In many societies around the world, there are teens who are obsessed with their appearance. They are constantly searching for newer, more effective products to whiten their teeth, straighten their hair, or give them a flawless complexion.
A big portion of their conversations with one another revolves around looking good or catching the eye of someone they like, causing them to compare themselves against each other or even against those seen on the big and small screens.
Because of these, it is no small wonder why teen eating disorders are more prevalent now than ever before. In homes and schools, teenagers are either starving themselves or binge-eating and then throwing it all up. Such disorders, however, are very dangerous to the health which is why it is such a worrisome problem to parents and guardians.
Three Reasons for Teen Eating Disorders
Though there are may be many reasons why adolescents deal with teen eating disorders today, the following are most probably the top three:
1. There is too much societal focus on personal appearance
Shallow as it may seem to some, many teenagers develop eating disorders because they want to fit in with society’s standards of beauty, believing that anything less makes them substandard. Media now really bombards people with images of fitness, claiming such bodies to be the benchmark for healthy living.
This is then reinforced by people around – in social media posts, discussions amongst friends, and even preferences by people (such as their crushes!) around them, further cementing these wrong notions of “beauty” in the minds of the young.
Initially, it may begin with internal questions like “Why don’t I look like the other girls?” or “Am I buff enough to attract the girl I like?” But later on, this internal talk becomes even more negative in nature until they finally decide to do something about their weight.
2. Someone said they were not beautiful
Words are very powerful. As stated in Proverbs 12:18, “The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”
For some teenagers, it was not necessarily media that brought their eating disorder about, but the careless words of someone around them – be they a close family member or friend, or a complete stranger. Teens are still developing their self-identity which often makes them very fragile inside. As they are still not fully aware of who they truly are, spoken words can help build them up or shatter their idea of themselves.
Sadly, not all words may have been spoken because of spite or harsh criticism. It could have been stated matter-of-fact, such as “I think you are too big for that dress now” or “I think you look rounder than usual.” Though no harm was meant, the teen may have wrongly internalized the observation, further breaking down their confidence.
3. There is a lack of positive reinforcement in their life
The teenage years are a topsy-turvy time. At this time, bodily changes, the craving for acceptance from peers, and the new responsibilities and pressures from parents and school can really cause a teen to crumble inside. This is why positive reinforcement is necessary, most especially from parents and those closest to them.
Unfortunately, with the busy lives that many parents have today, such reinforcement is lacking. Many teens grow up believing that they are not loved or they are not “good enough.” This causes some to try and control a portion of their life – their eating habits – to become what the world expects them to be.
How to Help Others Overcome Teen Eating Disorders
An eating disorder is a serious condition indeed; thankfully, there are three things that can be done to help them.
1. Love them
Eating disorders develop because the teen no longer loves themself; thus, love is what they need, particularly from those closest to them. This, however, will require much sensitivity and patience from the loved one as the teen will undergo many trials, big and small, during this trying time. But it is imperative that there is someone there to contradict the teen’s critical inner voice and show them that they are truly loved.
2. Educate them
Sometimes even if a teen feels loved, they may still be obsessed with becoming slim. In this case, it is important to educate them on how to lose weight in a safe way. Teach them about the correct eating habits, the need for rest, and commitment to regular exercise so that they can achieve their desired look without resorting to throwing up their food or starving themselves. When done successfully, it may become a permanent part of their lifestyle, helping them even when they are much older.
Educating them also includes redefining what “healthy” looks like and teaching them what “beautiful” really is. They must be informed that a skeletal physique is not healthy, which is why they should NOT strive to be what the supermodel TV shows portray. But more importantly, they need to know about true beauty – that if they are beautiful inside, then they are truly beautiful despite the many curves or lack of them.
3. Be careful with your language
For parents and guardians, careful guidance continues well beyond the elementary years. Sometimes, though, people forget, uttering the wrong words like “big boned,” “chubby,” or “fat” that cause a teen to lose confidence.
It may seem like an additional burden to always watch what one says around a teen; but if the bigger picture is taken into account, then the sacrifice will be well worth it.
Seek Help through Christian Counseling
Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. – 1 Peter 3:3-4
In some situations, a teen’s eating disorder may be too much for parents or guardians to handle, despite attempts to change the teen’s mindset about how they look. When this occurs, professional help should be sought out before other complications (e.g. failing health, depression, substance abuse) set in. Sometimes teens choose to listen to a neutral party’s advice rather than the same sound advice from parents, which is why therapy is often quite useful for teens.
In Christian counseling, the latest counseling methods will be used to help the teen overcome their weight obsession issues. They will also be taught and encouraged to opt for the healthier methods of staying healthy.
But more importantly, the Christian counselor will help connect the teen to our Lord Jesus Christ, through prayer and meditation on His Word, so that they can view their life circumstance through His eyes. When the teen is able to see how much they are loved by God and how beautiful they are in God’s perspective, then it becomes easier to break the eating disorder’s hold on them.
God wants everyone to know that they are beautiful and loved by Him. If your teenager is dealing with an eating disorder, seek help soon so that they may know about His perfect love.
“Makeover”, Courtesy of Andrei Lazarev, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Reflection,” courtesy of Ali Marel, unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Contemplation”, Courtesy of Strecosa, Pixabay.com, CC0 License; “Altered Conscious”, Courtesy of Alex Perez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License