Chuck, I'm a senior in college, and my major is nutrition. Lately, I've watched an alarming trend of males starving themselves in order to obtain the perfectly ripped body. It seems as if what used to be an obsession for women has become a huge problem with men, too. Agree? – "Some Things Are Worth the Weight" in Nebraska
Last week, I began to address this question by revealing statistics that show that eating disorders are on the rise among males. In addition, I cited several psychiatric and medical experts who say that many things have contributed to this increase, including our culture's obsession with perfect beauty, physiques and rock-hard abs.
Of course, I firmly believe that eating well and exercising is critical for optimal health and fitness, but when fixation with Jenny Craig causes you to throw up when dining with Sara Lee (figuratively speaking, of course), your mind may be the organ that is most out of shape. When body image consumes your mental energy, your mind is your next battlefield.
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The fact is that too many young people's self-esteem is in the tank. They are BMWs, but they're being told to believe that they're VWs. But nothing could be further from the truth. It's what I call stinkin' thinkin', and it may be our greatest battle on the road to holistic health.
Victory here starts with parents and guardians repeatedly reminding their children and grandchildren of these truths: They are loved and valued just as they are. They are beautiful creations of God, inside and out. Their lives are not accidents. They were born with a purpose. They are God's greatest treasure, and he doesn't make junk. And if they regularly chew on those truths, it will help keep them from swallowing the lies of this world.
The Mayo Clinic offers some further noteworthy tips for working with kids in the critical teenage years, though these actions would be beneficial for children of any age:
- "Encourage healthy eating habits. Talk to your teen about how diet can affect his or her health, appearance and energy level. Encourage your teen to eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains and to avoid skipping meals. Make healthy eating easy for your teen by eating together as a family.
- "Discuss media messages. Television programs, movies, websites and magazines may send your teen the message that only a certain body type is acceptable. Encourage your teen to talk about and question what he or she has seen or heard – especially from websites or other sources that promote anorexia as a lifestyle choice, rather than an eating disorder (commonly called 'pro-ana' sites)." Parents, limit your children's exposure to the mania of media!
- "Encourage a healthy body image. Talk to your teen about his or her self-image and offer reassurance that healthy body shapes vary. Your acceptance and respect can help your teen build self-esteem and resilience. Encourage family and friends to refrain from using hurtful nicknames and joking about people who are overweight or have a large body frame.
- "Discuss the dangers of dieting, obsessing about food and emotional eating. Explain that dieting can compromise your teen's nutrition, growth and health. Remind your teen that eating or controlling his or her diet isn't a healthy way to cope with emotions. Instead, encourage your teen to talk to family, friends or a counselor about problems he or she may be facing.
- "Team up with your teen's doctor. Your teen's doctor can help identify early indicators of an eating disorder and prevent the development of full-blown illness. For instance, the doctor can ask your teen questions about eating habits and satisfaction with his or her appearance during routine medical appointments. These visits should include checks of body mass index and weight percentiles, which can alert you and your teen's doctor to any significant changes.
- "Set a good example. If you're constantly dieting, using food to cope with your emotions or talking about losing weight, you may have a hard time encouraging your teen to eat a healthy diet or feel satisfied with his or her appearance. Set a good example by eating healthy foods and taking pride in your body."
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Today's column inquirer nailed the battle of bulimia with his pseudonym, "Some Things Are Worth the Weight," and those things are you and your holistic health – mind, body and spirit.
Dying to be thin is no laughing matter. It can be lethal.
Early detection is key. Symptoms include eating alone, being compulsively concerned about cutting fat, being obsessively picky about food, hiding food and using clothing to hide a diminishing body.
As I noted last week, if you think that you or a loved one may be suffering from an eating disorder, here are some helpful resources:
- National Eating Disorders Association live helpline: 800-931-2237 (weekdays, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Eastern time)
- National Eating Disorders Association
- The National Association for Males with Eating Disorders
- National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders
- International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals
- Eating Disorders Coalition
- Eating Disorders Resource Center
- Families Empowered and Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders