A teen’s body image refers to how a young person perceives, thinks, and feels about his or her own body. American pop culture propagates that body shape, size, and weight are based entirely on one’s exercise habits and diet and that with the ideal combination a young person can achieve any shape, size, or weight of their desire. However, every teen is different, and each will be biologically predisposed to a certain body type. Nevertheless, teenagers are constantly pushing boundaries, testing limits, and many become preoccupied with their appearance. Negative body image develops most often in early childhood, with 50 percent of pre-adolescent girls and 30 percent of pre-adolescent boys stating they dislike their bodies. A negative body image perception can be quite dangerous, leading to many possible long- or short-term consequences. Several clinical studies, for example, show a negative body image is typically present in the development of eating disorders in adolescence.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIH) defines eating disorders as “serious medical illnesses marked by severe disturbances to a person’s eating behavior.” There are several different types of eating disorders listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), and each is categorized under the Disorder Class: Feeding and Eating Disorders. The three most common eating disorders among teens are:
- Anorexia nervosa: characterized by weight loss and/ or lack of appropriate weight gain in growing children, an inability to maintain an appropriate body weight for one’s age, height, stature, an intense fear of gaining weight, and a distorted perception of body image (weight and/ or shape). Young people struggling with anorexia will employ extreme efforts to control their weight and/ or shape.
- Bulimia nervosa: characterized by a cycle of overeating (bingeing) and compensatory behaviors (purging) in attempts to undo the effects of the binge eating episodes. Purging could include self-induced vomiting, excessively over exercising, and/ or abusing weight loss medications.
- Binge-eating disorder (BED): characterized by recurrent episodes of compulsively eating abnormally large quantities of food (often quickly) to the point of physical discomfort, without engaging in compensatory behaviors. Often binge episodes are followed with emotions of embarrassment, shame, guilt, and/ or distress.
Eating disorders can be debilitating and can adversely affect an adolescent’s emotions, health, and interfere with one’s ability to adequately function in his or her daily life. Young people that suffer from eating disorders often struggle with malnutrition such as a lack of essential minerals and nutrients. There is no single, identifiable cause as to why a young person develops an eating disorder. Research has, however, indicated certain biological, psychological, interpersonal, and social risk factors that have been noted to increase a teenager’s susceptibility for developing an eating disorder. Adolescent eating disorder statistics show 2.7% of teens in the U.S. between 13 and 18 years old have a diagnosable eating disorder.
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