Valentine's Day is Wednesday, and - believe it or not - spring is right around the corner.
Everyone wants to look their best. Swimsuit weather will soon be here.
No one's happy with the way they look, and the whole country is on a diet. Every Tom, Dick, and Harry, from the president's wife to local health officials are telling you to lose weight and get in shape.
Meanwhile, eating disorders are being found in younger and younger children.
Youth and teens look at the runway models, and try to mold themselves into that ideal shape.
They face the risk of developing a dangerous eating disorder.
Americans need to realize that comments about other people's physical build are forms of prejudice, and produce feelings of inadequacy in those not of that shape.
When we say, "She's so pretty," how do you think other children who are not classified "pretty" would take such an innocent-sounding remark?
While men grow old naturally, women are made to feel unworthy until they've had their face lifted and their body re-shaped under the surgeon's knife.
So how do we reverse this trend?
Slowly, day by day, year by year.
First, parents and society need to carefully examine attitudes and beliefs.
We need to teach children that all body shapes, large and small, are beautiful and natural, and show no prejudices or preferences for one or the other.
Then we need to educate them about the dangers of trying to achieve thinness through dieting.
Teach them healthy eating habits from the start and encourage exercise as a fun and healthy activity. Don't label foods as good or bad, fattening, etc.
Rather, teach your children about all things in moderation.
Encourage your children to eat when they are hungry and to stop when they are full. Don't insist they "clean their plate."
Promote a healthy self-esteem and healthy self-image in children.
Happy children are less prone to fall victim to eating disorders, which can also come about if they are depressed or unhappy.
Author and health expert Terry Levine offers the following signs of common eating disorders:
This is an obsession with losing weight and a fear of becoming or being fat; considering themselves fat even when they've lost considerable weight.
- Refusing to eat normally, an obsession with diets and restricted food intake.
- A fixation on their body shape and appearance.
- Dramatic loss of weight.
- Constantly saying they are not hungry, or development of unusual food rituals.
- Excuses for being absent at mealtimes.
- Sudden and excessive interest in rigid exercise.
- Any change in behavior or attitude that is accompanied with an obsession with losing weight and dieting and being thin.
Many people who suffer from this disorder have a history of depression, and often express feelings of shame and guilt over their binge habit. Binge eating affects those who can be either of normal weight, or are overweight.
- Watch out for when a child consumes large volumes of food in a short period of time on a regular basis even when they are not hungry.
- They appear to be out of control during these eating frenzies.
- They eat alone or eat secretly. You may find evidence of this by large amounts of food disappearing, finding wrappers hidden away.
- Characterized by eating large volumes of food in a short space of time, quite often secretly. This has nothing to do with feeling hungry. There is a sense of being out of control during these eating episodes.
- These binge eating episodes are followed by forcing oneself to vomit up the food again, or use laxatives, go to the other extreme of fasting, or sudden exercise frenzy.
- Sufferers have an obsession with body weight and shape.
- Watch for evidence that a child may be trying to rid themselves of the food they've just eaten. Do they frequent the bathroom after eating meals or snacks and is there any sign, smell, etc., that they may have vomited? Have you found any laxatives hidden in their room?
Finally, seek professional advice and help if you suspect a child is suffering an eating disorder.