The Eating Disorder Your Teen is Hiding from You
There are a few “silent” conditions out there – you hear about hypertension being a “silent killer.” Or heart disease. Or diabetes. There are whole sections on websites dedicated to these diseases. But there is also another group that’s not often talked about: eating disorders. Anorexia and bulimia are two that seem to get the most attention. However, there is an entire range of eating disorders that affect millions of people around the world. And your teen may be hiding one of them from you. Would you know?
Weight is a regular topic of conversation in this country, mostly regarding overweight or obese children or adults. National emphasis has been placed on addressing childhood obesity, as this has shown to be a precursor for a myriad of health issues throughout adulthood. The information shared in this study however points to the importance of addressing both sides of the scale - espeically when it comes to adolescents.
A recent study published by the University of Illinois suggests that normal and underweight teenage girls who believe that they are overweight are at a significantly higher risk of developing unhealthy weight loss behaviors. Janet Liechty, a professor of social work and medicine at Illinois stated that “body-image distortion appears to be a more discriminating indicator of distress than body dissatisfaction, but it’s not something that’s typically screened for by health care professionals.”
What Exactly is Body Image Distortion?
Children and adults alike can struggle with body image. Body image refers ultimately to body satisfaction; how we feel about our body’s appearance. Many women, as many as 50-80%, are not satisfied with their body’s appearance. While body image issues are more prevalent with women than with men, they do occur in both genders.
Poor body image can result in a variety of negative medical outcomes when unsupervised over time. Lietchty went on to share that “body-image distortion is something we can begin to screen or to identify which teens are at risk for unsafe weight loss behavior.”
How Body Image Distortion Leads to Danger Down the Road
Liechty’s study, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, examines the relationship between weight loss behaviors and body image distortion. The weight loss behaviors focused on in the study were dieting, exercise and extreme weight loss techniques such as laxatives, diet pills and purging after eating. Through her study, Liechty discovered a link between the onset of dieting and body-image distortion. Ultimately, many of those studied with body-image issues eventually resorted to unsafe methods of weight loss, even when no weight loss was needed or recommended.
And that’s the real issue: “no weight loss was needed or recommended” . . . even though these subjects believed that to be the case. Not only that, but it was found that those who develop unsafe weight loss habits due to poor body image are more likely to sustain those habits into adulthood and beyond.
Liechty concluded by stating that “the best method of weight control is to focus on lifestyle changes and not on radical approaches because extreme methods wreak havoc with your body chemistry as well as your attitudes toward food and toward your body.”
If you are concerned about the eating habits of your teen, or if you think they might be suffering from a body image disorder, make sure to express your concerns – not only to your child, but to a healthcare professional. There are some great websites and organizations that can be helpful as well, such as ANAD and NEDA.