won’t be really satisfied. We all need to fill our spirits too, on a regular basis. When you truly feed your spirit, you feel better afterward. You feel truly filled up, and there are no negative or harmful consequences.” It’s essential for us all to find healthy, inspiring, satisfying ways to fill up. What fills you up?

If you love, work with or care about a teen (or tween) who is struggling with overeating, binge eating or body image, I hope you will consider this new read.

The above book excerpts from Getting Over Overeating for Teens have been reprinted with permission from New Harbinger Publications, Inc. copyright © 2016 Andrea Wachter

The term screenagers, coined in 1997 by media theorist Douglas Rushkoff, refers to techno-savvy young people, who have been reared on television and computers.

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Getting Over Overeating for Teens: Talking with the Author

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT and Janice Bremis

I was recently interviewed by Janice Bremis, founder of Eating Disorders Resource Services, to discuss my new book, Getting Over Overeating for Teens. I’m posting our discussion in the hopes of reaching any teens, parents and health professionals who might benefit from this resource. Please help spread the word by forwarding or sharing this interview on social media.

Janice: What sparked the idea for this book? 

Andrea: Overeating, binge eating and body hatred are epidemic in our culture, and I’m passionate about trying to help people who are struggling with these painful issues. I began hating my body as a teen and was given the only tips the crazy culture had up its sleeve: diet and exercise. These were definitely not the solutions I needed, and like millions of others, I began a downward spiral of overeating, bingeing, sneak eating and yo-yo weight fluctuations, not to mention decades of body obsession and self-hatred.

I also know how important early prevention is; helping someone dismantle their unhealthy beliefs about food, fitness and feelings when they’ve been struggling for a few years (as opposed to a few decades) is likely to be that much more successful. While there’s always hope for change regardless of how long a pattern has gone on, guiding someone onto a healthier path in their teens, rather than starting when they are more entrenched in their beliefs and behaviors, can really make a difference, both in prognosis as well as quality of life.

Janice: Who is the target audience for your book?

Andrea: The book was written for adolescents who struggle with overeating, binge eating and body image. It can also help parents and health professionals to better understand and guide the kids they are concerned about.

Janice: Can you clarify for me and our readers, the difference between overeating and binge eating?

Andrea: Yes, this is a very common question. Overeating is when you eat more than your body needs. It’s important to know that even people who have a totally healthy relationship with food will overeat on occasion. It only becomes problematic if they do it too often or if it has negative consequences.

Binge eating is when someone eats a large amount of food in a short amount of time. They usually eat fast, and until they are stuffed and ashamed. And they usually eat over painful emotions and thoughts, rather than true physical hunger. Someone who binge eats can also be considered an overeater but someone can struggle with overeating and not necessarily binge on large amounts of food.

Janice: In your introduction, you describe the importance of building a “Stable Table.” Can you explain this concept? 

Andrea: The book is divided into four sections that each represent one leg of a metaphorical table: feelings, thoughts, body, and filling up. The idea is that in order to get over overeating (to have a “stable table”), all four areas need to be addressed.

Building only one leg, which is what most diets do, results in an “unstable table.” So, for example, when someone focuses solely on eating less and exercising more but doesn’t learn how to identify and cope with the emotions they are eating over, they will likely turn to overeating in an attempt to soothe their intolerable emotions and unmet needs. Or if someone is trying to do more fulfilling things in their life but is filled with unkind thoughts and an internal soundtrack of self-hatred (what I call the “unkind mind”), they are likely to pick up extra food in an attempt to quiet that mind, get a break from it, or confirm its critical messages. If someone goes to therapy to get help with their emotions but does nothing to address their restricting and overeating habits, they are not likely to feel better in their body. So working on all four areas—feelings, thoughts, body and filling up—which the book addresses in detail, is how someone can get over overeating and gain so many more necessary life skills in the process.

Janice: Can you tell us a little bit about each of the four sections of the book? 

Andrea: Gladly! Section one is what I call “Healing What You’re Feeling.” In the same way our culture teaches us that there are acceptable and unacceptable foods, many of us are also taught that there are acceptable and unacceptable emotions. Namely, happy is good; sad, mad and scared are not so good. I think this is a large part of why our culture is more depressed, anxious, addicted and medicated than ever. So this section helps teens learn everything they need to know about emotions: where they live inside of us, how to name them, what their purpose is, what to do with them, and how to welcome and tolerate them rather than eat over them. I write that “we either deal with the feelings we are eating over or we deal with the feelings we have from overeating.” Personally, I always wished there was a door number three, but no such luck. As they say, “The only way out is through!” So section one arms readers with many tools that will help them not only get over overeating but also with life in general. Over the years, I’ve received many calls and emails from clients who originally came to me for eating and body issues in their teens. They report back from college or adulthood that they feel so much more equipped to deal with stress, emotional ups and downs, and relationship issues as a result of the early work they did.

Section two is about our thinking. I call it “Pay No Mind to Your Unkind Mind.” An overeating problem is, in large part, a thinking problem. Most overeaters have a very strong internal program running (the unkind mind). Unkind thoughts lead us to have painful feelings, and painful feelings lead many people to crave extra food in order to comfort themselves or numb out. So learning how to challenge our unkind minds and upgrade to kinder ones is a huge part of getting over overeating. This section of the book, in large part, uses teen-friendly language to teach mindfulness and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Section three is titled “Befriending Your Body.” I liken it to taking care of your electronic gadgets. You don’t want to overcharge them, and you don’t want to run them down too low. So I encourage readers to “take care of their body battery,” and this section teaches them many ways to do this. Readers will learn about the ineffectiveness of dieting and how restricting (either in reality or mentality) most often leads to rebelling. (I call it “diet or riot.”) They can learn how to access an intuitive inner voice that will help them make their food choices and step off the diet/riot roller coaster. Other related topics include “Finding Your Natural Weight in a Natural Way” and “Beating the Body Image Blues.”

Finally, the fourth section is what I call “Filling Up Without Feeling Down.” It’s filled with stories, teachings and tips about how to nurture the deeper parts of ourselves. Teen readers will learn many ways that they can get support, connect with their own innate intuition and feel truly filled up without feeling bloated and ashamed afterward.

Janice: I noticed that out of the forty activities in your book, only five are actually about food. Can you say something about this? 

Andrea: While overeating is certainly about healing one’s relationship with food, it’s also about so much more: learning how to cope with painful emotions; communicate difficult thoughts, feelings and needs; quiet your mind; treat your body with respect; and find more sweetness and comfort in life, just to name a few. The reason traditional diets have such a high failure rate is that they usually neglect to address all the important underlying issues that need to be revealed and healed. Once people understand and resolve the deeper issues that caused them to turn to excess food and diets in the first place, they’ll no longer need to use food and body obsession as distractions or numbing agents. Food can take its proper place and serve the purpose nature intended it to: nutrition and pleasure. Then new healthy coping skills can replace unhealthy over- and undereating.

JaniceHow does a parent, counselor or doctor touch on such sensitive topics like overeating and body image if they want to recommend your book to a teen they are concerned about?

Andrea: Very compassionately, very nonjudgmentally—and definitely not while the teen is eating! You are right; eating, weight, body image and exercise can all be extremely sensitive and charged topics for anyone who is struggling with these areas. Our culture bombards us with so many messages about how we are supposed to look and what we are supposed to eat and how we are supposed to exercise that it’s no wonder eating disorders and body obsession are rampant.

If a teenager has previously shared their body or eating distress with their parent, that could be a good lead-in for the parent to open the topic. For example, “You’ve mentioned lately that you’ve been struggling with your body image and wanting to go on a diet. I recently heard about this book for teens who are dealing with dieting, overeating and body image. Are you are interested in taking a look at it?” (This could be spoken or written, by the way. Sometimes a note or an email can give teens a little time to process a sensitive topic.)

If the parent has similar issues, that can be another good way to start. For example, “You know that I’ve been struggling with dieting and overeating since I was a teenager. I know that you’ve said that you are too. It’s so hard, and I know that strict dieting is not the answer, and neither is overeating and feeling bad about ourselves. I heard about this book and wonder how you would feel about reading it together, or reading it on your own if you prefer? I’m going to work on this stuff too and I thought it might be cool if we did it together.”

Although it sometimes reduces shame when a parent who has similar struggles lets their child know this, it’s important not to get too into your own issues, eliciting the classic glazed-over eyes that often follow the classic “When I was your age…” line! Keeping it brief and planting a seed is ideal.

Counselors, dietitians and nutritionists who are working with an individual (or a group) might consider recommending the book or offering a no-obligation invitation for the teen to share anything they write or learn from it. You could also consider going through one activity each time you meet.

I often let my young clients know that I’m recommending the book to several other clients as well, in the hopes of diminishing shame and letting them know they aren’t the only ones who are struggling in this area.

Doctors and other health professionals who want to recommend the book to teens and parents might let them know that they work with many teenagers who struggle with overeating, that strict dieting is not the answer, and that there is hope and help for anyone struggling with food or body-image issues.

Hopefully you can see a theme here: being kind and nonjudgmental, and trying to remain neutral about whether they read it, steering you clear of the ever-so-popular parental power struggle!

 Andrea Wachter is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the author of Getting Over Overeating for Teens. She is also co-author of Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Breaking the “I Feel Fat” Spell and The Don’t Diet, Live-It Workbook. An inspirational counselor, author and speaker, Andrea uses professional expertise, humor and personal recovery to help others. For more information on her books, her Huffington Post blogs, or other services, please visit

Janice Bremis is the founding member and Executive Director of the Eating Disorders Resource Center (EDRC). She graduated from San Jose State University with a BA in Liberal Arts and has worked in the healthcare community for most of her career. She was diagnosed with an eating disorder in 1975 and is well aware of the stigma associated with the disease, as well as the importance of emotional support and access to quality treatment. She is very passionate about advocating for people who have eating disorders. For more information, visit:

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Book Excerpt from Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Breaking the “I Feel Fat” Spell

Children are not born with a bad body image. They learn it. They learn it from the culture and the media, or from relatives, friends, and schoolmates who learned it from the culture and the media. And since body hatred is an epidemic in our image-obsessed culture, there is no shortage of places for kids to learn to dislike their bodies. As a psychotherapist who has been specializing in eating disorders for over 25 years, I have been helping people of all ages who battle with their bodies to varying degrees. Whether they are dealing with a full-blown eating disorder, less severe “disordered eating,” or painful body image issues, they all deserve and need help.

I began hating my body when I was twelve years old. Someone teased me about the size of my thighs, and I felt what I now know was shame for the first time. This is what I refer to as a “Dart in the Heart” moment. My solution was to embark on my very first diet. Like many, this led me to sneak eating, bingeing, and roller coaster weight fluctuations. Like some, this morphed into a serious eating disorder. I say serious because it colored most of my life for several decades and greatly affected my mental and physical well-being. Fortunately, after many years of searching for help that actually helped, I began to unravel the root causes of my eating disorder and body obsession. I learned that I could not stop bingeing if I did not stop dieting. I learned what emotions I was eating over and what to do with those emotions instead. I learned how to challenge rather than believe every thought that popped up on the screen of my mind. And I learned how to find sweetness from many different sources, not just from cookies and ice cream. It was a long road. And the lovely parting gift from that arduous journey is that I now have the honor of helping others who struggle in similar ways.

The majority of my clients over the last few decades have been teenagers, college students, and adults, with a small sprinkling of young kids. But as our cultural obsessions with thinness, dieting, fat phobia, and social media have all gotten bigger, the age range of my clients seems to be getting younger. So instead of getting occasional calls from concerned parents, counselors, and doctors, I now receive them regularly. Imagine a small six-year-old child who cannot get dressed for school in the morning because she thinks she’s too “fat,” or an eleven-year-old girl who won’t go to a sleepover because all her friends are thinner than she is. Imagine a lovely eight-year-old who once enjoyed swimming but will no longer go in the pool because she feels too self-conscious in a bathing suit, or a nine-year-old boy who, though underweight, refuses to eat carbs. Or how about an eight-year-old girl who is obsessed with working out?

When I was eight years old, I was blissfully unaware of my body. I was playing tag in the yard with my siblings or watching The Brady Bunch in the den. I listened to records. I read in my canopy bed. Today, many young kids are surfing the Internet on iPhones and computers. This means that on top of the brainwashing they get on television, they are ingesting an additional barrage of messages on their other screens. They are bombarded with information about unnatural thinness, fat phobia, excessive fitness, endless food rules, and adult sexuality. Most of us adults did not experience anything like this until we were much older. And even then, we found it difficult to get through unscathed.

As I began to see more young children each week, I found myself needing to adapt the work I had been doing with adults into a more “kid-friendly” version. Some of the parents reported that they had already taken the advice from the current self-help literature: limiting screen time, filtering media, and teaching their children that all bodies are beautiful. While these suggestions are great, they weren’t helping to change what was already going on with their kids. It was as if their children had fallen under a spell, and nothing these parents said seemed to make any difference. What we needed to do was find a way to break the spell, or Retrain the Brain.

So, as I began teaching kids how to talk back to their Unkind Minds and strengthen their Kind Minds, I began to see something really exciting. Week after week, these precious little munchkins were bouncing into my office exclaiming that what we were doing was making a difference! One little six-year-old literally skipped into my office and said, “I was totally free this week. I think we broke the spell. It feels so much better to be in reality!” Another child, when I asked her to describe to her mom what she was learning in our sessions said, “Well, I was under the spell 98% last week, and this week I’m only 73% spell.” (Sounds like a budding mathematician to me!) One young boy, during a family session, announced, “I am over it. I’m sick of being so hard on myself. I just want to eat normally from now on. I don’t want to have to be perfect.” One parent told me that his daughter, who had been refusing to wear sleeveless dresses and bathing suits, was swimming again and taking off the oversized jackets that had become her daily cover-ups.

All of these dramatic changes were confirmation to me that there is great hope for children with painful body images. I realized I simply had to write a book to share these ideas and exercises with other children, parents, and counselors. It has been an honor to share all the tips and tools that helped me break my own spell, and I sincerely hope that Mirror, Mirror will help the child you care about break free of theirs.

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A Letter For Your Isolated and Hard to Reach Teen

By Andrea Wachter, LMFT and Steve Legallet, LMFT

As family therapists, we are seeing more and more young people who are suffering from various degrees of depression, anxiety, addictions and social isolation as they try to mask all of the emotions and negative consequences associated with theses self-defeating behaviors. We also see many concerned and baffled parents who struggle with trying to find ways to help their wounded and isolated kids.

If you have a son or daughter who is suffering, addicted, depressed, anxious, isolated, angry and/or shut down, here are some words that you might consider writing or saying to open the door to a new avenue of communication:

Dear Son or Daughter,

We see that you are struggling and suffering. We imagine that there are many thoughts and feelings underneath your anger including confusion, fear, hopelessness, and pain.

We understand that you are going through a very difficult time in your life, and that coping with your emotions can be very challenging. What we want more than anything else is to help you find ways to let people into your life and for you to stop pushing us away. What we want is for all of us to talk more and spend more time together, which may involve talking or being quiet sometimes. We would like to know more about you and your world too. Maybe you could tell us more about your interests, including the computer games you play, the movies you watch, the music you like, the websites you look at. Will you consider this?

Will you consider spending time with us, and the rest of the family? Will you consider having at least a day or two a week where we do something together? Bike, walk, a movie, a game? Will you consider for a moment that your life can improve if we work at this together?

It is important you know that even though you feel bad and even though at times your behavior has been bad, we know that you are not a bad person, and that you have a good heart. Good people can make bad decisions and good people can make mistakes. The question is, do you have what it takes to learn from those mistakes and become a better person for it? Are you willing to learn how to manage your emotions without exploding on others or imploding with self-hate?

We hope you will give yourself a chance to have a good life, which means being willing to change and improve your behavior. It takes maturity and strength to be open and willing to accept help from others. We hope you will choose that.

We know that many times we have reacted to your anger by acting out our own anger in ways that have not been helpful. We know there are so many times when we went on talking when we should have just listened. These are the things that we will continue to work on.

We know that a lot of things have happened, both in the world and in our family that have contributed to your pain. We want to hear about your feelings and really have the opportunity to hear you, to apologize, and to acknowledge your pain.

What we are asking for you to do is to trust in our love for you and the loving intentions behind our efforts to help you. We ask that you trust us by letting down your wall just enough to see the love we have for you. We know it is hard to trust and we all have our work to do, but we hope you will stay open to change. Again, it is a sign of strength, not weakness, to let others help you through the dark times and to help you to see a glimmer of light. We hope you will do this.

Will you consider that things can change and improve, even if you don’t believe it now? Will you consider the possibility that you are lovable and valuable and that your life can have meaning and purpose?


Mom and Dad (or other caregivers and loved ones)

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