In the last few years, social media has intensified the pressure to look perfect. Teens are especially susceptible to this pressure that makes them want to change themselves to fit a new picture-perfect mold. Over the years, there has seemingly been an influx of healthy teens trying to lose some weight unnecessarily.
To be clear, when there is a true need, there is nothing wrong with trying to lose some weight. This is especially true for teenagers as building intentional healthy habits early can help them to be healthy and mindful adults. Dieting due to a concern of your health is much different than dieting due to a fear of gaining weight when you are relatively healthy, though. Dieting when healthy can lead to disorders in teens, a potentially life-threatening problem.
Know the Difference Between Diets and Disorders
Before jumping into information about eating disorders, it is important to establish what is and is not healthy dieting. This is especially important for teens to understand as they are becoming more and more autonomous from their parents. You’re in a time where you’re gaining independence and responsibilities. There is nothing wrong with anyone trying to lose some weight and become healthier, particularly if they are overweight. These steps are usually mindful, enjoyable, and preferably given under the direction of a doctor or nutritionist.
If you are open and honest about your desire to lose weight and your dieting intent, research and compile a balanced diet full of varying healthy foods to lose weight at a moderate pace. A diet designed with the intent to lose weight will typically consist of a 250 to 500-calorie deficit per day, allowing the person dieting to lose a healthy 1-2 pounds a week.
On the flip side of the coin, do not allow fear of a disorder developing make you discouraged from switching to a healthier diet. Eating balanced meals, exercising, and reducing or outright rejecting junk foods is not necessarily an indication of a disorder, even if it seems to be a deviation from the norm. You should tell your family and friends your goals and to let them support you, because sometimes if there isn’t communication people can get overly worried and start to think things that aren’t true.
How it Starts
Many people fail to realize that eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia are mental disorders. Individuals that suffer with these disorders have developed anxiety about food and their looks which causes them to believe they must lose weight and rid themselves of food at all costs. Eating, exercising, and weighing themselves becomes a system of torture and reward.
This mental shift of trying to lose some weight can come on subtly, or there can be a defining moment that causes it. All of a sudden, certain foods are not foods that should be avoided but are BAD and CANNOT be eaten. Exercise MUST be done to counteract the calories eaten. Weight checks become habitual and can make or break their entire mood depending on what the scale says. Some even begin eating and exercising alone because of perceived shame. Many teens say this happens “before they know it,” so it is imperative for teens to pay attention for telltale signs that something is wrong. This is another good reason to tell those around you, so if they begin to notice you doing things that are unhealthy they can step in and help.
Signs to Watch Out For
There are a few common symptoms of eating disorders that people can usually pick up on, such as:
- Eating alone
- Eating abnormally small portions
- Being or becoming very thin
- Wearing baggy clothes to hide the body
- Exercising excessively, especially after meals
- Using laxatives regularly
Some of these symptoms are more specific to one disorder like anorexia, but making a diagnosis is not your main concern as they can all point to danger. If you notice any of these signs, you must take action quickly.
How to Stop Disorders Before They Begin
If someone is engaging in eating behaviors that seem extreme to you, speak to them openly and honestly about what they are doing. Are they simply taking a firm stand for their positive change, or is something more serious happening? There are subtle differences in language that can help you get a feel for what they are thinking. As previously mentioned, keeping a doctor or nutritionist involved from the very beginning of anyone’s weight loss journey can help prevent unhealthy ideas about food from developing when trying to lose some weight. It is important for you and the doctor to frequently check in on your progress. These mental shifts to disordered eating can come subtly and seemingly without warning if not checked. A simple conversation with a professional is usually enough to notice a change.
If you know someone who has unfortunately shifted from developing healthy habits to disordered eating, you must be bold and take action. Here are a few tips on how to approach your friend once you notice. If you see these behaviors in yourself, seek help from a trusted adult or an eating disorder helpline. There are healthy ways to lose weight and people who can help.