Ministry of Health Singapore. All Rights Reserved.
Eating disorders in young people are due to many factors. Learn how you can help young adults achieve a positive body image and overcome eating disorders.
Experts say teenagers—boys or girls—between 13 and 19 years old are particularly susceptible to eating disorders that are largely categorised as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating.
In an interview with The Straits Times, Dr Lee Huei Yen, Director of the Eating Disorders Programme at the Singapore General Hospital said teens are vulnerable as they are going through a stressful period in their lives — they are discovering self-identity, independence and adjusting to major changes to their bodies.
Other stress factors can include bullying, toxic relationships, and the idolisation of supermodels.
Easy access to the Internet and myriad “thin-spiration” (images of very skinny women, especially on Instagram) and “Pro-ana” (promotion and affirmation of behaviour related to eating disorders) sites are shape concepts of body image and are exacerbating the situation too, said experts.
Teen boys are susceptible to eating disorders too. The “fit-spiration” trend, which showcases images of ripped bodies on social media and Internet as a form of inspiration to get chiselled, toned bodies, can give them undue pressure to bulk up, over-exercise or diet excessively. Acute exposure to “fit-spiration” images can lead to increased negative mood and body dissatisfaction according to researchers from the Flinders University. The controversial Korean “mukbang” or “live” Internet broadcasts of women binge-eating have led critics to question if the trend glorifies binge-eating or bulimia nervosa.
Other trends that might promote unhealthy perceptions of weight and size include the notion of having a “thigh gap” and also the “A4-waist challenge”, that went viral on Chinese social media, which encourages individuals to strive for a waist that is no bigger than a piece of A4 paper.
Here are some warning signs of eating disorders identified by the
SGH Eating Disorders Programme:
Raising Healthy Kids
While there is no sure-fire way to prevent an eating disorder, here are some tips for parents:
Make your children feel good about themselves by focusing your praise on their personal qualities, values and achievements, rather than on how they look or are dressed as these statements can lead to eating disorders in young people.
Your children can see if you love and accept your own body. A parent obsessed with dieting, and who often criticises his/her own body is likely to influence his/her children to do the same. Likewise, a parent who embraces his/her body and has a healthy relationship with food and exercise would be a positive role model for a young person.
Locally, there’s the
Rock The Naked Truth movement to encourage men and women to embrace their bodies. Check out these other body-positive role models like @mynameisjessamyn and @joannathangiah on Instagram.
Discuss with your children what real beauty means — with attributes such as a positive personality, good character, as well as being authentic and comfortable in one’s skin. This also means recognising that beauty standards and body image differ around the globe, and can be interpreted in different ways. And children should be guided on what are realistic beauty standards, that there are other ways to be attractive without punishing their bodies.
Follow through by not judging what others eat, wear or look like. A study published in the
Body Image Journal reported that negative comments from mothers could lead to greater body dissatisfaction, which was linked to eating disorders.
Help your children understand the reality behind glossy, airbrushed magazine covers by showing them videos of how photographs can be digitally edited to become “more perfect”. Use these resources to discuss how this common media practice can lead to unrealistic expectations and hence, body dissatisfaction.
Children of both genders are impressionable. If you recognise that your child might be having an eating disorder, encourage them to express themselves and help them find ways to cope.
Eating disorders are treatable and you should seek help for your child as early as possible. You can call the SGH Eating Disorders Programme at +65 6321 4377 or email
firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact SAMH Insight Centre at 1800 283 7019.
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This article was last reviewed on
Monday, September 21, 2020
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