Emma was a sweet, happy little girl who loved to swim, play with her Barbie dolls and whose life goal at age four was to be Ariel from the “Little Mermaid” someday. No one would have ever believed that just a few short years later Emma would be struggling with an eating disorder.
When Emma was 12, her extreme criticism of herself began. She wouldn’t wear anything but sloppy shorts and t-shirts (even though she loved pretty clothes) and began to disappear into the bathroom right after each meal.
Basic facts about eating disorders
An eating disorder-specifically anorexia or bulimia-is the act of starving or purging your body of food. Eating disorders usually surface in adolescent girls in their early teens, but the last few years have seen girls as young as 9 or 10 adopt this destructive and dangerous behavior. If you don’t believe that, look at the following statistics from the United Sates National Assoc. of Anorexia and Bulimia:
- 42% of girls age 7 to 9 want to be thinner
- 80% of 10 year old girls are afraid of being fat
- 50% of girls age 13-15 consider themselves overweight
- 95% of people with an eating disorder are between the ages of 12-25
- 25% of teenage girls suffer with an eating disorder
- Nearly 10% of those with eating disorders will die from their disorder within 10 years
- 30 to 40% of those with eating disorders fully recover
- Only 1% of those with eating disorders are boys
Eating disorders are brought on by a number of reasons, but most of these reasons come back to one main fact: the young lady who develops an eating disorder is a young lady with poor self-esteem.
Poor self-esteem can result from physical and emotional abuse, stress brought on by the break-up of a home due to divorce, abandonment by a parent or social stresses such as bullying. The media should also be ‘awarded’ a great big ‘guilty’ verdict when it comes to messing with a young girl’s self-esteem. The pressures put on girls to look a certain way, dress a certain way and be a certain weight are unbelievable, unrealistic and unfair; often resulting in an eating disorder.
Remember Emma? Emma’s dark hair and eyes, her sun-kissed skin and just-right weight were as perfect as one could be. But Emma didn’t think so. Remember all those Barbie dolls she’d played with? In spite of a mom and 3 older sisters who were also healthy, attractive and without weight issues, Emma saw herself as inadequate because she didn’t develop into a Barbie-like young lady (her own admission). Now I’m not saying that Barbie dolls are evil or that they shouldn’t be played with, but I am saying there should be some discussion about the unrealistic way she looks.
The result of poor self-esteem is to do whatever it takes (starving or purging) to conform. But the need to conform soon becomes distorted. There comes a point when an eating disorder becomes a method of control…and addiction to control.
Read on to find out on the dangers of eating disorders
The dangers of eating disorders
The simple fact that an eating disorder is self-inflicted starvation is danger enough. But additionally, eating disorders put stress on the heart, kidneys, stomach and other digestive organs and the reproductive cycle. Young women with eating disorders will usually cease to have their monthly period and in more than a few cases, will cause themselves irreparable harm in regards to being able to conceive later on in life. And yes, there are more than a few young women who die each year as a direct result from an eating disorder.
How can a parent know
The signs of eating disorders are not all that difficult to spot…
- Wearing baggy clothes
- Dark circles under the eyes and a complexion that lacks that healthy glow
- Refusing foods–even those once considered their favorites
- Going to the bathroom right after eating
- Scooting food around on their plate rather than eating it
- Wanting to eat alone
- Saying they aren’t hungry-that they ate a big meal at school
- Excessive tooth brushing or use of mouth wash, mints and/or gum
What to do
Parents who suspect their daughter has an eating disorder or is in the beginning stages of an eating disorder should take action…immediately. While it is important to not over-react, you need to talk in-depth with your daughter. Talking in-depth isn’t code for strong-arm interrogation. Taking in-depth means asking questions that invite conversation rather than those that demand an answer.
For example: I wish the pictures in magazines were realistic instead of touched up. What about you? OR I read an article about teenagers and self-esteem. Do you think that’s a problem with the girls at your school? Why?
You should also be extremely conscious of NOT talking about weight and looks. Instead, make the focus on being healthy, eating a healthy and balanced diet and getting an adequate amount of exercise.
And last but not least, be adamant in getting your daughter the help she needs-both physically and emotionally. It could mean the difference between her life and her death.
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