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by Christel Swasey

Teenage Health Eating Disorders

As a mother, I would never say in front of my daughters or my sons, even if I was thinking it, that I thought that today I am looking fat.  Never.  Why?

Because studies have shown that it’s much more likely to have a child develop an eating disorder if a parent in the home already has one.  And parental attitudes are not only adopted but often magnified in children.  It’s important to model self confidence, self love and good mental health, as well as it’s important to model physical health.

Other factors that increase the risk of a teen developing an eating disorder include participation in a sport (or a job) that stresses body size, like ballet, gymnastics, wrestling, or modeling; being a worry wart/perfectionist; or dealing with stressful events that make someone feel helpless, such as divorce in the family, moving, or dealing with the death of a loved one.

Anorexia and other food-related disorders usually start in the teen years and are more common in females than in males.  Although early treatment can be very effective, not treating eating disorders early enough can create very difficult, lifelong problems.  A small disorder can lead to dental problems, bone thinning, kidney damage, malnutrition, heart problems, starvation –and death.

People who have an eating disorder strongly deny that they have a problem in most cases.  They don’t believe that they are thinking incorrevtly. It’s up to a loved one to get help for the sufferer.  As a friend or family member, you can look for certain signs.

These signs can include the following:  The weight of your loved one may be much less than is healthy or normal.  Your loved one may be afraid of gaining any weight and may fear staying at a normal weight.  She or he may feel overweight even when very thin.  The lives of those who have eating disorders become focused on food and controlling their weight. They may obsess about food or dieting.

They may feel uncomfortable eating in public.  They may strictly limit how much they eat, and may over exercise, or exercise even when they are sick.  They may vomit or use laxatives or diuretics to avoid any weight gain. They may look up to and almost worship certain, extremely thin celebrities.  They may cease valuing complimentary labels like “kind,” “smart,” “helpful,” or “ambitious,” and only value being complimented on being called “thin.”

Because I have been aware of these facts for decades, I’ve deliberately focused my compliments to my kids, neices, nephews, and the neighborhood young people, on things other than their appearances.  I don’t want kids to feel they are more valuable by being good-looking or skinny-looking, than by being imaginative, tidy, funny, clever, kind, brave, or helpful.

Our media-society’s obsession with looks does not have to be our own family’s, or our own neighborhood’s, obsession.  We can do our part to help prevent an atmosphere where eating disorders can take root.

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