It is hard to spot teen anorexia. The dysfunction of the mental illness is so woven into the fabric of American society that going on diet after diet doesn’t seem all that abnormal. In fact, a study was done in Fiji researching how the recent presence of the media has made its impact on the South Pacific culture. The study observed Fijian adolescent girls dramatically change their attitude toward their bodies and their sense of self after television was introduced.
The Fiji Study
In 1982, Harvard Medical School Psychiatrist Anne Becker visited the country. She noticed that food was a major part of the Fijian culture and that weight and dieting were far from the minds of both teens and adults, and in 1995, when she returned, adolescents continued to be free of any eating disorders.
However, at the end of a 3 year study, spanning from 1995-1998, 11.3% of adolescent girls reported that had purged to lose weight and that they “wanted the size” of the women they saw on television. During the few years of media presence to their island, which included seductive soap operas and luring television commercials, their attitudes towards their body and their self-worth changed.
What was startling about the study was that television gave the Fijian culture new social norms. Instead of seeing and accepting themselves for who they are, female adolescents in Fiji began to consider themselves “poor and fat”.
More recently, in 2007, Becker interviewed 520 girls of which 45% of them reported that they had purged in the last month. The more recent study indicated a higher presence of mental illness, suicide, and unrealistic self-expectations.
The point is that the Western culture has embedded into it dysfunction that is hard to see when you have grown up within it. Studies like the one done in Fiji help to make this clear. Furthermore, research on eating disorders has facilitated a clearer lens through which to examine the dysfunction of the disorder. As a result, the signs of a potential disorder have become more apparent for parents, caregivers, and clinicians to spot. The following are some of those teen anorexia signs.
- Signs of restricted eating – dieting, low food intake, or fasting.
- Odd food ritual – cutting food into pieces, counting bites.
- Intense fear of becoming fat, regardless of an already low weight
- Fear of food and certain situations where food is present.
- Rigid exercise schedule
- Dressing in layers to hide weight loss.
- Use of laxatives, enemas, or diuretics to eliminate food in the body.
- Weight loss in a short period of time.
- Cessation of menstruation without a physiological cause.
- Complaints of feeling cold
- Dizziness and fainting spells.
Signs of Attitude Change
- Mood swings
- Perfectionist attitude
- Insecurities about her capabilities despite actual performance
- Feelings of self-worth are determined by what is or is not eaten.
- Withdrawal from people.
- Self-acceptance comes from external sources.
Some of these teen anorexia signs might be seen in the average adolescent girl, even if she doesn’t have an eating disorder. This points to the prevalence of how eating disorders are so interwoven into Western culture. And how vulnerable young girls are to developing them.
If you or someone you know exhibits any of the above signs and there is indication that an eating disorder might be present, seeking the assistance of a mental health professional can be crucial. He or she can conduct an assessment, make a diagnosis, if there is one, and prepare the appropriate treatment plan. Learn more about the teen anorexia signs and symptoms at Paradigm Malibu’s website.