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Teens, Body Image and Eating Disorders

Posted by Sue Scheff on June 24, 2015  /   Posted in Parenting Teens, Struggling Teen Help

Body image is a serious subject to both pre-teens and teens.

It’s bathing suit season combined with the pressure to fit-in with the cool-kids, today’s teens may take drastic measures to drop pounds.

Of course the Internet has resources that is always a click away to give them ideas (and not in a good way) to lose weight quickly.

As much as the web is an educational tool, it can also be used for purposes that are not healthy for people.

Many dangerous places exist in cyberspace, especially for those with body image difficulties. A quick, easy Google search can produce a long list of pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia websites – places where those who suffer from eating disorders (ED) support each other and establish a sense of community.

There are at least 100 active pro-anorexia and pro-bulimia sites. Some statistics state that several of these sites have accumulated tens of thousands of hits. Many sites treat eating disorders as lifestyle choices, rather than the illnesses they truly are. Most personify anorexia (“Ana”) and bulimia (“Mia”) into companions – individuals one can look to for guidance and strength.

The medical community classifies eating disorders as mental illnesses. Experts say girls with eating disorders focus on their bodies in a misguided bid to resolve deeper psychological issues, believing that they can fix their inner troubles by achieving a perfect outside.

EatingDisorderEating disorder specialists say pro-anorexia sites are particularly dangerous since those suffering from the disease are usually in deep denial and cling to the illness to avoid dealing with its psychological underpinnings. Websites that glorify eating disorders make treatment increasingly difficult.

  • Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.
  • There are an estimated 7 million females and 1 million males suffering from eating disorders in the United States.
  • The Harvard Eating Disorders Center estimates that 3 percent of adolescent women and girls have anorexia, bulimia or binge-eating disorders.
  • Four-of-five 13-year-old girls have attempted to lose weight.
  • One study showed that 42 percent of first- through third-grade girls want to be thinner.

About 1 percent of females between 10 and 20 have anorexia nervosa. Between 2 percent and 3 percent of young women develop bulimia nervosa. Almost half of all anorexics will develop bulimia or bulimic patterns.

Without treatment, up to 20 percent of people with serious eating disorders die. With treatment, the mortality rate falls to 2 to 3 percent. The recovery rate with treatment is about 60 percent. Alas, only 10 percent of those with eating disorders receive treatment.

Pro-ED sites are just one reason why parents need to monitor children’s online behavior. In the web journals or logs (blogs) of these sites, users share near-starvation diets, offer tips for coping with hunger and detail ways to avoid the suspicions of family members.

They discuss extreme calorie restriction and weight loss through laxatives, diet pills and purging (self-induced vomiting).

  • Between the ages of 8 and 14, females naturally gain at least 40 pounds.
  • More than half of teenage girls are – or think they should be – on diets.
  • Websites were changing the very culture surrounding eating disorders, making them more acceptable to girls on and off the Internet.
  • Pro-ED sites thrive off the denial aspect of the illnesses while promoting the perceived benefits of having an eating disorder.

Bulimia Nervosa message conceptual design

Eating disorders in children and teens cause serious changes in eating habits that can lead to major, even life threatening health problems. The three main types of eating disorders are:

  • Anorexia , a condition in which a child refuses to eat adequate calories out of an intense and irrational fear of becoming fat
  • Bulimia , a condition in which a child grossly overeats (binging) and then purges the food by vomiting or using laxatives to prevent weight gain
  • Binge eating, a condition in which a child may gorge rapidly on food, but without purging

Resources provided by:

  • Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders, Inc.
  • Harvard Eating Disorders Center
  • The National Institute of Mental Health
  • Reuters
  • Socialist Voice of Women
  • WebMD
  • South Carolina Department of Mental Health

If you suspect your child is struggling with an eating disorder, get help immediately.  If they refuse to attend local resources or you are not seeing any progress, please contact us for residential therapy options.

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