In this day and age health, body image, and healthy eating are always in the media. The challenge is deciphering what information is accurate and what information is the “latest fad”. Coupled with this, are the media images depicting individuals with unrealistic and unhealthy bodies. Over time images, particularly of women, have shifted from a Marilyn Monroe body type to a waif-like figure. The current idea of an ideal body type is not only unrealistic but is often unattainable for most people. Teens, in particular, are bombarded with these images in the media, and have come to idolize certain media figures that epitomize society’s current perception of the “perfect body”. Unconsciously, individuals normalize these images and set them as their new standard of comparing their own body as well as others.
In the United States, there are as many as 10 million females and 1 million males battling an eating disorder in some capacity. The onset for many eating disorders occurs during adolescence, particularly in females between the ages of 14 and 17. However eating disorders can also affect males and children as young as 5 years old. In fact, from 1999 to 2006 hospitalizations for eating disorders in children under the age of 12 increased 119%.
Eating disorders do not discriminate based on culture, race, age, etc. but we do tend to see certain pockets of high risk groups in this area. Education and awareness can be a double edged sword. Currently in our community there is significant emphasis on fighting obesity and promoting healthful eating. Whereas this is an important issue, there is a fine line between educating and creating an unhealthy mindset. It is a challenge to talk to your child about a healthy lifestyle and healthy eating. If that is a difficult topic, please reach out to your pediatrician for more information or further resources. Not every eating disorder starts because of some major traumatic event. Historically, it has been assumed that eating disorders occurred as a coping mechanism for trauma, family turmoil, or some other life altering event. Certainly these etiologies can still ring true, but more often than not we see individuals fall into disordered eating for much simpler reasons. Unfortunately, regardless of the reason, eating disorders are very tricky to diagnose and often very insidious.
Things to look out for in your child:
- “People pleaser”, perfectionist, thrives on control
- Competitive sports that emphasize body image (i.e. gymnastics)
- A sudden change in dietary habit (i.e. becoming vegetarian)
- A sudden interest in food, reading labels, and portion control
- Making excuses during meals (i.e. stomachache, not hungry, already ate)
- Not making time to eat with excuses such as forgetting or too busy
- Sudden or slow weight loss
- Sensing anxiety or uncomfortableness around food
- Being overly obsessive about food (i.e. preplanning what one may eat at a restaurant)
- Becoming defensive when encouraged to eat
Most often eating disorders get missed because they take place over time. It is difficult to assess body changes when you see that person every day. In addition, individuals with eating disorders don’t often know that they have an eating disorder. For example, they may truly believe they are eating healthier. Individuals with eating disorders can be extremely adept at masking their illness and may have the perfect answer for anyone’s concerns or questions. Knowing that it is so difficult, please reach out to your pediatrician with any concerns big or small.