"Stories" from the Collective (YOU)

Self Esteem Issues and Eating Disorders

by Mary F

EDITOR'S NOTE: this isn't Mary F sharing her own symptoms of low self esteem, rather it's a reasoned, close look at eating disorders as a low self esteem sign - especially in teenagers...

Research has proven that one of the major causes of low self esteem in teenagers is a negative body-image. Some teenagers focus on perceived flaws in their appearance to such an extent that they isolate themselves, withdrawing from social activities they once enjoyed. Many then try to fight back through unhealthy eating habits -- and as a result, the number of adolescents developing eating disorders is rising at an alarming rate. .

Parents may say to themselves, "Well, my child isn't overweight, so I have nothing to worry about." But are you sure? Does your son spend far too much time on the elliptical trainer? Does your daughter obsess about counting calories, or disappear to the bathroom right after a meal? If so, there may be a problem -- and you need to face it head on...

Let's call a spade a spade

Eating disorders are classified by the medical community as real diseases. Nonetheless, among the general public there's a misperception that these are behaviors that anyone can control at will. This couldn't be further from the truth, and this belief is almost as deadly as the diseases themselves. Friends and family can cause serious damage to adolescent self esteem when they offer well-meaning advice such as:.

"You just need to use your willpower."
"If you want to lose weight, don't eat so much."
"Stop eating when you're full. That's easy enough."
"Come on, one bite won't kill you."
"Why won't you eat? What's the matter with you?"
"Oh my God, you're one of those anorexics!"
"Just eat -- don't you realize you're killing yourself?".

Someone with an eating disorder needs to be treated with the same respect as someone with any other disease. You wouldn't say to someone diagnosed with cancer, "Will you stop obsessing over cancer, already? It's all in your head!" Keep this in mind the next time you feel the need to give someone advice about how or what they eat..

A number doesn't define who you are

So many of us become obsessed with a number on a scale or a clothing tag that we lose ourselves trying to become the number we feel is the acceptable norm. Over 50% of American women wear a size 14 or larger and the "average" size woman weighs 150 pounds -- yes, really! The idea that everyone should be a certain size is further influenced by the expectations forced upon us by television, advertising, movies and the fashion industry, where the "in" look focuses on waif-thin actresses and models. .

How many little girls have to grow up thinking that shopping for a plus size prom dress is the end of the world, before this obsession with the perfect size becomes a thing of the past? How many women will starve themselves with the hope they can fit into their dream wedding dress or a sexy special occasion dress that's two sizes too small for their body type? How long do our kids have to keep dealing with loneliness by seeking solace in food -- or by rejecting it altogether?.

What causes eating disorders?

While the causes of eating disorders aren't entirely clear, it's believed that a combination of psychological, genetic, social and family factors plays a huge role in who manifests them. Teenagers are under an enormous amount of pressure these days, and they feel that they need to be perfect if they're to succeed. In this kind of environment, self esteem issues are the order of the day..

Many of these misperceptions of perfection are learned in their own homes. If a child has parents who are constantly berating the way their own bodies look, making fun of the way other people look, always going on t he latest and greatest diet -- or, worse yet, trying to put their children on diets -- it's no wonder that feelings of low self esteem in teenagers can manifest as destructive behavior. .

Sadly, victims of diseases like bulimia, anorexia and compulsive overeating are getting younger every day. In the past, such eating disorders were associated almost exclusively with females; in the past few decades, however, boys have become increasingly at risk. It's important to recognize that both genders can and do suffer from these diseases..

How can you help your teenager?

You can help your kids by recognizing the signs of an eating disorder. Keep in mind that a person does not have to be "pencil thin" to suffer from anorexia or bulimia. These diseases can be insidious, but the symptoms are there if you're willing to look. For example, anorexia and bulimia are often characterized by an obsessive desire to lose weight -- so if your teen is working out on a treadmill several times a day, you have reason to be concerned. In addition, keep an eye out for the following symptoms:.
  • Dramatic weight loss
  • Secretive eating patterns
  • Obsessive about counting calories & fat content
  • Low blood pressure
  • Persistent sore throat, toothaches (from purging)
  • Lack of a menstrual cycle
  • Overuse of diet pills and/or laxatives
  • Mood swings and/or depression
  • Excessive fatigue
  • The belief that food is one's "enemy"

Some symptoms of compulsive overeating are obvious, but those that aren't include:.
  • Depression
  • Secretive eating patterns
  • Isolation from friends & activities
  • Excessive sweating
  • Promiscuity
  • Chronic leg, back and joint pain
  • Severe mood swings
  • Excessive fatigue, sleeping
  • The belief that food is one's "friend"

More complete lists of the symptoms of both classes of eating disorders can be found here Something-Fishy.org. If your teen shows signs of these symptoms -- especially the obvious ones like bingeing, purging, and dramatic weight gain or loss -- then you should get them professional help immediately. Preferably with a medical professional or counselor who specializes in eating disorders..

These diseases MUST be treated by medical professionals; they can't just be "willed away." If you aren't sure whether a person has a problem with eating disorders, talk to them about it while calmly expressing your concern. Ask them to take this quiz for anorexia and bulimia, and this one for compulsive overeating. Both the associated sites, Bulimia.com and Overeaters Anonymous, are excellent places to start looking for help..

A Light at the End of the Tunnel

After all these years, the fashion industry is finally starting to realize the effect they're having on self esteem in teenagers. In January 2007, the Council of Fashion Designers of America released new recommendations as part of an ongoing health initiative. Among other things, they urged that people in the industry make an effort to educate themselves about the warning signs of eating disorders, and to require models with proven eating disorders to get professional help -- and not to allow them to work until their health professionals approve. They also recommended that the industry develop workshops on the causes and effects of eating disorders..

Meanwhile, Madrid Fashion Week banned models with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of less than 18. According to the World Health Organization, anyone with a BMI of less than 18.5 is underweight. (In other words, most fashion model s are skinnier than famine victims.) Italy followed Spain's lead, with restrictions that no longer allow designers to hire models younger than sixteen. All models are required to submit medical proof that they don't suffer from eating disorders..

Just think -- the next generation of kids might not have to worry about the insanity of stick-thin models influencing them into starving themselves to death, or about meeting unnatural, unrealistic body image expectations. How wonderful it would be to live in a world where people are happy with themselves just as they are. Now that would be a little bit of Heaven on Earth – and don't we deserve it?.

Published with permission (FCDMInc)


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