13 Year Old Son Refuse to Eat

Updated on November 13, 2013
S.G. asks from Lakeland, FL
18 answers

My son goes thur these phase's were he doesn't want to eat. He will go all day without eating. He is not depressed or has any issues. This doesn't go on for days. It just happens once in a while, but enough for me to be concerned.
He just says he is not hungry. Should I ground him till he eats? Should I treat him like a 2 yr old and say you can't get up from the table till you have finished all your food. How do you make a 13 yr old eat? He is already skinny as a stick. Should I just leave him alone till he gets sick from not eating.
When he does eat he eats a lot. Any advice?

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So What Happened?

I want to thank everyone for the great advice. He does do sports & that is why my concern is when he doesn't eat. I will take him to see a nutritionist. I feel much better now that I have some great advice on how to deal with this. Thanks everyone.

Featured Answers


answers from Minneapolis on

I am like this. Most days I am able to out-eat my 6'3" 200lbs husband (I'm 5'7" and am normally around 115lbs (I'm pregnant right now)), but there are some days where I am just not hungry and don't eat anything. You can take him to the doc if you think something is wrong, but I think that this is pretty normal.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Believe me, he eats, SOMEWHERE. If he is lethargic or ill worry. Otherwise he is snacking at school, at friends, all sorts of places. Don't worry.

4 moms found this helpful

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answers from Danville on

Some of the best advice I got from a pediatrician YEARS ago for my sometimes picky eaters was to journal what they ate over a week or two, rather than look at a 'particular' day. Sure enough, when I 'tracked' a week at a time, what they ate was in fact balanced.

I would suggest that you do this for your 13 year old as well.

I would also focus on the social aspects of eating...taking time to share the good and the bad about everyone's day.


7 moms found this helpful


answers from Baton Rouge on

Kids go thru appetite phases. He knows when he's hungry. Leave him be.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

This may not be the case, but:
If "when he does eat he eats a lot" means he is eating really huge amounts -- not just a big meal but constant and vast amounts all day, grazing constantly and taking in really large volumes -- he may be in a cycle of bingeing on food then refusing all food. Think about what he does when he DOES eat and if it is massive amounts, that's a red flag that he needs professional help. If it's just a healthy appetite (and frankly you may need to ask a doctor or nutritionist what that really should mean for a boy his age) it's not a binge-starve cycle but if he is binging and then refusing all food it's a cry for help.

I would say that would be a severe scenario and it's likelier that his metabolism is just one that is not the same as others' and he genuinely isn't hungry. But his body does need regular fuel. Take him for a checkup and insist that it includes blood work to check blood sugar levels, whether he's getting enough nutrients, etc. Yes, you will have to insist on that; they likely will not offer it as a matter of course, so be assertive. You just need to rule out any medical stuff.

Then ask for a referral to a pediatric nutritionist or registered dietitian who specializes in tweens and teens. He and you both need some sessions with this person to learn why he must get consistent fuel, not just "fuel when he feels like it." He also needs to learn why he doesn't feel hungry at times and how to read his body's signals better. Do not treat visits to the dietitian as punishments or as "You're so wrong about your eating that I'm going to prove it with this professional's help" because that will turn him off. Instead -- if he plays any sports, even solo ones, or if he wants to be healthy so he can do well in school, appeal to that. If he is in any sport with a coach, or if he participates in anything physical at all, have a coach or adult from that activity talk with him about consistent fueling of his body.

Do not make him sit at the table like a toddler until "it's all gone" and do not ground him. That will instantly turn his eating habits into a huge power struggle between you and you will lose. You cannot force another human being to eat and he knows already that he controls what he puts into his mouth, so telling him he must eat now, or must eat a certain food, will backfire. Appeal instead to his interest in his own health or his desire to play a certain sport or do a certain activity (which includes academics; body fuel is brain fuel too).

A friend went through something similar with her son and it required a nutritionist to work with them on what the whole family should be eating. It helped them to get that third party professional involved.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

Leave him alone, just like you should do with a 2 year old. People eat when they're hungry, and don't when they're not. It should never be a power struggle.

If you think he has an eating disorder (it can happen to boys too) then have him see a professional who specializes in adolescent eating disorders. But if it's just an occasional thing, back off. One of the few things kids can control is their own bodies. Don't turn this into a power struggle or treat him like a toddler.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Phoenix on

My 11 year old does this. He will eat like a bird for a week and then practically eat an entire pizza on his own. I would not make a big deal about it but make sure when he does it, that it's balanced meals since he's growing and it's important he's getting his nutrients. My kids have been taking a multivitamin since they were toddlers, maybe get him on one too so it helps him when he isn't eating much. But I definately would not ground him or punish him. Good luck.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

Yes, my advice would be to bring it up with his doctor and follow the doctor's advice, if there is a medical concern.

He's 13. You do not need a power struggle and you do not need to treat him like a 2 year old. You need to respect that he is growing up and can control certain things about his life and body. If there is a medical issue, then that is different, but otherwise, this isn't a hill I would die on.

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answers from Houston on

He'll eat when he's hungry. Could be at your house or anywhere else.
He won't get sick from not eating.

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answers from Washington DC on

It sounds like he does eat when his body tells him to. He should get with my 10 year old dd, they can not eat together!

Kids really do grow in spurts (I've read they can grow 1/2 - 1" overnight! I guess when the spurts happen, that's when they eat.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

Let him be. He'll eat when he's hungry. As long as he's growing he's fine. Please remember that issues with teenagers can quickly become power struggles so you have to ask yourself 'Is this the hill I want to die on?' meaning is this important enough that I need to never back down. Drugs and drinking are a hill you need to die on but eating during the day isn't if he's not showing signs that it's an eating disorder.

My son use to do the same thing. He'd eat breakfast and then nothing until dinner at 7 pm. Worked for him and he was healthier than the rest of the family.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Tampa on

My 12 year old is a rail too. My nickname for him lately is "slim." He doesn't have an ounce of fat on his body and he is very tall. Doctors say he's ok. I was overweight from 4th to 7th grade, so I had the opposite problem.

We have to remind him to eat. He will not join us at breakfast unless I encourage it. He will forget to eat breakfast. Most times he catches breakfast at school, but they don't serve decent stuff there in the morning.

You just have to be on top of him even if it means you are the bad guy or a nag. He needs food to think, have energy, do well in school.

My son came home from school today and was cranky with his sister. He hadn't eaten since lunch at 1 p.m. It was after 4:30 p.m. I insisted he have a snack but he said he wasn't hungry. Well, I finally got him to agree to something. I handed him an apple and his mood improved.

He tends to go for carbs and sugar, so it's a chore to get my kid to eat anything healthy. Maybe that's what is going on with your son.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

What time of day and what has he been doing that day? Sometimes I have been known to forget to eat if I am busy, but not physically active. Or if my sks get up really late, they may not eat anything til dinner.

I would ask that he come to the table for family meals, even if he doesn't eat. He can be asked about his day. With teens, that may be the only time of day you see them.

I would not otherwise make it a punishment not to eat.

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answers from Dallas on

I'm just not that worried about him yet. I would not insist he eat but I would insist on a multivitamin everyday. My youngest was very picky and a multivitamin would spur his appetite, as well as give him some vitamins.

He was very skinny and picky all through high school. He went to college and has expanded his palate. He eats a huge breakfast, doesn't have time for lunch, eats at the cafeteria for supper. He has started to make his own smoothie for lunch now. That might be a good alternative for your son.

There is hope!

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answers from Minneapolis on

My son used to do this quite often at that age. He would quickly make up for it by eating non-stop for an hour or two when he did feel like eating. Leave him alone, he will outgrow it.

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answers from Detroit on

First, I would rule out any medical concern. Is something he's eating upsetting his stomach? Is he constipated and embarrassed to talk to you about it? Perhaps a visit to the pediatrician on his own (drive him, but do not hover or go into the appointment with him), would give him the opportunity to open up to a neutral 3rd party?

After that, I would let it go. My brother eats the way you describe. It seemed to me, growing up, that rather eating every few hours, my brother consumed vast quantities of food for several days...then very little for a day or two...and then he'd become the human vacuum cleaner again. Your son may have a different eating rhythm. Don't force the issue. Force will result in an unhealthy relationship with food (and possibly you).

You're doing a great job. Continue it by keeping lots of fresh, healthy options available for when he does eat.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

He needs to go for a physical. It may be he has a blockage/constipation. If he's not hungry then he's not needing the food for some reason.

I have a friend whose son is over 6' and he weighs less than 100lbs. She is taking him to the doc in a couple of weeks. She is going to look at the hidden foods cookbook, she's going to try giving him nutritional supplements like protein drinks or Carnation Instant Breakfast or those nutritional drinks for kids that come in a bottle.

She's worried sick about him. He's shot up a foot over the summer and fall. His weight has stayed the same and he's just not hungry too. He will only eat a few things no matter what she cooks.

Trying to force him to eat is treating him like a baby. He's not going to eat just to show you he doesn't have eat on demand. It will backfire on you. So please don't do that to him. Have a doc find a supplement for him.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

you cannot force a teenager to eat. and if you could, it would be a terrible idea.
take him in for a full check-up, then leave him alone.

1 mom found this helpful
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