Impact of Negative Parental Messages and Disordered Eating in Teens

Disordered eating basically refers to a set of irregular eating behaviours which may or may not coincide with the diagnosis of a specific eating disorder.The term “disordered eating” is a descriptive phrase, not a diagnosis. Some of the signs of disordered eating may include-

Frequent dieting, anxiety associated with specific foods or meal skipping, Chronic weight fluctuations, rigid rituals and routines surrounding food and exercise, feelings of guilt and shame associated with eating, preoccupation with food, weight and body image that negatively impacts quality of life, a feeling of loss of control around food, including compulsive eating habits or using exercise, food restriction, fasting or purging to “make up for bad foods” consumed.

Many people who suffer from disordered eating don’t actually realise that which further exacerbates the adverse effects.Detrimental consequences can include a greater risk of obesity and eating disorders, bone loss, gastrointestinal disturbances, electrolyte and fluid imbalances, low heart rate and blood pressure, increased anxiety, depression and social isolation.

Disordered eating is a serious health concern that may be difficult to detect since a person with disordered eating patterns may not display all of the classic symptoms typically identified with eating disorders. It’s important to remember that even a person exhibiting disordered eating habits and behaviors also may be experiencing significant physical, emotional and mental stress.

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, with nearly 1 person dying every hour as a direct result of an eating disorder.Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses; up to 20% die. People who suffer anorexia nervosa are 57 times more likely to die of suicide than their peers.

Unfortunately the rate of development of eating disorders is rising among the children and adolescents. The rate of children under 12 being admitted to a hospital for eating disorders rose 119 percent in less than decade.Eating disorders account for 4% of all childhood hospitalizations. Anorexia nervosa is the 3rd most common chronic illness among adolescents.The National Institute of Mental Health reports that 2.7% of teens, ages 13-18 years old, struggle with an eating disorder.50% of teenage girls and 30% of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives to control their weight. 25% of college-aged women engage in bingeing and purging as a method of managing their weight.

However, one must remember that eating disorders are not usually the patient’s fault. Scientists believe that genes may account for about 50-80% of a person’s susceptibility to developing an eating disorder; however, this doesn’t mean that there is an “eating disorder gene.” Additionally, genetic predisposition does not equal destiny.Our society’s emphasis on appearance and idealization of thinness promotes dangerous dieting

behaviors and often obscures those in need of treatment for their unhealthy behaviors.Many young children in our society feel badly about their bodies and are encouraged to engage in unhealthy dieting behaviors.

Unfortunately, many a times parental influence or the parental pressure paves the way for the kids developing eating disorders. Undoubtedly, parents aspire the well-being of their children but often get so overly- involved in their children’s lives and begin influencing in negative ways. Most of the parents desire their children to be successful in each and every sphere which also involves their appearance. Parental pressure often involves criticising their children about their appearance and physique which may involve harsh language. Ignorance among the parents often make them overlook the fact that weight gain and changes to body shape are a natural part of the growing process in their children.Teenagers in an enmeshed relationship may feel so powerless to develop a separate identity from an over-involved parent that they try to exert independence and autonomy by controlling what happens to their bodies.

According to a research conducted at the University of Minnesota(PMC ID-PMC3737359)- Mothers and fathers who engaged in weight-related conversations had adolescents who were more likely to diet, use unhealthy weight control behaviors, and engage in binge eating. Overweight/obese adolescents whose mothers engaged in conversations that were focused only on healthful eating behaviors were less likely to diet and use unhealthy weight control behaviors. Additionally, sub-analyses with adolescents with data from two parents showed that when both parents engaged in healthful eating conversations, their overweight/obese adolescent children were less likely to diet and use unhealthy weight control behaviors.

Also, Francis and Birch (2005) conducted a study on maternal influences on their daughter’s restrained eating behavior. They examined the correlation between a mother’s preoccupation with her own weight and eating, and her daughter’s eating behavior. 173 mother-daughter pairs were measured longitudinally when the daughters were 5, 7, 9, and 11 years old. Mothers responded to questions about their preoccupation with their own weight and eating, their attempts to influence their daughter’s weight and eating, and their concerns for their daughter’s weight. Daughter’s responses were obtained in order to measure restrained eating behavior and weight concerns. Results showed that the daughter’s weight concerns were linked to perceptions of maternal pressure to lose weight and their own restrained eating behavior. Also, mothers who were shown to be preoccupied with their own weight and eating reported higher levels of restricting their daughter’s eating and encouraging their daughter to lose weight. 

While the researchers did not do so, one could explain the results of this study using an evolutionary approach. The mother could be restricting her daughter’s eating and encouraging her to lose weight in order to make her as sexually desirable as possible. Doing so will ensure that she will attract a well-suited mate and produce offspring carrying her mother’s genes.

Every human has the innate desire to pass on their genes. Therefore it seems obvious that a parent would want his/her offspring to reproduce and, in doing so, continue the gene pool. It was hypothesized that parents wish for their children to be socially and sexually desirable so that they may attract a mate and, in turn, produce offspring. It just so happens that

what is currently socially desirable is to be thin. Therefore, it was proposed that some parents put too much pressure on their children to be thin in order to attract a suitable mate, and in doing so cause stress and disordered eating in their children. However, it must be noted that

different persons respond to this pressure in different ways. Some respond neutrally to such pressure and in turn do not develop any kind of eating disorder. Others are greatly affected by comments about their appearance and are therefore more vulnerable to developing an eating disorder. This vulnerability could be due to one’s intrasexual competitiveness. The higher one’s intrasexual competitiveness, the more vulnerable they may be to being affected by comments about their appearance and developing an eating disorder.

Although parents may desire the best for their kids, but such actions can often lead to drastic outcomes. Anorexia nervosa is a very serious and potentially fatal mental disorder that affects anywhere from .2%-4% of adolescent women in the United States. Alarmingly, this percentage may be higher given that up to 50% of cases go undiagnosed. A majority of those diagnosed with this disorder are females between the ages of 14.5 and 18 years old. 20% of those diagnosed with this disorder will die, most commonly from complications such as cardiovascular events and suicide. Eating disorders are reported to have the highest mortality rate of any type of mental illness. In fact, the mortality rate related to anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the mortality rate of all other causes of death for women between the ages of 15 and 24 years old (South Carolina Department of Mental Health, 2006).According to the DSM-IV-TR (2000) anorexia nervosa is marked by the refusal to maintain body weight at or above the normal weight for one’s age and height, a fear of gaining weight (even when severely underweight), having a distorted view of one’s weight, and amenorrhea (the cessation of menstruation). Weight loss associated with this disorder is usually due to a reduction in caloric intake. There are two types of anorexia nervosa listed in the DSM IV- TR. The first is the restricting type, which does not include binge-eating and/or purging. The second is the binge-eating/purging type, which includes regularly engaging in binge-eating and/or purging behavior during an episode of anorexia nervosa. To be diagnosed with anorexia nervosa an individual should weigh less than 85% of the weight that is considered normal for his or her age and height, or should have a body mass index (BMI) of or below 17.5 kg/m^2.Anorexia nervosa can lead to a number of fatal and nonfatal health problems. Such problems include cardiac complications, for example hypotension, bradycardia, irregular heart sounds, decreased heart size, loss of left ventricular mass, appearance of mitral valve prolapse, and, most seriously, congestive heart failure. Congestive heart failure occurs most frequently during treatment and is caused by “refeeding syndrome”. Refeeding syndrome refers to cardiovascular collapse and possible death after eating highly caloric nutrients, such as those high in glucose, shortly after an extended period of starvation. Anorexia nervosa can also lead to hematologic issues such as anemia and leukopenia. Other abnormalities common among those diagnosed with anorexia nervosa include low bone density levels, osteopenia and osteoporosis, delayed maturity, hypercortisolemia, and low levels of growth hormones.Recent research has also found that anorexia nervosa may affect the brain. This disorder can lead to cerebral atrophy and loss of brain volume. Extended periods of malnutrition, which accompany anorexia nervosa, can also lead to enlargement of the cortical sulci and cisterns, ventricular dilatation, pituitary gland atrophy, and concomitant cerebral and cerebellar atrophy. These abnormalities may be caused by changes in the permeability of blood vessels, protein loss, inhibition of brain protein synthesis, and cerebral dehydration. Such cognitive changes may or may not be reversed after treatment.

Treatment for this disorder ranges from psychotherapy to hospitalization. Psychotherapy is favorable if the person diagnosed with anorexia nervosa is not in immediate danger or suffering from any serious medical complications. Some of the most helpful forms of psychotherapy used are cognitive-oriented therapies that focus on apparent issues of self-image and self-evaluation. When a negative self-image has been created by a traumatic event during childhood or inadvertently by one’s parents, family therapy is utilized. Group therapy is also often taken advantage of so that the person diagnosed with anorexia nervosa can gain a support system. When a patient diagnosed with anorexia nervosa is in danger of death, hospitalization is necessary. The first requirement of a hospitalized patient is to gain weight. Because individuals with anorexia nervosa often refuse to eat, IV’s are frequently used to meet nutritional needs. A common therapy used in eating disorder treatment centers is a behaviorally-oriented token economy. This involves giving rewards to patients for eating regular meals and not purging afterwards and the allotment of extra privileges to those who successfully gain weight. Once the patient has met a target weight they are released into an out-patient program. Oftentimes, medications are used to aid those suffering from eating disorders. The most common drugs prescribed are antidepressants and chlorpromazine for those with obsessive thoughts and anxiety. It must be noted that the treatment of anorexia nervosa is very difficult due to frequent uncooperativeness from the patient. Relapse is also quite common and many suffering from anorexia nervosa experience several before therapy is deemed successful.

Parents are the most influential role models in their child’s life, therefore, they must be careful with their words and actions otherwise they may end up harming their children both physically as well as mentally.Carrying excess weight is a known risk factor for infinite health problems and chronic diseases. those who have a child with a higher weight, this may be of concern to them. But they must know the appropriate way to talk about such issues rather than demoralising or criticising them.

First of all, try to boost their self esteem.Our weight, shape and size are partly related to our food and lifestyle choices. Since we currently live in a digital age where our image is worth more than it ever has been before, our weight, the food we eat and our self-worth are inextricably linked. So, in order to develop a healthy sense of worth, which means a positive body image and the ability to separate their bodies and appearance from their overall identity. The only key is to ensure that body image isn’t the only thing to define them.

Negative thoughts or comments like “you will get fat if you eat that bread” or “only have one slice of cake, you don’t want to gain too much winter weight” are all too common. We all do this to a degree, even though we know it’s negative. This is why it’s so important to address it.

You can see from the positive alternatives that the language is focused on positive outcomes and interesting qualities of the food or activity. Leading the conversation away from a negative language can be used as a way to ensure you are using weight-neutral and healthy language that will promote self-esteem and healthy habits. 

Often the perfect body image in our minds is influenced by social media. However, we must understand and explain the same to the kids that what is shown over there isn’t real and they are simply perfect the way they are.

#Content created by Akanksha Mahajan

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