We all have a certain preoccupation with how we look, and that, in turn, might influence our appetite. We want to stay under 150 pounds, for instance, and so we don’t eat the chocolate cake for dessert or the extra pancake.
However, when those preoccupations become obsessions, they might point to a disturbance of mind. Obsessions are unwanted thoughts that you cannot get out of your head. For many of us, unwanted thoughts come and go and we’re able to move on to more life-affirming, positive thinking. For others, however, unwanted thoughts might continue again and again until that is all you think about.
This can be the case with food, with body image, and with your eating patterns. Even if you realize at some point that thoughts about your body are excessive and you try to stop, they continue to occur and you find yourself behaving in ways that are unhealthy.
Teen Eating Disorders
Let’s say you’ve just gotten home from school. Today your best friend made a comment to you that cut you deep into your core and you’re hurt by the potential loss of friendship with her. You’re sad. When you get home, you look into the fridge and see that there’s leftover spaghetti from last night. Perfect! That will make you feel better. You take one bite after another and it feels so nurturing, filling your belly as well as your heart. Even though it tastes good, your stomach is starting to hurt. Eventually you stop because you just can’t take another bite but you want to finish it. You take the last bite and head upstairs. Your mother won’t be home for a while and you’ll have the house to yourself. During this time alone you begin to wonder why you ate so much. Your life is a mess – it feels like your life is out of control – your friends are leaving you and you can’t even control your eating habits. To feel better, both physically and emotionally, you walk into the bathroom and vomit into the toilet. Now that your stomach is empty again, you can try to make better sense of your life.
Need for Control
Typically, our bodies will let us know when we are hungry and when it is a good time to stop eating. However, where there is a disturbance in the natural process of the body and how we respond to those responses, there might be a mental illness. Disturbances of appetite can be a symptom of depression. With eating disorders, it is not so much the appetite that is disturbed, as it is a teen’s control or lack of control over what they eat. An adolescent might have an intense need to be thin and so severely limit their food intake. Teen Anorexia Nervosa is a mental illness of eating too little. Others might have no control over the amount of food they take in, such as in the example of binge eating above, and then feel guilty about it later. Bulimia is a disorder in which there is a period of binge eating and that is followed by vomiting.
Interestingly, eating disorders are found exclusively in developed countries around the world. Of the mental illnesses outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa are two that are the most culturally defined. For women, there is a strong social emphasis placed on looking good, and that means being thin. Sadly, her sense of self worth and self-acceptance is heavily influenced by the measurements of her chest and hips as well as the amount of body fat she carries. Unfortunately, looking good can have a higher priority for her than her physical and psychological health.
Female teens, in particular, are at the most risk for developing eating disorders. Of course, male adolescents and adults can also develop the disorder. They too are not strangers to social expectations for looking thin. But teen eating disorders are more common among females, and the onset for eating disorder as well as for body image disorders, such as teen body dysmorphic disorder, is during adolescence.