Eating disorder among adolescent girls is a health issue that has become very common in the United States over the last decades. According to Golden et al (2003), this disorder arises when adolescents deliberately eat an amount of food that is below the standard levels based on the requirements of the body.
As Field et al. state, “although the prevalence of overweight and obesity is increasing, the desire to be thin or to have well-defined or toned muscles is still very widespread” (2003, p. 900). For a human body to function properly there is a specific amount of food intake that should be observed on a daily basis. This will help in the normal running of bodily organs.
When this amount is not met, the body will be forced to work with lesser amount of energy. This leads to malnourishment among those who are suffering from this complication. The most common sign among people with this disorder is a thin body. This condition may occur when an individual lacks enough food to make them healthy.
However, it is a worrying trend that girls at their adolescent consider being thin as a sign of beauty. For this reason, they starve themselves in the name of fighting excessive fat. They deliberately avoid taking some means, and when they have to eat, and then their diet is always lean, with lots of water.
The problem is so contagious that majority of the American adolescent girls currently suffer from this health complication. These adolescents want to be noticed. Peer pressure and the press have convinced them that the only way through which they can be noticed is when they have a thin body (American Psychiatric Association, 2000).
Slim has been considered as a sign of beauty, and adolescent girls are willing to go an extra mile with their diet in order to achieve this. The result has been massive malnutrition that brings other health complications.
Discussion from the Interview
In order to get more insight into the causes, effect, the prevalence and solution to eating disorders among the adolescent girls in this country, the researcher interviewed Paul Marcus who is a psychologist who works in private practice with adolescents, especially girls with eating disorders. According to this psychologist, eating disorder starts among the adolescent aged between 12-14 years.
However, their condition escalates when they reach between the ages of 15-20. It is at this stage that these girls seek much attention and are very concerned of their appearance. Some of the risk factors that would make girls of this age develop this disorder include dysfunctional family dynamics, being in a culture where being thin is highly valued, peer and media pressure on the beauty of being thin.
Girls of this age are always under pressure and anxiety to look presentable in order to gain acceptance among peers. They let their anxiety control them. Unstable families where parents are not in control of the behavior of their teenage children are always more likely to have children suffering from eating disorders than those with stability where parents are in control of the welfare of their children.
Children exposed to abuse at home, either physically or psychologically are also more likely to develop this disorder. This is because they will always be looking for comfort outside their homes, and this can only be achieved when they look presentable.
According to this psychologist, it is possible to detect early signs of eating disorders before the negative impact is manifested on the victim. Some of the most common signs include avoidance of meals either at school or at home, visiting the washroom immediately after meals, a lot of time dedicated to looking self on the mirror, obsession with nutrition, vomiting without just cause, anemia, and over-exercising.
The above are some of the symptoms that an individual is taking the ideas of being thin very seriously. This psychologist also states that eating disorders are always combined with other psychological disorders. Because this is a type of anxiety disorder, it is always accompanied with other psychological disorders such as GAD, OCD, depression or even substance abuse.
Depending on the level of anxiety and dissatisfaction with the current body weight, an individual can develop a series of other psychological disorders as she tries to push herself beyond limits in order to reduce weight to levels she considers acceptable among her peers.
Marcus says that there are a number of effects of eating disorder. One such effect is weight loss. Patients suffering from eating disorder always lose weight at terrific rates, especially when they push themselves very hard on the need to lose weight.
These are some medical consequences that are related to this weight loss such as ulcers, infections in the throat, stomach and intestines, heart complication due to lack of enough energy, mood disorders among others. The family will also be affected as such an individual will tend to be an introvert, especially when the weight loss is not coming at the anticipated rate. Some girls are also vulnerable to stomach infections and infertility.
Paul Marcus says that in order to treat this disorder, it is important to start by appreciating that this is a psychological disorder and can only be treated from the psychological perspective. One of the most common ways of treating this disorder is through cognitive behavioral therapy.
This will involve making them appreciate their body the way they are and dispelling the idea that only thinness is a sign of beauty. This therapy will also dispel the perfectionist notion that these adolescents always develop. Another approach will be family therapy. In this case, the family will be involved in making the victim recover from this condition.
The family will be demanded to show love and care to the victim, and make her feel valued by the family members irrespective of her weight. The family members will also monitor the diet of the victim closely to ensure that she takes enough food every day.
Marcus says that there are a number of ways of determining if an individual has met the DSM IV criteria for bulimia or anorexia nervosa. Blatant refusal to maintain body weight at or above minimally acceptable weight for age and height is one such indication.
Intense fear of any slight body gain and being at peace with a skinny body is another indication. Others are in constant denial that their weight is below the minimally accepted level, while others engage in inappropriate compensatory measures whenever they feel that they had taken excess meals at one time. Fasting and excessive exercise, misuse of laxatives and diuretics is another indication.
Marcus admits that treating eating disorder patients is an extremely challenging. This is because they are not easily convinced that weight loss can be dangerous to their health. Because this is a psychological problem, if the patients fail to internalize the importance of having a normal body weight, they cannot accept the treatment offered.
They also need close family supervision. This psychologist summarizes by saying that adolescent girls at puberty who are concerned with the emerging cultures in this society should be observed very closely to ensure that they do not get this disorder in the name of looking for beauty.
The issue of eating disorder among the adolescent girls in this country has raised a lot of questions among the policy makers, parents and other stakeholders. According to Killen et al (2006), eating disorders among the adolescent girls has been on the rise. When they reach puberty, girls realize that they should look beautiful and presentable among their peers.
At this stage, they do not have to struggle looking for the information of what makes a lady beautiful and presentable. This message is all over in the media, among the peers and the articles they read. They realize that the solution is to reduce their body weight. According to Graham (2010), the problem starts when they realize that the weight loss is not coming at the desired rate.
This makes them push themselves beyond their limits. This scholar says that the message that teenagers get from their peers and from the media has massive influence on their behavior. For instance, it is common to find a situation where those who are considered as overweight being rebuked by their peers. In such instances, the victim or a witness of these abuses will try to avoid such scenario.
To achieve this, they try to regulate their eating habits in order to gain the weight that their peers would consider admirable. The media also plays a massive role in influencing adolescent girls to regulate their eating habits. According to Fritz (2008), media has successfully convinced the adolescent girls that beauty can only be achieved when one is beautiful.
The models are women who are skinny, and this makes young girls admire being thin. The process of weight loss always starts by avoiding some kind of foods which are considered to contain excessive fat. This is a good move towards healthy eating. However, this gets worse when these youngsters get pressure of increased weight loss within the shortest time possible.
They lower their food intake to the levels where the body gets malnourished. What is worrying is that when they become malnourished, they consider themselves slim enough to earn acceptance and admiration among peers. It is at this stage that one would be considered to be suffering from eating disorder.
As Golden et al (2003) observe, this disorder may have serious negative impact on an individual. For this reason, it is important for all the stakeholders to advise the adolescent girls on the dangers of this eating disorder. They should be made to appreciate their condition.
The discussion above has clearly demonstrated that eating disorder in adolescent girls is an issue that is on the rise within this country. The gravity of this issue shows that no adolescent girl is safe from this disorder as long as they are exposed to the wrong impression from media and their peers that beauty can only be achieved when one is slim. Parents must be responsible for their families and convince their adolescent girls that they are beautiful the way they are.
American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th Ed.). New York, NY: American Psychiatric Association.
Field, A.E., Austin, S. B., Taylor, C. B., Malspeis, S, Rosner, B., Rockett, H.R., Gillman, M.W., & Colditz, G.A. (2003). Relation Between Dieting and Weight Change Among Preadolescents and Adolescents. Pediatrics, 112(4), 900 – 906. DOI: 10.1542/peds.112.4.900.
Fritz, R. (2008). The power of a positive attitude: Discovering the key to success. New York: AMACOM.
Golden, N., Katzman, D.K., Kreipe, R.E., Stevens, S.L., Sawyer, S.M., Rees, J., Nicholls, D., Rome, E.S & Society For Adolescent Medicine. (2003). Eating disorders in Adolescents: Position Paper of the Society for Adolescent Medicine. Journal of Adolescent Health, 33(1), 496-503.
Graham, J. (2010). Critical thinking in consumer behavior: Cases and experiential exercises. Prentice Hall: Pearson.
Killen, D., Hayward, T.C., Wilson, D. M., Haydel, K.F., Hammer, L.D., Simmonds, B., Robinson, T. N., Litt, I. Varady, A. & Kraemer, H. (2006). Pursuit of thinness and onset of symptoms in a community sample of adolescent girls: A three year prospective analysis. International journal of eating disorders, 16(3), 227-238.