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Body Image Eating Disorders Mental Health

Graduation: Europe or Lipo?

“Kid, you’ll move mountains!
So…be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray or Mordecai Ale Van Allen O’Shea, 
You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So…get on your way!” – Dr. Seuss
Image by MarinaCr via Flickr

Certainly, for some teens, plastic surgery can be positively life-changing. For example: a child who’s subject to excessive teasing because of an inordinately large nose may positively benefit from rhinoplasty; a burn victim can return to relative normalcy with appropriate plastic surgery; a breast reduction can allow a young girl to exercise without neck and back pain. On the other hand, what lies beyond what’s necessary for some is the skewed perceptions of beauty and perceived normalcy inadvertently thrust upon teens through social and mainstream media.  The innate dissatisfaction with how we look contributes to how we meet the world. To really illustrate this, we can look at the recent uproar that came about when a mother defended her decision to give her 8-year-old daughter Botox injections. Makes you wonder: What 8-year-old has wrinkles? Better yet, what 8-year-old is even aware of wrinkles?


 
“Statistics gathered over the last several years indicate a decrease in the overall number of cosmetic (aesthetic) surgeries of teenagers (those 18 and younger) having cosmetic surgery, with nonsurgical procedures including laser hair removal and chemical peels being the most popular in 2010.”

These statistics are both good and bad. I mean, the fact that less invasive surgeries are on the decline is certainly positive, but I am concerned about the remaining high numbers of girls seeking these procedures.  We know teens are up against extraordinary pressure to look and be a certain way–some of it is normal adolescence–but when parents start giving their kids gift certificates for a new nose or new breasts, the lesson becomes less about self-esteem and more about trying to attain the pop-culture paradigm of perfection.

So, what does this mean from a recovery standpoint?  Well, if we start by parenting our children with this idea that they aren’t enough, we end up sowing the seeds of self-hatred and dissatisfaction. Instead of laying a foundation of confidence and positive self-esteem, we end up paving a rocky road to addictive behaviors, which inevitably contributes to disordered eating and eating disorders alike. There’s no reason why this can’t be a springboard to have a heart-to-heart with your teen. It’s also an opportunity to look at what messages we are trying to give our kids. Being a teen is tough; let’s not contribute to the social tyranny by fanning the fires of social awkwardness. This too shall pass.

Bottom line? There are far more appropriate gifts for your teen than going under anesthesia and accumulating scars, no matter how small they are.  

Links that may be of interest:
Categories
Body Image Eating Disorders Mental Health Recovery Therapy

Starving at 8

image © sarit photography

I know an 8-year-old who’s been known to choose an outfit specifically because it makes her “look thin.” This same 8-year-old often doesn’t finish meals because she thinks she’s fat. She’s the same 8-year-old that has begun to develop food rituals, often leaving the table with a reorganized plate full of uneaten food. Simply put, she already has an irrational fear of getting fat.
It’s hard being a girl. It’s hard to find a way to look at your unique self without comparing it with images of Barbie or Bratz. It’s hard to accept that  the beauty standard set by Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty isn’t actually real. But children, whose minds are filled with wonderful imagination and fantasy, aren’t going to cognitively recognize images that are potentially harmful. Instead, many will attempt to achieve the pink, thin, fluffiness of a Disney princess, or the skinny sass of a Bratz doll. Often times, even when parents are encouraging a healthy body image, the education on the school yard has a dramatically different lesson plan than the one from home. I’ve overheard conversations on the school yard that have made me pause – -it’s clear that body-image issues are in abundance and the pressure to look thin and svelte is invasive and intense.

So what can parents do? Start with eliminating the shame game. This might mean letting your daughter dump that maple syrup on her pancakes or having a cupcake at a birthday party. It’s a treat, not a vehicle for punishment!  Encourage healthy eating, but can you do it with compassion rather than the mallet of criticism?  Eliminate “fat talk”: your kids don’t need to hear it and frankly, it’s not good for you either. Stop trying to control what those around you eat. It’s not your job!  I’ve seen dads controlling the food intake of their wives and daughters to the point of devastating eating disorders (my dad was one!); and I’ve seen moms spewing “fat talk” or signing up for any and every diet fad while their daughters learn to eat in secret or restrict because they’re terrified of the incendiary reaction of their parental food monitors. These behaviors certainly don’t encourage self-love. If anything, they sow the seeds of self-destruction.

If you’re worried that your son or daughter might be developing an eating disorder (note: boys are not immune to this!), look out for some of these signs.

(Please note, certain behaviors are warning signs, but in combination and over time, they can become quite serious):

Behaviors specific to anorexia:

  • Major weight loss (weighs 85% of normal weight for height or less)
  • Skips meals, always has an excuse for not eating (ill, just ate with a friend, stressed-out, not hungry).
  • Refuses to eat in front of others
  • Selects only low fat items with low nutrient levels, such as lettuce, tomatoes, and sprouts.
  • Reads food labels religiously; worried about calories and fat grams in foods.
  • Eats very small portions of foods
  • Becomes revolted by former favorite foods, such as desserts, red meats, potatoes
  • May help with meal shopping and preparation, but doesn’t eat with family
  • Eats in ritualistic ways, such as cutting food into small pieces or pushing food around plate
  • Lies about how much food was eaten
  • Has fears about weight gain and obesity, obsesses about clothing size. Complains about being fat, when in truth it is not so
  • Inspects image in mirror frequently, weighs self frequently
  • Exercises excessively and compulsively
  • May wear baggy clothing or many layers of clothing to hide weight loss and to stay warm
  • May become moody and irritable or have trouble concentrating. Denies that anything is wrong
  • May harm self with cutting or burning
  • Evidence of discarded packaging for diet pills, laxatives, or diuretics (water pills)
  • Stops menstruating
  • Has dry skin and hair, may have a growth of fine hair over body
  • May faint or feel dizzy frequently

Behaviors specific to bulimia

  • Preoccupation or anxiety about weight and shape
  • Disappearance of large quantities of food
  • Excuses self to go to the bathroom immediately after meals
  • Evidence of discarded packaging for laxatives, diuretics, enemas
  • May exercise compulsively
  • May skip meals at times
  • Teeth may develop cavities or enamel erosion
  • Broken blood vessels in the eyes from self-induced vomiting
  • Swollen salivary glands (swelling under the chin)
  • Calluses across the joints of the fingers from self-induced vomiting
  • May be evidence of alcohol or drug abuse, including steroid use
  • Possible self-harm behaviors, including cutting and burning

If you notice even one of these, it’s time to address it. Talk to your daughter or son, talk to your doctor. If necessary, elicit the help of a treatment facility. In other words: Get help. Showing our kids that we care and are willing to stop our own negative behaviors in order to help them is invaluable. It’s a family problem, not an individual one.

Some helpful links:

NEDA
WebMD
Voice in Recovery
Peggy Orenstein
maudsleyparents.org
Also, check out “Brave Girl Eating: A Family’s Struggle With Anorexia” By Harriet Brown

Categories
Body Image

Body Image and You

      (Image by daniellehelm via Flickr)

   Body image: the way in which we view our body and determine our self-esteem and self worth. Unfortunately, sometimes that image isn’t so positive. Criticism in the home as well as navigating a never-ending barrage of heavily Photoshopped models portraying images of idealized thinness, merely fortifies one with negativity. This skewed idealism breeds an environment in which we declare anything above a size 6 as unacceptable. This ideology becomes the motivation for placing ourselves and our kids on fast-track, fad diets that do nothing but encourage a negative sense of health and beauty. When we subscribe to this dysmorphic portrayal of “healthy” bodies, we end up finding ourselves and our loved ones impressionable and bereft of optimal health.
    I bring this up namely because with the coming of the new year, one of the most common resolutions we hear is “I’m going to lose weight.” But when we make resolutions like this, we also have to look at our motives. Are we aiming to look like the runway model who is on a lifelong diet plan, inclusive of intense caloric limitations and daily weigh-ins? Or are we aiming to be healthy and at an ideal weight for our body type? If it’s the latter, do we even know what that is? What happens if you eventually do get to your “ideal” weight? Will it be enough? Or is the nagging voice inside your head telling you a few more pounds would really be much better?
      As we raise our kids in an image-saturated society, we must be conscious about whether our dialogue is helpful or harmful. How we speak about our bodies and our kids’ bodies is key–our opinions and words hold weight and become part of the early messages that influence one’s initial sense of self esteem. Negative body talk in the home, whether it be statements that are unkind to ourselves or unkind to our children, is always unhelpful. It sends negative messages, breeding dysfunction and planting the seeds of delusion about health and beauty. Frankly, I would much rather plant the seeds of self-acceptance, a healthy body image, and positive self-esteem.
    Pamela Kelle, a registered dietitian, suggests a few things that we can do as parents to try and inspire a positive body image:

* Encourage and model healthy eating and exercise.
* Provide healthy foods and nutritious meals consumed by the whole family.
* Do not praise or glorify someone for being a certain body size or losing weight.
* Don’t talk negatively about your own body.
* Don’t expect perfection.

    Maybe this new year, we can provide our kids with a healthy model of self-esteem and a positive body image. They’re worth it and so are you.

Categories
Body Image Eating Disorders Mental Health Recovery

Help With My Eating Disorder

I began to address my eating disorder when I was in adolescent treatment in Malibu. It has been a very difficult journey and sometimes it has been very hard not to lapse into old behaviors. In the last year, I have really dedicated myself to staying committed to recovery and have recently seen a big change- I’ve gained weight! In the past, this would have destroyed me, but since I have been working so hard to get healthy, I feel pretty good about it. Mostly. Honestly, this week I had a bit of an emotional meltdown when I went to try on a bathing suit I hadn’t worn for three years. It didn’t fit. Later that night I went to put on a favorite summer dress. It didn’t fit. My jeans didn’t fit. Like, overnight my clothes stopped fitting. It’s one thing to talk about the work, to write about the work, to intellectualize the work- and an entirely different thing to actually have it happen. In my brain, I am very pleased to have some success in this very difficult area of my life. In my eating disorder’s brain, I am losing my mind. It’s horrifying. I feel like I shouldn’t be so upset, but of course I am. This old way of thinking has dominated my life for years and years. Of course I will grieve.
My sponsor and my best friend both suggested that I get rid of my old clothes. They will never fit me again as long as I am healthy. I took their advice and began to bag up my eating disorder clothes and cried the whole time. It was intensely symbolic for me to say goodbye to them, and to my eating disorder– to acknowledge that I’m not going to be that underweight again. That I’m going to stay healthy. I felt like I could almost hear my eating disorder yelling “Noooooo!” as if it was a villain being shoved off of a cliff in a movie. Sometimes those ceremonial gestures are important, like I’m showing myself what is really happening.
This week has been kind of heavy for me, but now that it’s over I feel a certain levity. I know that there is still a lot of work to do so that I don’t lapse in behavior. I have to power through this challenging time. It was hard to say goodbye, and I know that this is part of my grieving process. It may sound weird to grieve something that hurt me so much, but it was my greatest comfort for many years, and it’s scary to let go of it. I know that I have a lot of love and support around me, and that I don’t have to go through this alone. And hey, I get to go shopping.

Adolescent Eating Disorder Treatment In Malibu