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Helpful Tips for Connecting with Adolescent Boys Struggling w/Eating Disorders

Megan Kniskern MS, RD, CEDRD Director of Nutrition and Culinary Services

It is a clear memory, the day I was notified that Rosewood would no longer provide treatment for women women only, but would also begin working with males. Immediately I had a million questions regarding the differences of males and females. What I didn’t think to anticipate was the differences between adult males and boys with eating disorders. My first male adolescent client’s initial assessment was pretty brief, as he sat back in the chair, didn’t make much eye contact, gave yes and no answers, and often look confused about what I was asking. When he walked out of the room I knew that I needed to make some adjustments to my approach and my language. When training a new dietitian or working to provide education, there are some tips that I like to share regarding working with an adolescent boy in order to more quickly connect with these clients…as they are often very unsure:

  • Don’t expect long, detailed responses – one word answers are very common.
  • Make the questions as open-ended as possible.
  • Give examples of what information you are looking for with your question.
  • Ask about supplement use (powders, shakes, bars, steroids, etc.).
  • Connections between food and emotions are often a foreign concept to young males.
  • Stating “I don’t know” is usually a default answer, and usually they really don’t know.
  • Talk with the parents separately to try to help fill in the blanks.
  • Use different terminology: instead of purging use “throw up,” instead of bingeing say “eating until stuffed,” replace restrict with “won’t eat even though you feel hungry.”

With time, education, therapy, and a better understanding around the language of treatment and recovery, clinicians can establish rapport and trust with young male clients.

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