Eating Disorders, such as bulimia nervosa, can develop as a result of stress, fad dieting, distorted nutritional habits and trauma. While eating disorders, such as bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa, also occur in young boys and men, girls tend to experience them more often. Typically characterized by an obsession with food, restricting calories and negative body image issues in adolescence, eating disorders can affect people from all different walks of life. Teen body image refers to how adolescents see themselves, while a negative or distorted teen body image refers to an unrealistic view of how young girls and boys see their own bodies. Teenage body image issues are very common in American households, leaving many parents struggling to identify the early warning signs of an eating disorder.
What Are the Common Symptoms of a Teenage Eating Disorder?
Some of the most common signs of eating disorders, such as bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa, include the following:
- Yo-yo or fad dieting
- Teenage body image issues(obsession with losing weight, fear of gaining weight, inability to see they are underweight for their age and height, etc.)
- Compulsive or excessive exercise
- Restricting certain food groups, such as carbohydrates, fats, sugars, etc.
- Developing rituals surrounding food or meal time (eating foods in a certain order, excessive chewing, etc.)
- Avoiding social situations that involve food, hiding food or hoarding food
- Using the restroom directly after mealtime
- Irritability, anxiety, depression
- Fainting, tiredness or general weakness
- Menstrual issues in young women (infrequent periods or the loss of periods altogether)
It may be common for parents to notice signs of teenage girls’ body image issues in the early stages of eating disorder development. While it is easy to assume teens may be just be adjusting to new peer pressures as they enter middle and high school, it is important for parents to pay attention to the development of negative body image and look out for additional eating disorder warning signs as well. Opening a good line of communication, however difficult it may be, is very important during this time.
Teen Body Image and Eating Disorders
Most modern studies that have been conducted on body image in adolescence show that a negative body image can be one of the major contributing factors to eating disorder development. Additionally, many individuals begin to develop their own sense of body image in early adolescence. This is the time when most kids begin to think more about the attractiveness of their body, their overall health and how acceptable their body may or may not be to themselves or others. While this all typically begins in early childhood, thoughts and feelings about body image continue to develop as people age and begin to receive feedback from their loved ones, friends, peers, coaches, teachers, etc.
During this time young people can also begin to form certain personality traits that may be common in teens with eating disorders, such as perfectionism and self-criticism. Some additional signs of a negative or unhealthy teen body image may include:
- Envying the body shape or size of others including friends, family members or celebrity idols
- Thinking or voicing belittling comments about their body
- Frequently comparing their body to others
- Engaging is obsessive self-scrutiny in mirrors or windows
What Is Negative Body Image?
Characterized by a chronic dissatisfaction with one’s own appearance, people who have a negative body image will typically engage in some form of compensatory behavior to help combat their negative feelings. These compensatory behaviors can range from dieting and fasting to avoidance behaviors or binge eating and purging. Negative body image develops most often in early childhood, with 50 percent of preadolescent girls and 30 percent of preadolescent boys stating they dislike their bodies. Similarly, around 60 percent of adult women and 40 percent of adult men report they have a negative body image.
How Do Negative Teenage Body Image Issues Affect Eating Disorder Development?
Eating disorders are very complex and high-risk mental illnesses that are caused by a number of different environmental and genetic factors. Poor body image in adolescence is just one of the main contributing factors to developing an eating disorder. However, it is important for parents and families to be aware that teenage girls’ body image issues are prominent in eating disorder development. This is based on the idea that many teens with eating disorders place a high value on the shape of their body as well as their overall weight. In fact, for most teens, their self-worth can quickly become wrapped up in their body image.
A skewed perception of one’s weight and shape is a common symptom of many different eating disorders, especially anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. However, focusing on one’s own weight or body shape is not something that always factors into the development of other eating disorders, such as binge eating disorder. Approximately 60 percent of people with binge eating disorder (or BED), admit to obsessing over their body shape and weight.
Why Do So Many People Have Body Image Issues in Adolescence?
In addition to the fact that this is a time when most people begin to evaluate their body in relation to others, the teen years are a time of many changes. Not only do teens have to deal with physical changes to their bodies, but they must also navigate new chemical changes in their brain, emotional changes and an increasing workload from school and other activities. There is a reason so many people look back on their teen years and wonder how they got through it all in one piece!
The stresses of measuring up to societal standards are also a factor that can lead to body image issues in teenage girls (and boys). Where once teens only had to compete with the images they saw on television or in magazines, social media has made peer pressure and the need to “fit in” that much more intense. What many young teens do not realize is the fact that the people they look up to on social media may not actually look the way they appear in photos or the fact that they are only allowing their followers to see a very small portion of their day. This can present a great opportunity for parents to open up the lines of communication and let their kids know not everything is as it seems online.
Becoming a student-athlete can afford teens many amazing opportunities in life. From making new friends to becoming more disciplined, staying healthy and potential scholarships down the line, most parents view sports as an important rite of passage for their children. While this can be the case, becoming a student-athlete can also put a great deal of pressure on teens to maintain a certain body shape and perform at the top of their sport. For example, most people have heard of the term, “making weight”.
While the occasional need to drop a few pounds to participate in the next wrestling or gymnastics meet may not seem like a big deal, when teens are constantly under pressure to maintain a certain weight, there can be dire consequences. Parents of teen athletes should keep this in mind as they watch their children on the court and keep an eye out for any warning signs they may be experiencing negative body image issues.
Early Intervention and Eating Disorder Treatment Options
Early intervention is key to successful eating disorder treatment and recovery. If parents believe they are seeing the signs of teenage girl body image problems, it is best to act quickly to discuss their worries with their child. While this can be a frightening idea for some, it is necessary to ensure the health of young teens as they navigate this difficult stage in life. If parents are unsure where to start as they voice their concerns, it is important to remember that playing the blame game is rarely helpful.
Instead of skirting around the issue, it may be more beneficial to come right out with any concerns that parents and other family members may have and make it known the family is only there to offer support. It can also be helpful to let teens know they have a solid support system surrounding them. Parents should let their teens know body image issues in adolescence are very common and there are many different treatment options available for anyone who has an eating disorder.
Eating Disorder Treatment Options for Teens
Finding the right treatment option for teens can seem like a daunting task at first, but with a bit of patience and plenty of research, parents can find a level of care that everyone in the family feels comfortable with. If a child has developed an eating disorder, such as bulimia nervosa or anorexia nervosa, and their condition is in the more advanced stages, residential treatment may be necessary. With this level of care, patients will have access to both medical and psychiatric care in a safe and supportive environment. This means if they have medical issues such as an irregular heartbeat, they will be monitored by a team of medical professionals. Additionally, if a teen is experiencing issues with depression or anxiety, they can receive psychiatric care during their residential stay.
Some of the other common eating disorder treatment options for teens include:
- Outpatient/Intensive Outpatient or Day Treatment: This level of care is ideal for patients who are both medically and psychiatrically stable. They may have already completed a residential treatment program or need a higher level of care than individual therapy can provide.
- Partial Hospitalization:This type of treatment is ideal for those who are medically and psychiatrically stable, but may still benefit from a supportive program that can help them transition back into a regular routine.
- Residential Treatment: The purpose of residential eating disorder treatment is to help stabilize patients who are dealing with medical and mood instability. Here, they will be closely monitored by a team of medical and psychiatric professionals as they engage in eating disorder counseling.
Teen Eating Disorder Treatment at Clementine
Negative body image in teenage girls and boys is something every parent should be aware of. While the fact that a child has poor body image does not necessarily mean they have an eating disorder, it may greatly increase their chances of developing one. Research shows poor body image is one of the last symptoms of an eating disorder to be resolved in treatment; but when teens are in the right treatment program, they have a greater chance of experiencing long-term recovery.
At Clementine, we are proud to support teens and their families as they begin on the path to recovery. By providing a safe, comfortable and home-like setting, we make it possible for teens to explore and challenge their disordered thoughts and behaviors and replace them with healthy life skills that will help them achieve a bright future.