This post is re-posted with permission from Second Act Consignment Dancewear.
I was surfing the web today and came upon a book entitled “Maggie Goes on a Diet.” My heart sank. As a therapist and the mother of two girls who dance competitively, I have always been very aware of the issues surrounding body image and weight. While I do believe that childhood obesity is a serious issue, to create a book whose premise is that by losing weight, Maggie is transformed from an insecure overweight girl to a normal sized soccer star is unsettling.
As a dance mom, the issue of a positive lifestyle, healthy eating habits and taking care of your body have often been discussed in our household. I try to focus on how and why to make healthy food choices, why we need to stay active and when (due to strains and injuries) we need to rest and take care of our bodies. Not once in our discussions has the words diet come into the conversation. I believe that Maggie Goes on a Diet, which is, in fact, aimed at 4-8 year olds, sends the wrong message. It implies that if you lose weight, you will be happier, more self-confident and popular. I feel that this is the exact opposite message that I want my daughters, who are already bombarded by negative messages in the media, to hear.
I agree that childhood obesity is epidemic. One in three North American children is overweight or obese. But to aim a book at 4-8 year olds that deigns to use the word “diet” is not the answer. Counting calories and pursuing weight loss is for not appropriate for children. Eating disorders often begin with diets and inadequate nourishment during critical growth stages. Although not all children are predisposed to anorexia, bulimia or other eating disorders, the best prevention tool we have is making sure young people are neither encouraged to nor allowed to diet. Instead, parents should be modeling healthy eating habits, teaching their children how to make healthy food choices, engaging in fun family fitness and helping their children focus on their strengths and skills instead of their looks.
What do you think?
Adolescence can be a very stressful time in a person’s life. It’s when they begin to discover who they are, they begin to separate from their parents, they start to establish new friendships, and their bodies begin to change. Teenagers are under a lot of pressure to fit in. They often spend hours worrying about how they look, what other’s think and they try to conform to what they believe are society’s “beauty ideals.” The media doesn’t help and often spend millions of advertising dollars to extol the virtues of being thin.
In additional to trying to conform to society’s beauty ideals, a chaotic home life can also lead to a teen developing an eating disorder. Emotional, physical or sexual abuse can make a teen feel out of control. In order to gain a sense of control over their environment, an adolescent may develop an eating disorder as a way of blocking out the painful and negative feelings. If they are going through a divorce situation, an adolescent may turn to food as a way of comfort, or as an attention-getting strategy to take the focus of any fighting going on between their parents. There are a multitude of reasons why a teen could develop an eating disorder. But how can you, as a parent, recognize the signs of an eating disorder?
- Hiding food and food wrappers. This is more than just forgetting a food wrapper in your room, or a dish on the floor. It’s about food or food wrappers deliberately tucked away in drawers, crumpled under the bed, or stashed behind the dresser. This could indicate binge-eating episodes.
- Continuously backing out of dinner plans. Teens with eating disorders fear eating in front of people. As a result, they may isolate themselves by declining plans that involve eating out with friends or family. Eating alone makes it easier to hide unusual habits, like eating way too little or too much or leaving the table abruptly to throw-up.
- Playing with their food . If your teen cuts her dinner into small pieces and pushes it around on the plate to make it look like she’s eating, it could indicate a problem.
- Picky eater. Nibbling on a few select foods and eating them in small quantities, as well as weighing food and being vigilant about counting calories. These may be early warning signs of an eating disorder.
- Frequent excuses to skip meals. If your teen is continuously telling you that she already or that she’ll eat later at school, this could indicate a problem. This may be another way to avoid eating without calling attention to it.
- Disappearing after meals. If your child often excuses herself right after dinner and heads to the bathroom, she may be throwing up to reduce her calorie intake, a symptom of bulimia.
- Wearing baggy clothes. Loose-fitting clothing help teens disguise their shrinking bodies. Avoiding mirrors (or conversely, being obsessed with looking at themselves in the mirror) is a telltale sign of body image issues and preoccupation with weight. Both can be indicators of an eating disorder.
- The physical signs: In addition to the behavioral signs listed above, there are also telltale physical signs that your teen may have an eating disorder: Loss of menstruation, pale, dry skin, thinning hair, brittle nails, light-headedness, sensitivity to cold and bruising easily are all signs of anorexia while swollen glands, decaying teeth, chronic sore throat and stomach and chest pains are physical symptoms of bulimia.
As a parent, it’s hard to admit that your child has a problem, especially if you feel that you are to blame. The first step in recovery, however, is recognizing the problem. Once you have taken that step, it’s important to talk to your teen and consider getting help from a counselor who specializes in eating disorders. Eating disorders are a treatable mental illness and knowing the warning signs is key for early intervention.