Body Image and Eating Disorders in Teens and Preteens

In the quest for thinness, has your teen developed an eating disorder?

Is your teen or adolescent excessively concerned about her shape and weight? Is she irritable, depressed, or withdrawing from friends? When combined with weight loss, binge eating, or avoiding food, these signs may suggest that your child has developed an eating disorder explains psychologist with BC Children’s Hospital, Dr. Ron Manley. “People with anorexia have weight well below what a normal weight would be for their age and height, a real fear of being a normal weight, and an obsessive concern over their shape and weight. The other disorder, bulimia nervosa is where the individual is having episodes of binge eating and purging, that is, trying to counteract the effects of the food that they’re eating.”

Dr. Manley says we can help prevent our teens from acquiring eating disorders by “helping children develop their sense of self esteem, rather than emphasizing their body image and weight, helping your child achieve a balanced life style, and communicating with young people how they’re feeling. And it’s important to help decrease competitiveness in young girls. Often the only area young girls feel that they can compete is in the area of body weight and shape, and I think that it’s important for parents and all adults to take a look at this.”

While conditions such as anorexia and bulimia effect only a small percentage of the population, they can be deadly. It’s estimated that of six people diagnosed with anorexia, one will die. So it’s important that parents take the symptoms of these disorders seriously explains Judith Toews, co-author of Raising Happy Healthy Weight Wise Children. “A child who is complaining about being fat is sending a message. A child who is skipping meals, avoiding certain foods and becoming fat phobic may be showing signs of an eating disorder.”

Toews adds that “if a parent is concerned that her child has an eating disorder, it’s important to get some professional help right away by calling a doctor or a local public health office. It’s important not to try to diagnose the problem yourself and to not make your child feel that you’re concerned about what they’re doing. It’s important to be supportive and very often if parents start to worry that their child is eating too much or too little, it forces the child into secretive behavior, and can led to a breakdown in communication between the parent and child. Communication is really important in terms of the child getting better.”

Adapted from The Parent Report Radio Show. Any advice or information contained herein should never be a substitute for professional and/or medical advice, diagnosis and treatment. For more information please review Terms of Service.

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