Many women feel pressured by the social and cultural ideals of beauty and, when they feel they don’t “measure up” to those ideals, it can lead to a poor body image. The cosmetic and diet product industries earn their profit by making women feel inadequate: the more a woman feels like she needs to improve, the more likely she is to buy their product. That is why our youth is particularly targeted by these industries and are overwhelmed with the message that being thin is the most important criteria for beauty.
The world sends the message that no woman is beautiful as she is and instead claim that all women have something they need to improve before they can be considered beautiful. We are conditioned to believe that ultimately every woman needs to lose weight, so it’s no wonder so many people suffer from a negative body image.
Aside from the media, there are other influences that can affect body image:
– Either positive or negative comments from family/friends
– A doctor’s health advice that may be misinterpreted as an insult
Changing your body image is not about changing your body, it’s about changing the way you think about your body. Everyone has a different body type, so it’s impossible to chase an “ideal body”. Instead, the important thing is to learn to accept your own body for everything it is.
There are several things you can do to promote and increase a positive body image (although these should never be done obsessively or to the point of hurting your own body):
– Eating healthy promotes healthy skin, hair and bones
– Regular exercise can boost self-esteem, self-image and energy
– Getting enough rest manages stress
All of the above focus on making you feel better, as a positive body image concentrates on how you feel rather than how you look.
(taken from http://www.heartofleadership.org)
Your child’s body image is affected by your own. Daughters are more likely to know about and feel like they need to start dieting if their mothers diet.
Because children are very perceptive, comments they overhear in adult conversations that may seem harmless can actually affect the way they feel about themselves. For example, children will pick up on phrases like “limit high fat foods” “too many calories” and “need to eat less” and as they grow up those phrases will shape their mentality about food and their own bodies.
Common things that start weight concerns for young girls:
You can help your child develop a healthy body image. Even though it may not see like your kids are listening to you, they do pay attention to what you say. This means that if you are always commenting or complaining about your own body, even as a joke, they will pick up on it. They will start to believe that the way a person looks and the way a person’s body looks is a genuine and important concern in life, and one that they should primarily focus on.
Kids are especially prone to becoming body conscious if they are surrounded by adults who are constantly trying “fad” or “miracle” diets, and they are more likely to develop the idea that a restrictive diet is better than making healthy lifestyle choices.
To help your child develop a positive body image and a healthy relationship with food:
If you are concerned about your child’s weight, there are ways that you can help them without affecting their body image in a negative way. As a parent, you are a role model. If you start developing healthier habits yourself such as eating healthy and following a healthy exercise routine, your child will pick up on that and be more likely to follow. This can help prevent obesity, type 2 diabetes, and help them maintain a positive body image.
Most teenage girls who are average weight still consider themselves to be overweight. The dissatisfaction with their own bodies can lead them to act in harmful ways, which can hurt their physical, emotional and social growth. It can lead them to skip meals and/or take diet pills, leading to poor nutrition and difficulty concentrating/learning. It can also turn into a full-blown eating disorder. Teenage girls unhappy with their bodies are also more likely to try smoking or other harmful substances in an attempt to suppress their appetite.
The comments that you make to your daughter about her appearance should always be positive. If you tell your daughter that she would be prettier if she lost weight, wore different makeup, styled her hair differently, etc., she will start believing that she is not beautiful the way that she is. She will also develop the notion that the only goal of weight loss is to be considered more attractive by others and to be more accepted by others, which is an unhealthy view of beauty. The focus should always be on health and wellness as opposed to physical looks.
Boys are also at risk for developing body image issues and eating disorders. Teenage boys struggle with body changes and are bombarded with media images of the “ideal man” being muscular and strong. This can lead to steroid use, eating disorders and depression.
* The top wish among most teenagers is for their parents to communicate better with them, which includes more frequent and more open conversations as well as discussions about what is happening in their own lives. (source: http://www.heatofleadership.org)*
Body Dismorphic Disorder (BDD) is a chronic mental illness that causes the individual to become excessively concerned about their body image and obsessed over a perceived (most times minor or imagined) “defect” in their physical appearance. It causes psychological distress and impairs social functioning, oftentimes coexisting with depression, anxiety, social withdrawal and social isolation. BDD can also be known as Body Dysmorphia or Dysmorphic Syndrome.
There are a combination of factors that cause BDD:
Developing BDD may stem from certain psychological trauma from mental or physical abuse or emotional neglect.
Symptoms of BDD include:
*Individuals who suffer from BDD are more likely to pursue cosmetic surgery, but cosmetic surgery can actually make BDD worse. Most times BDD sufferers are unhappy with the surgery results, but if they are happy with the outcome, they start to focus on another area of the body and become obsessed with “fixing” that area as well. Patients with BDD may become angry with the surgeon and perceive their own appearance as being worse after surgery. They may also become addicted to plastic surgery.*
Common Treatments for BDD:
Eating disorders are not just having “a problem with food”, but they are serious emotional and physical illnesses that can affect both males and females. Disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder often include behaviors, emotions and attitudes around food/weight loss that become extreme and even life-threatening.
Several factors may contribute to the development of an eating disorder:
A parent’s attitude about appearance and diet will affect the attitude that their children develop. Also, a child is more likely to develop an eating disorder if their mother or sibling has suffered from one.
With eating disorders, food is often used to try and gain control over feelings, emotions or situations that may otherwise feel overwhelming and are developed in an attempt to ease tension, anger, anxiety and stress.
Anorexia nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss.
Anorexia Nervosa Statistics:
*Those who suffer from anorexia nervosa may also suffer from other psychiatric illnesses like depression, anxiety and obsessive behavior*
Symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa:
Eating disorder experts have found that prompt intensive treatment significantly improves the chances of recovery. Therefore, it is important to be aware of some of the warning signs of anorexia nervosa.
* In general, any behaviors and attitudes indicating that weight loss, dieting and control of food are becoming primary concerns are considered warning signs for Anorexia Nervosa*
Because anorexia nervosa involves self-starvation, the body is denied essential nutrients and is therefore unable to function normally. In an attempt to conserve energy, the body is forced to slow down, which can have serious medical consequences.
Below is a diagram showing how anorexia nervosa affects your body:
Bulimia nervosa is a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by a cycle of bingeing and compensatory behaviors such as self-induced vomiting designed to undo or compensate for the effects of binge eating.
Bulimia Nervosa Statistics:
*Those who suffer from bulimia nervosa may also suffer from other psychiatric illnesses like depression, anxiety and obsessive behavior*
Symptoms of Bulimia Nervosa:
The chance for recovery increases the earlier bulimia nervosa is detected. Therefore, it is important to be aware of some of the warning signs of bulimia nervosa.
* In general, any behaviors and attitudes indicating that weight loss, dieting and control of food are becoming primary concerns are considered warning signs for Bulimia Nervosa*
Because bulimia nervosa involves recurrent binge-and-purge cycles, the body’s entire digestive system can be damaged and can lead to electrolyte and chemical imbalances that affect the heart and other major organ functions. Bulimia Nervosa can have serious medical consequences.
Below is a diagram showing how bulimia nervosa affects your body:
Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is a type of eating disorder not otherwise specified and is characterized by recurrent binge eating without the regular use of compensatory measures to counter the binge eating.
Those struggling with BED attempt to cope with overwhelming emotions through food and are more likely to binge when they are angry, sad, bored, worried, or stressed.
*Those who struggle with BED are more likely to also struggle with certain behaviors and emotional problems including abusing alcohol, impulsive behavior, not feeling in charge of themselves, and not feeling a part of their communities.*
Symptoms of BED:
*People with binge eating disorder often feel badly about themselves and may miss work, school, or social activities to hide their binge eating*
Behavioral Indicators of BED include:
Because binge eating disorder may lead to weight gain (which may lead to obesity), the health risks of BED are most commonly associated with those of clinical obesity.
*Research has shown that people with binge eating disorder are more likely to experience more stress, trouble sleeping, and suicidal thoughts than those who do not struggle with an eating disorder*
ED-NOS: a category of serious eating disorders that can include any combination of signs and symptoms typical of anorexia and bulimia, although they may not fall into a clear category. The commonality in all of these conditions is the serious emotional and psychological suffering and/or serious problems in areas of work, school or relationships.
Examples of ED-NOS:
Recovery from an eating disorder is possible. There are many treatment options available to those suffering from an eating disorder and an early diagnosis and intervention may enhance recovery. Without professional help, eating disorders can become chronic, debilitating and even life-threatening conditions.
*To learn more about treatment options available, please visit http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org*
It may be difficult to tell someone about the disordered eating behaviors you’ve developed, but it’s important to talk about it with someone you trust.
Tips for making that initial conversation a little bit easier:
When you decide to share with someone the struggles you’ve been facing, choose a person that you trust and are comfortable talking to. Find a private, comfortable location where you will be away from distractions and other people and set a day and time to meet with that person there. Leading up to and throughout the duration of the conversation, you will most likely experience many different emotions including fear, shame, anger, embarrassment, and/or nervousness. Keep reminding yourself why you are doing this and be proud of yourself for taking the first step towards recovery!
Explain all of your thoughts and feelings and all of the behaviors that you have developed. Starting from the beginning of their development, explain how the behaviors started and why you feel pressured to continue them. (It might help to write this part down ahead of time so you feel more prepared and have more time to think an reflect).
*Keep in mind that the person you are sharing with may not completely understand. Try to be patient with any emotions they may exhibit and help them to understand more by educating them with facts. Explain very clearly what you will need from them during the recovery process.*
Give the person facts on the prevalence of eating disorders and tips for helping someone who is struggling with food, weight or body image issues. Explain the facts on the physical and emotional effects of eating disorders and all of the steps involved in recovery. Direct them to NEDA (www.nationaleatingdisorders.org) where they can find further information and tips. Make sure the person knows what you will need and that their patience and understanding is required, as recovery is a long process that may include setbacks. Through the recovery journey, as your needs change throughout the process, keep letting them know what you need and how they can help you.
It’s important to be as specific as possible when explaining to the person what you are going through. The more you include, the better the person you’re speaking with will understand, so it may be helpful to write down what you want to say ahead of time and bring the paper with you.
As a guideline, you could write down your answers to each of the following questions and bring them with you as a script to follow:
– When did you begin having different thoughts regarding food, weight, or exercise? What were the thoughts?
– When did the different behaviors start? What was the behavior? How were you feeling at the time? Did you hope to accomplish something specific (i.e., lose weight, maintain weight, gain control of something, get somebody’s attention, see what it was like) in doing this behavior?
– Have you noticed any physical health effects (may include fatigue, loss of hair, digestive problems, loss of menstrual cycle, heart palpitations, etc.)? Have you noticed any emotional effects?
– How are you currently feeling physically? Emotionally?Do you feel ready to stop the disordered eating behaviors?
– How can the people in your life best support you? Do you want them to monitor your behavior? Do you want them to ask you how you are doing with your recovery or would you rather tell them about it when you’re ready?
– What changes are you willing to make in your life to establish a healthy lifestyle?
If you believe that your friend may be suffering from an eating disorder, there are things you can do to help:
Set a time with your friend where you can talk privately and will be free from distractions.
Be honest and express your feelings and worries concerning their eating and/or exercising habits. Explain that you feel it may be developing into a serious problem.
Offer to help them find a counselor or doctor that can help them. You can also help them make the appointment and offer to go with them as support.
If your friend is not willing to admit there is a problem, don’t push the issue. Just assure them that you are always there to talk to.
Never place the blame on your friend or try to give them simple solutions like “if you’d just eat, then it would be fine”. Also never try to make them feel guilty for their eating disorder. Instead express your own feelings and concerns and remain supportive, letting them know you are there for them no matter what.