How to Promote Healthy Eating and Positive Body Image for Teens in 2020
By Meredith Heth
Trigger Warning: The following article discusses eating disorders. If you need help, please reach out to your PCP or call 1-800-931-2237, the National Eating Disorder Association Helpline.
Looking through a teen’s search history is scary - Is eating 1,200 calories enough? How can I lose weight fast? Do I have binge eating disorder? But even more shocking are the results that misinform and encourage unhealthy and even damaging behaviors. The pressure kids and teenagers feel, especially girls, is often overwhelming. These negative feelings of pressure often manifest into an unhealthy relationship with food and poor body image.
How do you stop damaging mental health behaviors surrounding food and body image? The following article will discuss three eating disorders, how to practice mindful eating, and how to promote a healthy body image.
Anorexia, Bulimia, and Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
There are three common eating disorders that over 30 million Americans experience daily: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. All three of these disorders often develop during adolescence.
Those who suffer from anorexia can see themselves as overweight, even if they are extremely underweight. Severe calorie restriction and food restriction are the most common signs that someone may suffer from anorexia. A student or teen experiencing anorexia may also have a tremendous fear of gaining weight.
A person who has bulimia eats a large amount of food in a short amount of time, referred to as a “binge.” The binge eating episode goes on until the person is uncomfortably, and even painfully, full. During the binge, the person often feels like they have no control. The key sign to bulimia is that after the binge, the person will try to eliminate the food and relieve pressure on their stomach by purging, using laxatives, excessive exercise, or fasting.
Although recognized for over 60 years, only in the last decade has binge eating disorder (BED) become a recognizable eating disorder. BED is like bulimia in that the person binges in a short period to the point of painful fullness. However, unlike bulimia, they do not attempt to compensate for their overeating and instead suffer shameful thoughts and feelings of distress and anxiousness. People with BED are more often overweight or obese.
While the three eating disorders listed above can leave physical damage, they are considered mental health disorders. If a teen suffers from an eating disorder, it’s likely due to compounding effects of an unhealthy relationship with food and poor body image. To prevent and treat these conditions, mindful eating and positive body image promotion can help.
Feel What You Eat: Mindful Eating
How often do you load your plate with food, plop in front of the TV or go on your phone, and ignore what and how much you eat? Did you taste your meal? Did you enjoy it? Are you too full? Satiated? Need more?
Feeling disconnected from food can assist in the creation of eating disorders. When you become disassociated with food as a source of nourishment, foods become “good” and “bad.” Overeating and under-eating can occur, and unhealthy thoughts surrounding food flood your brain. This is where practicing mindful eating can promote healthy relationships with food.
Mindful eating strategies include:
· Pay attention to what you eat and appreciate the positive, nurturing aspects of food.
· Use your senses to smell, taste, feel, and choose items that are satisfying and nurturing.
· Acknowledge how food makes you feel, both emotionally and physically, without judgment.
· Understand and listen to your satiety and hunger cues.
The best way to practice mindful eating is to remove all distractions. This means no TV, cell phones, Internet usage, or books while you enjoy your food.
While eating, pay attention to how the food smells and tastes. Remind yourself during the meal that food is meant to nourish your body. If eating with others, have a conversation about the food—what do you like, dislike, and find neutral? Have a positive conversation about all foods, even desserts!
To create a mind-body connection with healthy foods, use the phrase “if… then…” while you eat. An example would be, “If I eat my broccoli, then I will receive fiber and micronutrients that keep me satiated and fuel my body.” Using this phrase helps teach you about what you’re eating and acknowledges how your body responds to it.
Fitango Health’s technology can support the development of a healthier relationship with food and mindful eating. Fitango’s Education Plans and ActionPlans—interactive health guides that provide educational materials and allow individuals to self-report—can support these efforts. Individuals can create a journal for monitoring and being intentional about creating a mind-body connection with healthy foods, using the methods explained above. Fitango Health users can also access valuable resources, including support programs that they can be referred to through the platform.
Creating an environment where mindful eating thrives will encourage the development of a healthy relationship with food. This healthy relationship with food and a positive atmosphere will cycle into a healthier body image.
Healthy Body Image
Body image creates significant pressure for everyone, especially teenagers and even more so girls. Today, where social media is everyone’s highlight reel, teenagers compare their unedited bodies, to perfectly posed and edited photos that do not resemble real life.
Social media, compounded with pressure from peers, parents, and changing bodies during puberty, can lead a teenager to develop low-self-esteem and poor body image. This furthers the cycle of shame and distress teens feel about themselves. If not addressed, this can lead to eating disorders.
What can you do to educate yourself or your teen?
· Talk about it – Open communication about why bodies change and how they change can alleviate the pressure leading to disordered eating.
· Social media education – Look up sources, like this one by mediasmarts.ca, that educate users on questions to ask themselves when viewing a social media post.
· Follow social media accounts that promote all bodies – Influencers and brands exist that promote different body types and don’t edit their pictures. Check out this list to find new accounts that promote body image positivity.
· Know that you can want to change your body, but still have positive body image – A healthy body image promotes that changing your body does not mean hating your body.
· Exercise is a way to honor your body – Remember that exercise is a way to build muscle, balance, stamina, and releases the happy chemicals called endorphins. Exercising is not a way to punish your body.
Healthy body image is a mindset developed by recognizing feelings about yourself. Positive body image recognizes that every body is different and to appreciate what your body does for you.
A Powerful Force: Mindful Eating and Body Image Combined
When paired, mindful eating and positive body image help fight the epidemic that that is disordered eating. Educating yourself, having conversations, becoming more aware, and releasing media stress all lead to a healthy relationship with food and positive body image.