Parents Don't Know When Their Obese Teen Has Anorexia
When we hear the word 'anorexia' we immediately jump to a certain preconceived set of images. Anorexia has a definition in our culture. The pathology that most of us associate with anorexia and many other eating disorders is that of a frighteningly skinny girl. Set aside the fact that there are actually a lot of male sufferers of eating disorders, and do you see anything wrong with this picture?
Well, if you think about obesity and eating disorders, probably the first thing that comes to mind is binge eating. After that, if anything, probably bulimia.
And yet there are too many young women and girls (and boys) who are suffering through anorexia totally silently, and nearly everyone around them is oblivious to their condition. Obesity hides anorexia from the view of otherwise concerned family and friends.
Even doctors often fail to consider that anorexia may be in play if an obese teenager suddenly loses weight. They see the girl and decide that she's either the right size or the wrong size for her body type. Doctors work from the same biases and preconceived notions that we do if they don't know where to look for evidence of a problem, especially when the patient is hiding the problem. Beyond that, many doctors are as conditioned by society to think about eating disorders in the same way that anyone without medical training would.
Consider a 15 year old girl who has been categorized as obese. She is barely eating enough calories per day to stay alive, and making matters worse, she's on a steady regimen of diet pills. When she begins to lose weight, no one is aghast, there's not one ounce of the concern there would be for a girl whose body showed more clues that there was a problem, and yet she is literally starving herself. Instead, what happens? People congratulate her on her new body.
What does that reinforce? It encourages a dangerous behavior and it helps the young girl learn that her new, unhealthy body is remarkably better than her previous, natural self. Now, no one is doing this on purpose, but that's because we have to rethink the way we conceive of eating disorders. And we have to stop defining bodies, especially those of young people, as either good or bad. Young people are still developing into their twenties and beyond. Yes, obesity is absolutely a crisis that needs to be addressed, but we have to make sure that young girls and boys are internalizing values that prioritize health and fitness, rather than merely conforming to expected body image types.
Anorexia causes girls to feel constant lightheadedness, ready to faint at the drop of a needle. If you saw a young girl ambling down the hallway with difficulty, and she was rail thin, you might stop to think about it. If you saw a girl whose figure was heavier, would you even notice her behavior?
Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate out of all mental health issues, and yet they are the disorder for which sufferers are least likely to get treatment.
These young girls could be dying and no one would even notice.
It's May Be More Difficult to Notice Anorexia in an Overweight Girl, But It's Equally Important For Her to Find Help
There is an unhealthy notion that all weight loss is equal. That any weight loss at all is good weight loss. That thinking is clearly false. The reason that we perpetuate this dangerous idea is because we are used to talking about body image and sizes as though there are default settings. We simplify the issue in ways that create distorted expectations for people at either end.
Many anorexics do start out dealing with obesity issues. But as they lose the weight, it's thought that they may become addicted to the body transformation, coupled with the mostly positive recognition they receive from others for their apparently healthy changes.
All of this is compounded by the stigmatization of obesity in our culture. Even slightly overweight girls are much more likely to get picked on in the playground and even into the teen years. This behavior leads to destructive concepts of self. It leads girls to make bad choices when it comes to dieting and fitness.
If you think it's possible that you know a girl who may be suffering from an eating disorder, whether or not it's outwardly apparent, you absolutely must encourage her to seek treatment. Eating disorders are extremely dangerous, with both long term and short term consequences. Falcon Ridge Ranch has years of experience helping young girls overcome eating disorders. Call 1-866-452-8775 to learn more.