Growing up is tough! Especially in today’s society with more and more pressures being put on children and teenagers. One of such pressure is ‘looks’ with the focus on body weight.
Around junior highs and high schools, girls (and sometimes boys!) often talk about their weight, and dieting almost becomes a trend. The media has a lot to do with it. Magazines that are often read by teens, such as Cosmo or Shape, put out a lot of dieting tips and suggestions that are often taken out of context, or abused by the younger readers. More often than not, teens compare themselves to their role models: actors, athletes, or models. These role models are usually very fit, thin, and some on the verge of underweight. When one person decides they’re “fat”, and tries to lose weight, it causes others to assess themselves and think “Well, maybe I’m fat too, and maybe I need to lose weight too”.
A study done by Janet Leichty showed that many teens who believed they were overweight were in fact of a normal and healthy weight for their height. Leichty obtained these findings not by measuring body dissatisfaction, but by observing body-image distortion. Those with a poor body-image are at greater risk for using unsafe weight-loss techniques; once the techniques for weight-loss are used, the odds that those same techniques will be used again increases by 11 times.
The need for early prevention in unsafe dieting and disordered eating is quite obvious, but it’s a touchy subject for most. Doctors generally address weight-loss with those that are overweight, but for those of a normal weight, the topic gets brushed off. It is important to address body-image with children and teens of all shapes and sizes, whether it be a doctor, nurse or parent who does the talking.
The most important thing to remember is to respond appropriately. Encourage the child or teen toward more positive lifestyle changes rather than “healthy” dieting, as any type of diet can easily spiral out of control. Suggest going on walks or bike rides, and eating more fruits and vegetables with every meal. Remind them that feeling good is what’s important, and it will help them see their body in a better light.