|These questions relate to thinking patterns and personality traits of a young person.|
|Have you noticed any of the following?|
|Very low self-esteem||
|Rigid, black and white thinking (e.g. good/bad or right/wrong)||
|Body dissatisfaction e.g. a strong conviction they need to be thinner||
|A strong focus on perceived flaws of their body or a particular part of their body||
|Constantly seeking reassurance about body size||
|Obsessive body checking e.g. weighing, pinching, excessive time in front of the mirror||
|An interest in weight loss blogs, websites, magazines, books or images of thin people||
A disrupted eating pattern can result in young people thinking and acting very uncharacteristically.
Positive body image is important. Body dissatisfaction or dysmorphia (viewing one’s body inaccurately) can contribute to disordered eating.
While young people often have some body image concerns, being preoccupied with thoughts about thinness or fear of gaining weight is a risk factor for developing an eating disorder.
How is the brain involved?
When a young person is experiencing disordered eating, they often become preoccupied with food. They may have an illogical fear of ‘being fat’ or ‘becoming fat’, and I believe their self worth is determined by their body shape and size. This preoccupation can limit their interest in other activities, as most of their thoughts are consumed by food, or how they can attempt to control their weight.
In addition, if a young person does not eat enough to support their growth and level of activity, it can lead to altered thinking patterns. Intellectual or cognitive tasks will require more effort as concentration, comprehension, judgement, problem solving and decision making ability will be diminished.
Young people are sometimes unable to recognise they have a problem with their eating. This may be because they think that restricting their eating will solve their problems and help them cope. It may also be because their brain is affected by malnutrition. This is called anosognosia.
There is ongoing research into understanding the relationship between the brain and eating and body image problems. More helpful information can be found in ‘FEAST: Puzzling Symptoms, A family guide to the neurobiology of eating disorders’, which can be located in the FYI Toolkit.
Why does body image matter?
Body image is the way a person thinks and feels about their body, including the way they look. Many different things influence body image. These include a young person’s personality, but also messages and feedback they receive from their environment.
In our current social climate where the norm is to be unhappy with your body shape and size, it is difficult for young people to have a good relationship with their body. Young people are constantly inundated with subtle and not so subtle messaging that may inform their feelings about their own body. These messages about how we should and should not look could come from television, magazines, the Internet, friends and family.
If a young person experiences ongoing and distressing body dissatisfaction, it can affect their wellbeing, resulting in low self-esteem, depression and problems with eating.
Eliminate teasing based on appearance in your family and role model body acceptance to your child by not talking about the worries you may have about your own appearance or dieting.
Tell your child often about things you like and appreciate about them which are not to do with their appearance – helping them build a sense of self in which appearance is only one, relatively small component.
Highlight to your child all the good things bodies can do and how useful it is to listen to our body signals for caring for our health and understanding our emotions. Help your child see that media images promote a limited and unrealistic thin ideal, often through techniques like airbrushing and digital manipulation.