Body image and eating issues therapist, Victoria Marsden, agrees with researchers that risky weight-loss tactics such as vomiting, taking diet pills, fasting and skipping meals are “red flag” behaviours.
“Unhealthy weight-loss strategies are certainly indicators of low self-esteem and lack of confidence,” she says.
“These emotions can affect all sorts of areas in an adolescent’s life, including school performance, friendships and identity formation.”
Victoria believes prevention of eating disorders should be a priority for mental health professionals.
“There has been a significant increase in services for the critical end of eating disorders, which is admirable,” she says.
“However, time and services now need to be invested in early intervention and prevention. Youth eating issues tend to be picked up on much later than they should be.
“Much attention is paid to the clinically diagnosable end of the eating disorder spectrum. We really need to focus on the teens that may not be classified as suffering from a clinical eating disorder, but are still engaging in risky behaviours.
“The deterioration rate with eating issues tends to be very high very quickly, which is incredibly dangerous. Early intervention and prevention of eating disorders should be a priority.”
Victoria says the screening process for eating disorders could be somewhat responsible for the high rate of unhealthy eating tactics among teens.
“A lot of young people seem to go to the doctor, and the doctor doesn’t take the eating issue seriously, or the screening itself hasn’t picked up on serious issues such as purging and fasting,” she says.
“There seems to be a misconception that all young people, particularly girls, go through a phase of controlling their weight.
“That is a very dangerous attitude to take when screening for potential health issues.”
Victoria says we need to rethink the ideals we are promoting in our own society, in order to mitigate the prevalence of eating issues among teens.
“Unfortunately, we live in a society that is obsessed with body image and weight, which is very difficult for young people to navigate.
“We should be encouraging young people to focus more on having fun and enjoying their adolescence, instead of it being ruled by body shape and size concerns.
“People can always recover from eating issues. Help is always there. As a society, we need to feel comfortable approaching young people and asking them if they need help.”
Victoria is a therapist at Eden in Auckland (www.eden.org.nz). If you or anyone you know is struggling with unhealthy weight-loss tactics, Victoria is always available as a source for help: firstname.lastname@example.org.