The Diet Culture Devil
We are surrounded every day with media that proposes if we were smaller we would be happier. It is sold to us from such a young age and instilled in us by those around us who have fallen subject to the mindset that smaller is better. Especially in our current age of media we are constantly exposed to unrealistic beauty standards from such a young age that perpetuate a self-hatred and poor body image for many young adolescent girls and boys. Even those who set the beauty standards don’t even feel like they meet them themselves as we see them using photo editing apps to change the way their body looks on every picture they post for us and other young people to consume and compare themselves to. The media sells us that smaller bodies are better bodies, but fails to recognize that there is health at every size. Of American elementary school girls who read magazines, 69% say that the pictures influence their concept of the ideal body shape and 47% say the pictures make them want to lose weight.
Adolescent eating disorder statistics show 2.7% of teens in the U.S. between 13 and 18 years old have an eating disorder. According to the NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association), young people between the ages of 15 and 24 with anorexia specifically have 10 times the risk of dying compared to their same age peers. Males represent 25% of the individuals with anorexia and they are at higher risk of dying in part because they are often diagnosed later since many people assume males don’t have eating disorders.
Even though dieting is common among adolescents and has been normalized by our society it is not healthy behavior and should not be considered a normal part of being an adolescent. Disordered eating is used to describe a range of irregular eating behaviors that may or may not warrant a diagnosis of a specific eating disorder and eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa can be triggered by dieting. Dieting has been identified as substantially increasing the risk of developing an eating disorder especially if an individual is severely restricting calories for a period of time. One group of researchers found after following 496 adolescent girls for eight years that 5.2% of the girls met criteria for anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder and the number jumps to 13.2% of girls suffering from nonspecific disordered eating and eating disorder symptoms by the age of 20. Overall, eating disorder symptoms are beginning earlier and earlier in both girls and boys. Look to the sources at the bottom for specific descriptions of the different types of eating disorders.
Symptoms of Disordered Eating:
- Frequent dieting, anxiety associated with specific foods or meal skipping
- Chronic weight fluctuations
- Rigid rituals and routines surrounding food and exercise
- Feelings of guilt and shame associated with eating
- Preoccupation with food, weight and body image that negatively impacts quality of life
- A feeling of loss of control around food, including compulsive eating habits
- Using exercise, food restriction, fasting or purging to “make up for bad foods” consumed
Adolescents should not be encouraged to go on diets but rather should be given the opportunity to foster a healthy relationship with food and with their bodies. Mothers who are overly concerned about their weight are at an increased risk for modeling their unhealthy behaviors and attitudes towards food and their bodies to their children. Ways to combat the societal ideals of body and attitudes towards food take practice but can help prevent future difficulties for children and adolescents when it comes to self esteem, body image, and their relationship with food.
To help foster a positive relationship with food don’t label it good or bad, this sets an expectation that one should feel guilty when bad foods are eaten and can set up intense cravings. Avoid going on diets or putting your child on a diet and allow them to eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full, remind them it’s OK to trust their body and it’s signals. Remember, children have different eating habits from adults, for example, adolescents may require more food more frequently during the day or may go through periods of liking or disliking particular foods.
Encourage children and adolescents to feel good about their bodies by showing acceptance of different body shapes and sizes, even your own. Making effort to positively portray your own body as functional and well designed, as well as, model healthy eating and engaging in physical activity for health and enjoyment. Completely refrain from teasing your child about their appearance. Remind your child to listen to their bodies and become familiar with different physical feelings and experiences.
Help encourage self-esteem by helping your child develop effective coping strategies, a strong sense of identity and self-worth is important to help older children and adolescents cope with life pressures. Make sure to encourage your child to express their needs and wants, pursue things they are good at, and make decisions as well as cope with the consequences. Remind them that it’s OK to say no and encourage them to be assertive if they feel unfairly treated and help them develop a critical awareness of the images and messages that they receive from television and social media.
National Eating Disorders Association has a helpline with online chat available Monday—Thursday 9am—9pm ET and Friday 9am—5pm ET, telephone (800) 931-2237 open from Monday—Thursday 11am—9pm ET and Friday 11am—5pm ET, and a text feature available at the same number from Monday—Thursday 3pm—6pm ET and Friday 1pm—5pm ET.
NEDA also has a Crisis text Line Through this helpline where you can receive support, resources and treatment options for yourself or a loved one who is struggling with an eating disorder. If you are in a crisis and need help immediately, text “NEDA” to 741741 to be connected with a trained volunteer at Crisis Text Line. Crisis Text Line provides free, 24/7 support via text message to individuals who are struggling with mental health, including eating disorders, and are experiencing crisis situations. The website is also equipped with a short screening tool appropriate for ages 13 and up — this can help determine if it’s time to seek professional help.
The website above has great information about the different types of eating disorders and the symptoms that accompany them.
If you or a loved one is struggling and need to talk to someone, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services today at (407) 443-8862 to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced mental health counselors.