Debating where eating disorders originate

More than ever before, the focus in today’s pop culture is on body image. Who’s the skinniest? Who’s the heaviest? Who has the most shapely legs? The buffest arms? The best toned abs? Teens read, see, and hear these stories — and many of them are influenced in negative ways. But is it only pop culture, or a hobby like ballet, that can create an eating disorder? Experts offer theories about what makes a teen at risk for developing an eating disorder, and what parents can do about it.

Children, starting when they are very young, are subjected to “ideal” beauty through television, magazines, the internet and Hollywood. And those who are engaged in sports or other activities, such as dance, can also pick up messages about what makes the perfect body. Eating disorders, such as anorexia and bulimia, are serious problems that can be fatal — and they can stem from body image issues. Is the media to blame, is it physical activities, or is there more to the story?

Mom and Dad

Sometimes, we as parents pave the way for our children’s body image issues. “If you think that your own preoccupation with diets and appearance has not contributed to the problem, I urge you to think again,” Carol Cottrill, certified nutritional consultant and author of The French Twist, shared with us. “Children learn most everything from their parents. The little they don’t learn from you, they pick up from the media or their friends who have been influenced ahead of them. These prevailing influences combined with the pressures of youth serve as the perfect Petri dish in which obesity and eating disorders grow, thrive, and ultimately kill.”

Pink pressure

Girls, in particular, are subject to even more pressure and expectations about their physical worth than boys are. “From the time baby girls come out of the womb, we put pink on them and all the expectations of what it means to be a girl,” said Erena DiGonis, licensed therapist and certified health coach. “This is definitely influenced by socioeconomic status and ethnicity but all girls have a lot of pressure. I see girls putting so much pressure on themselves to be brilliant and physically perfect.”

What can you do?

Change begins at home, with you, the parent. Emphasize your child’s core strengths, and be an ear if she’s fretting about her size compared to her teammates or friends. “Revisit your values,” explained Carol. “Be a role model and a mentor for all of the young people you encounter and affect. Help prevent obesity and eating disorders in America by fostering only healthy eating attitudes. Let go of the harsh scrutiny and unhealthy obsessions you inflict on yourself, for these are handed down to your young ones. There is no time like the present to make a difference in the lives of our children while creating a lasting footprint for future generations.”

You can’t control the media, but you can help shape your child’s sense of being. Offer fresh, healthy food and adequate exercise, but don't overemphasize weight. Also, it’s a good idea to learn how to recognize the signs of an eating disorder and seek treatment promptly if you suspect your child is suffering.

More on eating disorders

Understanding childhood eating disorders
Is it an eating disorder?
Could picky eating be an eating disorder?


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