In the months of May and June, we always have our Fathers and Mothers close in mind, so it is worth reflecting on the significant contributions dads can make towards their own kids’ body image and self-esteem.
It is important to be mindful of the things they say that could possibly trigger poor body image, such as commenting in a negative way about their own body image, weight or looks. This article will explore ways for dads and moms to help prevent disordered eating in their children.
By Melissa Howard, StopSuicide.info
Body shaming – it’s a word we use to refer to someone who puts another person down because of their physical appearance, oftentimes in regard to weight. Whether we like it or not, we are judged by others, but this can have detrimental effects on teens who are just beginning to discover themselves. According to statistics provided by Mirror-mirror.org, 95 percent of those with eating disorders are adolescents ranging in age from 12 – 25 years old. However, eating disorders don’t discriminate, and people of any age, gender, or race can suffer from an eating disorder. As a parent, this is very frightening, but there are signs you can look for, as well as ways to help.
How to Spot the Signs
Teens change up their eating habits often. One day they say they are becoming a vegetarian, and the next they are asking for permission to host a bonfire (complete with hotdogs and hamburgers) with their friends. Perhaps your teen skipped breakfast to finish up some homework, or has started trying to get fit and healthy for sports, summer or an upcoming dance. These are all normal, teen habits, but there are several signs to watch out for such as weight fluctuations (loss and gain), pushing food around on their plate instead of eating, or stashing food in their room beyond normal habits. There are also disorder-specific signs to be aware of:
- Anorexia – Obsession with calories/fat, exercise, food preparation; hiding or throwing away food; distorted body image; sudden weight loss; feeling tired, weak or dizzy.
- Bulimia – Dating large portions of food without weight fluctuation; obsession with fasting and exercise; trips to the bathroom after every meal (purging); teeth discoloration, bad breath, or stomach pain due to self-induced vomiting.
- Binge-eating – Consuming large quantities of food; stashing food in room; eating to cope; eating in secret; weight gain; high blood pressure.
The Correlation with Mental Health
According to Mental Health America, “Eating disorders are real, complex medical and psychiatric illnesses that can have serious consequences for health, productivity and relationships,” and it is inaccurate to think of them as a fad or phase. In fact, eating disorders often co-occur with other mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression and other mood disorders.
There is even a correlation between eating disorders and suicide, which is one of the leading causes of premature death among adolescents struggling with eating disorders. The emotional, physical and mental pain that your teen is experiencing as a direct result of their eating disorder puts them at risk of developing suicidal ideations as a means of relief. There is also a high risk of suicide when going through recovery for an eating disorder since many times the eating disorder masked underlying depression or anxiety.
Their eating disorder takes front and center, and it is exhausting. Be on the lookout for signs your teen may be having suicidal thoughts such as changes in mood/behavior, social isolation, depression, anxiety, recklessness or an admission to a past attempt or current intent.
Talking to Your Teen
There are various conversations you will have to have with your teen, but discussing a possible eating disorder will be one of the difficult ones. However, it is a conversation that isn’t optional due to the risks it poses to your child’s health and wellbeing. When starting the conversation, refrain from making accusatory statements. Instead, express your concern and let your teen know that you are there to support and help in any way you can without judgment. Make body image a positive experience by offering healthy food options, exercising as a family, and building up your teen’s self-confidence through positive comments and reinforcement.
Be mindful of the things you say that could be a trigger, such as commenting on your own weight or looks. Most importantly, talk with your doctor about steps you can take and treatment options should you suspect that your teen has an eating disorder.
Your teen is beautiful and has her own unique features, but how she perceives herself may be vastly different. Eating disorders directly impact the way your teen sees herself, and if not treated, can lead to health complications, mental disorders and suicide.
Take note of what to look out for, have a conversation and build a support system, so that your teen can begin fighting back and win.
Erica Leon is a Registered Dietitian and practices from a Health at Every Size (HAES®) lens. She is certified as an eating disorder specialist and is passionate about helping women at midlife, menopause and beyond to make peace with food and body image.
Erica is a highly sensitive nutrition therapist who takes the time to learn where you or your family are in the pursuit of health. Respectful of your individual needs and lifestyle, she will provide an honest assessment of whether or not you are a good fit to work together. Click here to schedule a 15-minute Discovery Call with Erica to let us know about your needs, and to see which of our Dietitians is the best fit for you!
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