Canadian Teenagers Struggle with Eating Disorders
For teens, it has never been more “in” to be thin. In fact, being an overweight teenager is no longer a mere dagger to someone’s social life; it is a crime. At least this is how it can seem to impressionable teenagers. Without a doubt, teens in Canada (and the rest of the western world) are feeling pressure to be thin. Too often, this pressure to be thin turns into full-blown eating disorders.
In 2001, a Canadian study revealed some shocking statistics about teens and their eating habits.
Just a few of these statistics include:
- Nearly 30 per cent of Canadian girls aged 12-18 showed signs of disordered eating.
- About 80 per cent of young girls at normal body weights desired to lose weight.
- Out of every 4 teenaged girls, 1 displayed signs of an eating disorder.
- In some cases, 12 year olds were making themselves vomit to lose weight.
- Of females that were 15 years old, 22 per cent practiced binge eating, 11 per cent purged, “2.2 per cent used laxatives,” and 4 per cent sought help from diet pills.
- Of females that were 12 years old, 9 per cent practiced binge eating and 6 per cent purged.
These statistics are beyond surprising. It is eye-opening to see what major issues eating disorders are to teenagers. But the question is, why are teens so susceptible to these illnesses?
Canadian teens are no strangers to disordered eating — especially females. Did you know that potentially 95 per cent of individuals with eating disorders in Canada are female? This outstanding statistic alone should tell us a thing or two about the harmfulness of the media messages aimed at today’s teen girl.
All the while, males also find themselves in the throes of eating disorders. A 2008 New York Times article focused on the changing appearance of male models. The article comments on the fact that the ideal male model has changed from a 6 foot man who is “buff,” to an “urchin, a wraith, or an underfed runt.” Today, the “ideal” male model should have a 28 or 30 inch waist, a chest not measuring more than 35.5 inches, and “narrow shoulders, pencil thighs, and a long neck.”
Why Do Teens, In Particular, Develop Eating Disorders?
We know that there are dozens of reasons why people develop eating disorders. But why teens in particular? Here are just a few potential reasons why teens develop eating disorders:
1. Emotional Wounding – Many teens have experienced different types of abuse and use food to “stuff” painful feelings or self-medicate in various ways.
2. Media Messages – Today, thin is in. In fact, most people would agree with the lie that, “You can never be too thin.” Fashionable clothing is designed for the skinniest of skinny people. In many cases, the popular young ladies are the unreasonably thin ones.
Since peer pressure is so strong during a person’s teenage years, it makes sense that many teens succumb to this push to be thin. One way to attain this ideal is to diet to the point of developing an eating disorder.
3. Friends’ Influences – Friends are all-important to teenagers. This can be a good thing if a friend is a positive influence, but it can be tragic if the friend is a bad influence.
A recent study has shown that friends who travel in the same “clique” will usually hold the same values and opinions about food and dieting. “Members of friendship cliques do share body image attitudes, and are similar in their levels of dieting and use of extreme weight loss behaviours.” This is why it is so important for younger girls to be around people who have a healthy body images and are not obsessed with their weight.
How Can A Teen Protect Herself Or Himself From Developing An Eating Disorder?
While there is no guarantee that teens can totally protect themselves from developing eating disorders, there are things they can do to put up a good fight. First, they can choose to surround themselves with friends that are not weight-obsessed. Also, teens can educate themselves about what models and actresses really look like without all the makeup and airbrushing. Additionally, teenagers can get help as soon as they see the slightest sign of disordered eating.
Helping Teens Avoid Eating Disorders
There are many things that may cause a teen to avoid disordered eating. One tip is, try to offer resources to an individual that can help him or her today. As we’ve learned, teens are quite influenced by their friends and communities. Some online communities are helping teens totally avoid or escape eating disorders. Here are just a couple of these online communities:
If the teen seems receptive to these online resources, perhaps he or she would be willing to read a preventative book. Here are a few books that have helped thousands of teens dodge eating disorders.
- Food: The Good Girl’s Drug (http://healthygirl.org/book/)
- Operation Beautiful (http://operationbeautiful.com/book/)
- List of recommended books (http://healthygirl.org/resources/)
Are You A Teen With An Eating Disorder?
If you are a teen in Canada with an eating disorder, or even if you suspect you may have one, please contact the National Eating Disorder Information Centre for help at 1-866-633-4220. You can also visit NEDIC’s website at http://www.nedic.ca/.
Do You Know A Teen With An Eating Disorder?
Do you know a teen who may be on the road to disordered eating? What will you do to help him or her? What wisdom do you want to pass on to this generation of teens about eating and body image?
Be an example by choosing to display a healthy body image and refrain from destructive dieting. Also, care enough to put teens in contact with helpful, relevant resources that they will positively respond to.