Many adults and teenagers are currently concerned about their weight and how their bodies look due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. For almost two years adults and teenagers were confined to their homes. Furthermore, as things started to open up, gyms were the last places authorized to open. This resulted in many adults and teenagers not being able to go to the gym and workout and exercise. This was a major loss in many people’s daily routines. Additionally, many teenagers were not able to participate in their normal sport activities like they are use to doing. As a result, many people felt like they were sitting around a lot gaining weight. This is a common concern for many teenagers. It is now even more of a concern because now it’s summer time. This means wearing shorts and swimming suits. If you wear sweats you can compensate for any weight you might have gained. It’s impossible to cover up any weight you might have gained and are trying to lose in a swimming suit. As a result, many teenagers are very concerned about how their bodies look and are looking for quick ways to lose the weight they may have gained during the pandemic. This may lead to eating disorders in teenagers.
Here are important facts about eating disorders everyone needs to know. Eating disorders and body image issues are a major problems for teenagers. Despite what most people may think, these issues impact girls and boys. Most people assume eating disorders only impact girls, but they impact boys too. Boys worry about their abdominal muscles and having the “six pack” look and how strong they are compared to other boys. Also for some sports such as wrestling they must make a certain weight to compete. Therefore, they worry about their weight. Many boys may not eat or over eat before a wrestling match so they can make it into their weight class. So eating disorders impact boys too.
Looking at the prevalence of eating disorders in teens can be very difficult. Some people break the statistics down to diagnoses such as anorexia. While some focus on under eating and teenagers who over eat. Both patterns do create eating disorders. Another classification is unhealthy eating that many teens engage in. Some may skip meals or some may consume to many calories to make weight for their sport and then go days without eating. Therefore, eating disorders can take many shapes and forms. Overall, it is estimated that eating disorders impact 5% of female teenagers and 1% of male teens (NIMH). However, the number for males is considered to be under reported. This assumption exists due to the belief many people have that eating disorders only impact girls. Therefore, there is an assumption that the 1% for boys is an underestimate due to under reporting. Working with adolescents I am sure the 1% is incorrect. I hear many teenage boys complain about their bodies or needing to make weight for their sport. I also hear things they do such as only drinking water a week before a weigh in or loading up on protein drinking before working out. What they report may not fit the picture of anorexia we have, but it definitely is not healthy and is involved with body image. This is a major factor in all eating disorders whether it be anorexia or over eating. Furthermore, since many teenagers have been at home during the Pandemic with nothing to do, many have been eating because they are bored or as a way to cope with depression or anxiety. Many teenagers have complained about eating too much or eating unhealthy foods, but they also say they are very bored due to the Pandemic and there is nothing else to do. We also know there has been a significant increase in teenage depression and anxiety during the pandemic. We also know food is often used by someone to deal with depression or anxiety. Therefore, if depression and anxiety increased for teenagers during the pandemic, it makes sense that eating disorders and body image issues have increased too.
One reason I’m addressing this subject is as I stated above most people assume that eating disorders do not impact boys. Eating disorders impact boys and teens from every economic level, ethnicity and religion. Additionally, we have all had to deal with the boredom caused by the Pandemic and many people have been eating because they are bored. Therefore, eating disorders are equal opportunity disorders. Another reason I’m addressing this issue is suicide is the number one mental health issue killing teenagers in our country. Eating disorders are the second leading mental health issue killing teenagers (CDC). It is estimated that every 62 minutes someone dies from an eating disorders (NIMH). The death may occur after someone has received treatment and is considered in recovery. Eating disorders take such a toll on teenage bodies they may die even though they are considered to be recovered. The singer Karen Carpenter is a prime example. She struggled with an eating disorder for years and struggled with treatment too. However, she finally reached a point where she was considered recovered from her eating disorder and started to resume her life. Unfortunately, she died suddenly one day from a heart attack. The toll the eating disorder put on her body weakened her heart severely. So severely that it caused her to have a heart attack even though she was in recovery.
This is a very sad story and fact. We can avoid these issues by early diagnosis and treatment. We also must realize that eating disorders impact boys too. If we are not aware of this fact, we are not addressing the entire problem. We need to address how our society look at men’s bodies and women’s bodies and the expectations we place on both genders. No one can live up to the female and male stereotypes we have created. In order to change these stereotypes we need to start with teenagers and provide them with enough self-esteem to reject the stereotypes.
As I stated early treatment is necessary. To have early treatment we must have an early diagnosis. I have included a link to a video by Dr. Pooky Knightsmith which discusses the ten common warning signs of an eating disorder in teens and children, please watch this video https://youtu.be/nKwbE8mP_PA.
If your teen or child displays any of these warning signs, if they are discussing gaining too much weight due to the Pandemic or, if you feel your teen maybe struggling with an eating issue, make an appointment with an adolescent psychotherapist who specializes in adolescents and eating disorders. Do not feel ashamed or embarrassed. A mental health issue is no different than a physical health issue. We only believe their is a difference due to the stigma we have created. However, keeping this stigma is endangering the lives of many teens so help your teen and ignore the stigma. Help them deal with their health issues, physical and mental.
Dr. Michael Rubino is a psychotherapist with over 25 years experience treating teenagers and children, trauma victims and first responders. He also treats teens including boys with eating disorders. For more information about his work and private practice visit his website www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page www.Facebook.com/drrubino3 or his podcasts on Spotify or Apple.