We all know teenagers who follow “silly diets” eating far too little in their search for a size zero figure. We also all know teenagers who don’t seem to care what they put in their mouths consuming as many chocolate bars in a week as other people might eat in a whole year.
For teenagers it is important to eat enough to develop strong bones and muscles and a strong brain. Too few calories will destroy muscle mass, forcing the body to break down muscle for energy. Energy levels will suffer badly if too few calories are consumed leaving teens unable to do all the things they want to do. It is difficult to get all the necessary vitamins and minerals from a diet that is low in calories. In the short term this could lead to reduced immunity from colds, viruses etc and in the long term to a failure of the body’s systems. Huge mental and physical changes that occur during puberty may make teenage girls more susceptible.
But, when do poor eating habits become an eating disorder?
Eating disorders often begin with normal dieting. A person starts to diet and exercise to lose weight but as the weight starts to come off it becomes an obsession, something triggers a desire to constantly lose more and more weight. For many anorexics self-starvation is a way to feel in control, whilst feeling powerless in their everyday lives they can control what they eat. Bulimia is often triggered by a very strict diet or by a stressful life event.
Obesity - a medical term that means someone’s weight is likely to cause serious health problems in the future. Problems such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes or depression
Anorexia nervosa - a psychiatric diagnosis that describes an eating disorder characterised by low body weight and body image distortion with an obsessive fear of gaining weight. Most common in adolescent girls and young women, with a typical age of onset between 13 and 20, but men and women of all ages can be sufferers.
Bulimia nervosa – an eating disorder characterised by recurrent binge eating followed by compensatory behaviour referred to a purging – i.e. using laxatives or vomiting, or by excessive exercise and dieting. Appears to be more common in women, particularly young women.
Anorexia and bulimia are classified as eating disorders and should you suspect one of your friends to suffers from one of these potentially fatal psychiatric diseases you must refer them to a health practitioner who can help them. In the USA you can contact the National Eating Disorders Association and in the UK the Eating Disorders Association for help, advice and referrals.
In the first instance speak to an adult, either a teacher or parent about your concerns.
Anorexia – the signs and symptoms
For people with anorexia, it really is true that it is impossible to be too thin. Despite being dangerously underweight an anorexic will still see a fat person when they look in the mirror. Anorexics are often unable to see the tremendous physical and emotional damage that results from self-starvation.
Anorexia is the irrational dread of becoming fat coupled with a relentless pursuit of thinness, going to extremes to reach and maintain a dangerously low body weight.
Key features include:
refusal to sustain a minimally normal body weight – dieting despite being thin
intense fear of gaining weight
distorted view of one’s body or weight
obsession with calories, fat grams and nutrition
pretending to eat or lie about eating
preoccupation with food
strange or secretive food rituals
harshly critical of appearance
There are two main types of anorexia; restricting- weight loss is achieved by restricting calories, following diets, going on fasts and exercising to excess. Purging- sufferers get rid of excess calories by vomiting, using laxatives and diuretics.
Bulimia – the signs and symptoms
People with bulimia are extremely concerned with their weight, yet they can’t fight the compulsion to binge. They drastically overeat and then purge, fast or exercise to get rid of the excess calories. It is characterized by frequent episodes of binge eating, from twice a week to several times a day, followed by frantic efforts to try and stop gaining weight.
Key features include:
regular episodes of out of control binge eating
inappropriate behaviour to prevent weight gain
self-worth is excessively influenced by weight and physical appearance
lack of control over eating
secrecy surrounding eating
puffy cheeks or the smell of vomiting
frequent fluctuations in weight
As with anorexia there are two types of bulimia; purging- physically purge the excess food from their body by vomiting, using laxatives etc. Non-purging- less common, make up for their lack of restraint by fasting, exercising to excess or going on crash diets.
In general, women are far more likely to suffer than men, and younger women are more at risk than older women. It often follows a very strict period of dieting or a stressful life event.
In 2012 Maggie will launch her Girls Nutrition Workshops and her 3G Program as well as continuing her work with individual girls and their mothers. She is available to speak at schools, women’s groups and community events. More information about Maggie’s work with teenagers can be found at www.maggieayre.com or www.femalefitnessrevolution.com