Although some strides have been made on the body positivity front, many adolescents (and even children as young as 6 years old) struggle with eating disorders. Although body image isn’t the only factor contributing to the occurrence of eating disorders, a distorted perception of one’s shape, including feelings of shame and self-consciousness, is one of the best-known contributors to their development. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, several risk factors have to do with how one perceives their body image:
- History of dieting
- Using more calories than taking in
- Self-oriented perfectionism
- Body image dissatisfaction
- Anxiety disorders
- Weight stigma
- Being targeted by bullies, especially regarding weight
- Embracing the idea of an ideal body as defined by society
While there are several risk factors that can influence whether someone develops an eating disorder, a large percentage of those factors are linked to negative perceptions about body image. With this in mind, how can you recognize when your son or daughter needs help for an eating disorder, what should you do when you recognize those signs, and how can you make a difference in embracing body positivity in your community?
Recognize the Signs of Eating Disorders in Your Teen
Adolescents experiencing eating disorders often go to great lengths to keep their activities hidden from parents, friends, and other sources of help. It’s important to realize that these disorders can lead to long-term health damage or death, and as many as 50 percent of girls and 30 percent of boys may be negatively affected by some level of disorders. If you recognize any of the following signs of an eating disorder, don’t wait to see if the behaviors pass. Early diagnosis is the best hope for preventing serious harm.
- Avoidance of entire food groups
- Frequent long trips to the bathroom
- Skipping activities where food is involved, including meals
- Eating more food than is considered normal
- An intense focus on food
- Complaints about being fat
- Excessive exercise
- Loss of energy
- Increased irritability
- Withdrawal from social activities
- Irregular menstrual cycle or absent cycles
If your teen has recently cut out all sugars and hasn’t replaced them with another food option, it’s time to watch out for other symptoms. If your son or daughter is “eating in their room” or using similar tactics to be absent during meals, there may be something deeper going on.
Respond to Signs of Eating Disorders
When you believe your daughter or your son is showing signs and symptoms of an eating disorder, you will need to get a professional involved. In between scheduling the appointment with a doctor and actually getting to the doctor, talk openly with your teen about her or his concerns and problems. Treatment plans generally involve forms of family therapy where relatively new ideas may be encountered. Size acceptance, a movement that has been around since the 1960s with Fat Acceptance Movement Origins, is an idea that it’s possible to be healthy and happy at all sizes. While making adjustments to the attitudes of all family members, your son or daughter may work on making changes to eating habits, get counseling for mental health conditions, and/or use prescribed medication.
Make a Change
It’s time for widespread changes to happen in society. As new understanding toward different body shapes and sizes spreads, adolescents may be less likely to develop misconceptions about “ideal” bodies. Read more about how body positivity promotes better physical and mental health with articles about NAAFA Origins and from researchers in many fields. As you learn more, change how you speak and act with regard to body positivity. Self-acceptance means also positively accepting your body size and shape. Your positive changes can help those in the community around you.