How much do you know about eating disorders beyond what is often portrayed in movies and television shows? If you have never personally struggled with an eating disorder or known of someone who has fought one or more eating disorders, you may not understand it. You may also miss the signs of an eating disorder in your teen.
To better understand what your teen is going through and learn why body image issues have taken over their lives, you should take the time to learn all that you can about eating disorders.
Body image and the teenager
It’s fair to say that today’s teens are bombarded with unrealistic images from almost every quadrant. While this is certainly not a new issue for teens, it can be even more overwhelming for a teen already struggling with their body image.
If we’re honest with ourselves, we all likely have something about our face or body that we’d like to change. But what would be genuinely driving that desire for change? There are good odds that outside influences making you feel like who you are and what you look like is simply not good enough.
Just what is body image? It’s how we see ourselves when we look in the mirror or even get a mental visual of what we look like. A few parts make up our body image that is important to be aware of.
- Body image is how you feel about every aspect of your body. This includes your shape, weight, height, and skin and hair color.
- Body image is what you think and believe about your physical appearance.
- Body image is how you feel in your body, how you move and control your body.
Children and teens are at risk of internalizing negative body images from a very young age. It’s important to note that having a healthy body image is vital to preventing or controlling eating disorders and overall mental wellness.
There is a strong connection between body image and self-esteem, with many of today’s teens finding that they struggle immensely with how they see themselves in the mirror.
Factors that can contribute to poor body image in teens
Do you know what could be contributing to your teen’s poor body image? It’s good to note that body image is learned. None of us is born with a negative body image. It’s learned from our parents and other external influences.
There is a strong push for women to have a thinner physique in the United States and much of Western culture. This trend was amplified by slender models in the 1960s and continued into the 1980s with an influx of diet promotions and an increased focus on body size and shape.
Since social media entered our lives, the focus on body size and shape has only accelerated. Countless reality stars and influencers pose and post, showing off what is meant to be the very vision of perfection. They aren’t always forthcoming about the filters and surgical procedures that achieve those looks. It’s not just women who are targeted. Men have been increasingly targeted with pressure to get a muscular and athletic physique.
Parents need to be acutely aware of what they say around children and teens. If parents or other relatives are constantly on diets, engaging in strict workout programs, and constantly speaking about weight and shape, it can have a sharp negative influence on impressionable children and teens. Fatphobia and other comments about how other people look can also be internalized by young people listening intently to the adults around them.
Healthy self-esteem can play an essential role in having a positive body image. With a healthy self-esteem comes more confidence and that thicker emotional skin that can serve as protection against negative messages about body image. Teens with healthy self-esteem will feel less of a need to try and conform to what is being projected as the ideal body.
Trauma or abuse
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that teens who have experienced trauma or abuse will have concerns with body image. There can be a significant impact on teen body image if they struggle with trauma or abuse that hasn’t been addressed healthily through therapy.
A focus on changing their body can often be a way to regain control they feel they’ve lost or disconnected from the underlying pain and confusion they are feeling.
Physical activity or being sporty
Staying active and taking part in sports are great ways for teens to keep healthy. However, if teens are feeling pressure to attain a specific body shape, it could potentially lead to an increase in negative body images. Consider the anxiety that many ballet dancers are under to maintain a very slender physique.
Football players are another example. They may be under pressure to gain a bit of weight or put on more muscle. Without healthy self-esteem, teens may become preoccupied with body image.
With many factors that could contribute to your teen’s body image issues, it can be challenging to understand how to best help a struggling teen. Many parents may not even recognize the signs of an eating disorder or obsession with exercise in their teens until it has progressed to the point of being dangerous.
Identifying body image concerns in your teen
How can you recognize that your teen is struggling with body image or an eating disorder? Learning to recognize the signs will put you in a better position to intervene when your teen is struggling. Keep in mind that the way your teen presents a negative body image can vary significantly from the way that another teen does.
Some of the common signs include the following.
- Pointing out their perceived imperfections often when looking in the mirror or during conversations.
- Avoiding social interactions with excuses about how they believe they look or because they may be expected to eat certain foods they believe are taboo.
- Crash or fad dieting and being obsessed with calorie and fat counts.
- Negative talk about their body could include language such as, “I feel so ugly.” “I’m so fat.” “I wish my thighs were thinner.”
- Asking for a consultation with a cosmetic surgeon for any number of cosmetic changes. This could include altering their nose, chin, thighs, chest, etc.
- A strong drive to work out and go to the gym. Teens with an eating disorder may also start to work out in secret.
Your teen may feel like they are a completely different person than the one you’ve known. But in truth, you know your teen better than anyone else. If something feels off or looks unusual, you should trust your instincts and start the conversation.
Concerns with unhealthy body image and eating disorders
There are several concerns for parents to be aware of if their teens struggle with negative body image and eating disorders. Parents need to understand that eating disorders are much more complex than simply being about food, and no organ in the body is spared from harm once an eating disorder is present. The concerns can also differ between types of an eating disorders. Broadly speaking, there are two types to be aware of.
1. Restrictive. Anorexia nervosa is an example.
2. Binge-purge, with binge-non-purge being on the same track. Bulimia nervosa is an example.
Some of the health problems teens face with eating issues include the following.
- Reproductive health concerns
- Slowed heart rate and low blood pressure
- Low levels of potassium
- Brittle hair and nails
- Stomach problems, including chronic constipation
- Type 2 diabetes
- Heart failure
- Kidney failure
This is just a sampling of the health concerns that your teen may be facing. With this in mind, there is an urgency to get them the correct type of treatment to help address their negative body image issues, self-esteem concerns, and the eating disorder that is likely now consuming every aspect of their lives.
Connecting with the HelpYourTeenNow team will help you find the right type of resources to get your teen the help they need. We understand the importance of selecting the correct type of treatment program for your teen in crisis.