Woman Measuring Her Waist

Talking to Your Teen about Eating Disorders

Very little has been within our control over the last two years. Coping with so much hardship, anxiety, and isolation can be extremely difficult. For some, it has led to unhealthy relationships with drugs, alcohol, and even food.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report in February that showed a steady increase in eating disorder-related emergency department visits by girls between 12 and 17 years old.

Eating disorders are serious and potentially fatal mental health conditions. It’s the second-deadliest mental illness after opioid addiction. That’s why it’s so important to have a conversation early if you think someone suffers from an eating disorder.

By the Numbers

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD):

  • 28.8 million Americans — 9% of the U.S. population — will have an eating disorder
  • Less than 6% of people with an eating disorder are medically diagnosed as underweight
  • 10,200 deaths a year are the direct result of an eating disorder — one every 52 minutes
  • Non-whites are significantly less likely than whites to have been asked by a doctor about eating disorder symptoms
  • Non-whites with eating disorders are half as likely to be diagnosed or receive treatment
  • Black people are less likely to be diagnosed with anorexia than white people but experience it longer
  • Black teenagers are 50% more likely than white teens to exhibit binge-eating and purging
  • Hispanics are significantly more likely to suffer from bulimia nervosa than non-Hispanics
  • Asian American college students report higher levels of body dissatisfaction than their non-Asian non-white peers
Man Vomiting in the Bathroom

What to Look For

Eating disorders result from severe disturbances in eating behaviors often related to thoughts and emotions. The person is focused on food, how they look, or their weight. They focus on those things at the exclusion of everything else.

The most common eating disorders and their symptoms:

Anorexia nervosa — People see themselves as overweight and tend to constantly weigh themselves. Those of the restrictive subtype seriously restrict how much they eat. The binge-purge subtype restricts how much they eat, though they may occasionally eat a large amount of food then purge by vomiting or using laxatives. They are dangerously thin. Anorexia can be fatal as organs and muscles can break down.

Bulimia nervosa — People with this condition will frequently eat large amounts of food, feel guilty about it, then purge, exercise excessively, use laxatives, fast, or a combination of all these behaviors. The vomiting can lead to damaged teeth, acid reflux, and dehydration.

Binge-eating disorder — A person will lose control of their eating and recurrently eat large amounts of food. They are often obese because the excessive eating is never followed by purging, fasting or exercise. This is the most common eating disorder in the U.S.

Father Hugging his Daughter

Talking to Your Teen

There are several reasons people can develop eating disorders. There is a potential genetic link as people who have siblings or parents with an eating disorder are more likely to develop an eating disorder. Depression and anxiety are often linked with eating disorders. Western culture emphasizes thin, athletic bodies. Certain activities — gymnastics, skating, ballet — seem to favor slender people.

Preventing an eating disorder starts with open communication about body image and diet.

  • Encourage healthy habits — Talk about how energy, appearance, and health are affected by diet. Encourage teens to only eat when hungry. Provide a good example.
  • Talk about media messages — Encourage teens to question what they see in the media about body types.
  • Discuss healthy body image — Reassure them that healthy body shapes aren’t uniform. Don’t joke about ANYONE’s looks or use hurtful nicknames based on someone’s appearance.
  • Promote self-esteem — Honor your teen’s accomplishments. Listen to them and look for positive qualities. Let them know you love and accept them unconditionally. It doesn’t matter how they look or what they weigh.
  • Talk about the dangers — Let your teen know it can affect their growth and long-term health. Emotional eating can lead to dangerous conditions. Let them know they can always talk to you about their feelings instead of turning to food.

AltaMed Is Here to Help

AltaMed’s experienced Behavioral Health team is staffed with licensed clinical social workers who speak English and Spanish and are trained to help cope with life’s stressors. Short-term therapy is available, and we can connect members with mental health services if long-term therapy or other support is needed. If you need help talking to a loved one, there are resources available to you. Call us at (855) 425-1777 to get started.

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Caffeine Teens

The Good and the Bad of Caffeine for Your Teen

It can be easy to forget that caffeine is a drug. It is specifically a stimulant. Just like other more dangerous stimulants — methamphetamine, cocaine, amphetamine, nicotine — it can be highly addictive.

That caffeine jolt is why some people can’t start their day without that first cup of coffee. They need the caffeine to help “get them going.”

People who try to eliminate caffeine from their routine can find themselves going through withdrawal. Symptoms include headaches, fatigue, anxiety, difficulty concentrating, and irritability. Now, imagine that in your teen.

Marketing caffeinated sodas to adolescents and teens is common practice. Today there are so many more caffeinated options, including sugary coffees and energy drinks. Those may be fine to enjoy occasionally, but too much of a good thing is still too much.

Teenagers Drinking Coffee

What Is the Right Amount?

Numerous factors go into determining the “right” amount of caffeine to consume. Weight and other health conditions are the biggest determinants. Up to 400 milligrams a day — or four cups of brewed coffee — is safe for most healthy adults.

Adolescents aged 12 to 18 should not have more than 100 mg of caffeine a day, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. That’s a cup of coffee or two to three cans of soda. More than that and you risk:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Hyperactivity
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
Little Girl Drinking Soda While Play Video Games

Let’s Talk About Energy Drinks

These have become the go-to source of energy for busy students who are trying to stay on top of their studies while juggling so many different activities. They are branded with names like Amp, Bang, Monster, Venom, and Rockstar.

Some are sold as drinks with 70 to 240 mg of caffeine, and there are the “energy shots,” which can have 113 to 200 mg of caffeine. The drinks can also contain ingredients like sugars taurine, and guarana, which is another source of caffeine.

They can help increase alertness, energy, and attention. But the potential effects on blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing can be dangerous.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, energy drink-related emergency room visits doubled from 2007 to 2011. In 2011, 1 in 10 resulted in hospitalization. That year, 42% of all energy drink-related emergency room visits involved combining energy drinks with alcohol or drugs.

Potential Dangers

Nearly 1,500 kids aged 12 to 17 took a trip to the ER for an energy drink-related emergency in 2011. The dangers include:

  • Dehydration
  • Heart complications
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia

The American Academy of Pediatrics says children and teens should avoid energy drinks entirely.

Integral Bar With Blueberry Fruits

Other Caffeine Sources

Sodas, coffee, tea, and energy drinks are the big sources of caffeine. But it also shows up in other foods and even some personal-care products. They include:

  • Chocolate
  • Coffee-flavored foods
  • Snack foods, like energy bars
  • Lip balms
  • Skincare products like some eye creams, scrubs, and moisturizers
  • Weight-loss supplements

Find Alternatives

The best source of energy for adolescents and teens is sleep. Getting enough sleep is vital for the healthy development of young minds and bodies. Consuming caffeine only inhibits getting enough sleep.

Having a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins can help maintain a steady stream of energy without the peaks and crashes that come from consuming too much caffeine.

Having a relationship with your AltaMed pediatrician is a good first step in raising a healthy and energetic child. We also have a host of wellness programs to get the entire family on a path to physical fitness and healthy food choices. 

Call AltaMed at (877) 462-2582 to get stared with us today.

Pregnancy Test Teen Pregnancy

The Truth about Teen Pregnancy

If you are thinking about being sexually active and are wondering how you can prevent being pregnant, or if you think you might be pregnant or might have gotten somebody pregnant, keep reading. You have some big decisions to make. It can seem like more than you can handle, but it doesn’t have to be.

There are many local and statewide resources to help you understand the options of how to prevent becoming pregnant, raising a child, exploring adoption, or having an abortion. To make the best decision for you, you first need all the facts.

Teenagers Couple Laughing Together

From Sex to Pregnancy

We know that people have sex for a variety of reasons besides trying to create a baby. Having unprotected sex, however, can lead to unexpected pregnancies.

How would you know if you’re pregnant and how do you find out for sure? Here are a few common signs.

  • Missing your period after sex — that’s the big one and you should probably take a pregnancy test if you’re regular period hasn’t happened.
  • Discomfort — pregnant people report nausea, vomiting, and sore breasts in the early stages of pregnancy.
  • Mood swings — some people get emotional in the first few weeks of pregnancy.
  • Tiredness — your body is working hard to support new cells growing inside you. Pregnancy also affects your hormones and can lower your energy levels.

Home pregnancy tests are a good first step, but it’s best to confirm your results, positive or negative, with a doctor.

If you had unprotected sex in the last 72 hours, you could go to any drug store and get the Plan B pill. It’s been called the “morning after” pill because it can stop someone from getting pregnant. The sooner you take it, the better the chance of stopping an unwanted pregnancy. You don’t need a prescription and you don’t need your parents’ permission.

Teenagers Holding Hands


Since it takes two people to get pregnant, ideally the two people involved would discuss what to do next. If you’re under 18, you need to let a parent, guardian, or other trusted adult know about your situation. You can only “hide” a pregnancy for so long. The sooner you tell someone, the sooner you can come up with a plan for “what’s next.”

Adoption — If this baby wasn’t part of your plan, there are plenty of parents who would be happy to adopt a child. Organizations like Planned Parenthood can talk to you about options for your pregnancy, including adoption.

Abortion — Ending the pregnancy is another option. You can get an abortion in California without the permission of your parents or a guardian even if you’re under 18. Most family planning clinics can perform an abortion and they can’t tell your parents. Be careful of places that call themselves “crisis pregnancy centers,” “pregnancy resource centers,” or any place that focuses on changing your mind about your pregnancy. A trustworthy provider offers the information you need to make your own decision.

Raising the baby — It can be done. There are a LOT of places that offer resources to teen parents. Organizations like Generation Her help teen moms reach their education and career goals. The state has programs too like the Adolescent Family Life Program and Cal-Learn. You can also reach out to AltaMed’s Youth Services team for information about options and resources available to you.

A Pregnancy Scare?

If you thought you were pregnant, but turns out you’re not, there’s no reason to take any more chances. Unprotected sex can lead to a lot more than a baby. Protection is key. Lots of places give out condoms and can help you get birth control. They can also test you for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or HIV.

Altamed Clinic Building

AltaMed’s Teen Center’s Got You

Sometimes it’s easier to talk to people like you and we’ve got that covered at the AltaMed Teen Center. You can also talk to our staff of health educators about sexual health, issues at home or at school, or anything you need to discuss. No judgment. No telling your parents. Just reliable information you can use to make healthy choices.

We offer free confidential sexual and reproductive health services including:

  • Health education

  • Birth control

  • Condoms

  • Emergency contraception

  • Pregnancy testing

  • STI and HIV testing and treatment

  • Referrals for PrEP and PEP (daily medication to prevent HIV before or after exposure)

Did we already say it was confidential? To make an appointment or ask a question anonymously, call or text 323-786-3132.

You have rights and there are laws protecting your sexual health. Contact the ACLU if you feel your rights have been violated.

Talking to Your Teen about Eating Disorders