Protecting Teens From Eating Disorders
Did you know that about 30 million people are affected by eating disorders at some time in their lives? While it is generally teen girls that are diagnosed with eating disorders, did you know that males are also being diagnosed?
On episode 13 of our podcast “One Day You’ll Thank Me”, we talked about eating disorders in teens with our special guest Dr. Sona DeLurgio. Dr. DeLurgio is a psychoanalyst, LMFT, & Certified Eating Disorder Specialist that works primarily with women and girls, working with food and body images, eating disorders, relationships, and trauma. She believes that education and prevention are the best approach to minimize eating disorders, she has a wealth of knowledge, and shares a ton of practical information about what to look for in our kids (even ourselves) to keep them educated and safe.
Our goal is for parents to learn about the different types of eating disorders; what they are, what they look like, and what signs to look for, and how to prevent them in our kids.
It is a major component in food disorders. We find that people try soothing their emotions by “controlling their food”. Sometimes they feel that life is out of control, their emotions are feeling out of control, they feel “I can't control society” or “I can’t get a handle on my depression and anxiety”, the one thing they find they can control, is their body. They think “I can perfect my body” and “I can make a change to my body with food and exercise”. All of this is actually a false sense of control.
Often eating disorders turn into a state of angst; one side of them feels, “I need this control, it keeps me where I need to be, safe”. Then the other side, that feels trapped and imprisoned by it. They want to be free from it, but the two sides are in conflict with each other.
To help us set a foundation for this, we first need to dive into the disorders themselves.
What are the main types of eating disorders?
Anorexia - self induced starvation and extreme weight loss, difficulty maintaining appropriate weight, distorted view of self, intense fear of being fat or gaining weight, restrictive of their calories, exercise compulsively. Some even purge (vomiting or using laxatives), can be hard to tell by looking at them because they are not necessarily under weight, larger body people can have it also.
Bulimia - repeated episodes of binging ( eating beyond point of fullness) and purging (compensating for having binged - vomiting, laxatives), excessive exercise, unable to maintain healthy body weight - physical and emotional strain, and a lot of shame and a lot of secrecy.
Binge Eating Disorder - the most common, similar to bulimia, but they are not going to purge the food, they continue to eat to the point of pain, followed by a lot of guilt, shame, anxiety and depression.
Note: We all might binge from time to time, (when emotional eating, having a bad day), but this is someone who is doing it more consistently.
Orthorexia - obsession with healthy eating, fixated on healthy eating so much that they damage their own well being, may only eat GMO free, raw, or organic, and it gets in the way of their life. It is pretty common, they may take wellness and eating well too far.
Note: This type of disorder is very different from the others, in that it can be considered glorified in our culture, it is condoned in society and you can hide in it.
Are eating disorders preventable?
One of the biggest elements of prevention is to consume all media (mainly social media for teens) wisely, you want to be a discriminating consumer. Social Media can be such a major player in self confidence for teens and adults.
It is shown that a majority of women see their body confidence go down, and anxiety around beauty and appearance go up when watching social media. In just three minutes a day, viewing social media can change the way you see your body.
Those are some scary statistics. Something to look out for as a parent, is to be involved with your kids and their usage. Are they just posting pic and videos for fun or are they seeking attention when they post? If it is about feedback and validation, they can begin to see themselves as an object to be seen by and evaluated and can cause more harm.
What causes someone to develop an eating disorder?
It really is very complex and there are a lot of contributing factors. Here are the main factors and some examples of each:
Psychological - low self esteem, feeling inadequate, feeling a lack of control in life, depression, anxiety, stress, loneliness.
Interpersonal/relational - troubled personal and family relationships, difficulty expressing emotions, history of being teased on size or weight (bullying).
Social - cultural pressures that glorify being thin or muscular, narrow definitions of beauty, cultural norms that value people on their appearance not inner qualities, stress related to racial, ethnic, size and weight, and other discrimination.
Biological - still being researched, but finding that some people have certain chemicals in the brain that control appetite, digestion and hunger that are unbalanced, can run in families with strong genetic reasons for eating disorders.
I have parents that tell me that they have had an issue with eating disorders, but do not want to share that with their kids. But as long as they have a healthy relationship with food now, it is ok to talk to your kids about it. It is good to have an open conversation. Kids are always watching what we do as parents. Being mindful of how you talk about your own body and commenting on others is important.
What should you look out for? Here are some signs that teens and parents can look out for in their kids, friends, and family:
1) Preoccupied with weight, food, calories, fat grams
2) Obsessively looking at healthy lifestyle blogs
3) Fad diets where they are cutting out entire food groups- no sugar, carbs, dairy
4) Extreme concern about body size and shape
5) Denying feeling hungry
6) Pulling away from friends and isolated, secretive, excuses to avoid meals, uncomfortable eating with others
8) Hiding body with clothes
9) Extreme mood swings
What do you do when you see someone exhibiting these types of behaviors?
The most important thing that you want to do is approach them with compassion and empathy. You want to talk to them in private and express your concerns. Many times they are going to feel that they have it under control, there is not a problem and don’t want to talk about it. In this instance respect them and don’t push. You have planted the seed, shown them that you are there without judgement, and are there if they want to talk. If they are open to talking about it, you can let them know the signs that you have seen and are worried about them. If it is a friend, encourage them to talk to their parents about this or see a professional that can assess the situation and see what type of treatment would be needed.
You want to teach your kids to find their connection to who they are, to find and use their own voice and stand up for themselves, put boundaries in place - these are all healthy steps that we want to take and embody.
A great exercise for all of us is, when we are scrolling through social media, stay aware and see what is triggering you. What is causing a reaction in you and makes you judge your own life and your own appearance, be curious and what you need rather than thinking you are not enough.
To learn more about this topic, listen to the podcast episode where we go deeper into all of these areas, HERE
To learn more about Dr. Sona DeLurgio: visit HERE.
Join her WE Connect Inner Circle HERE.
This episode is sponsored by Eaton Press. Eaton Press provides writing coaching, editing, and publishing services to help business professionals write, publish, and market their books as a tool to grow their business. Make your book happen.
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To learn more about Dr. Tara Egan, visit HERE.
To learn more about Dr. Tara Egan's therapy practice based in Charlotte, NC, visit HERE.
"One Day You'll Thank Me" is edited by Laura Bauder from PodcastHers.