The need to support teen mental health is on the rise, especially when it comes to body image issues. Listen in for some great tips!
The behavior we model as adults, carries on to our children. The problem with body image, is that many of us adults struggle as well. So where does that leave our kids?
Today I am talking to Julie Pullman from Rise Wellness Coaching, a wellness coaching program that focuses on teens.
As a trained professional with a degree in Child Development and a minor in Psychology, and a decade in the fitness industry as well as mom of two teens, Julie offers an experienced and compassionate perspective in her coaching practice.
She had her own journey to overcome health issues and find wellness. She now coaches because that journey showed her what her true potential is and how good you can feel once you achieve it.
Gender Differences in Body Image
Body image issues affect everyone. Adults, teens and even young children. It affects all genders and sexual orientations. It knows no bounds. It especially is prevalent in young women.
While most of the focus is on females, males struggle too. Maybe it's because males don't tend to talk about their emotions as openly, so it's not as common that they admit it, but it affects them.
Statistics from a variety of resources say that somewhere between 15 and 25% of eating disorders are in males. So while it isn't as high as females, it still exists.
Because the movement for support isn't focused on males, their feelings are often brushed under the rug.
Age and Body Image Issues
Some research shows that 40-60% of girls between age 6 and 12 are worried about their weight. That's girls as young as first grade!
So if this is a concern starting at 6, why don't we address this? Schools don't have education and support for issues related to body image in elementary, it seems it's assumed that this is dealt with at home.
But if adults also struggle with this issue, how do we support our kids?
It seems like we should start this education young, build them up before they fall. If we can give them the skills to be confident with themselves, this will transfer to so many other areas of life including school suuccess.
The exposure to social media, diet culture, moms that constantly jump from one diet to another, peers and learned behavior all set the stage for young adults with a spectrum of issues from extreme eating disorders to an unhealthy body image.
Eating Disorders in Teens
Eating disorders in teens is on the rise and very prevalent. Teen mental health is suffering and the statistics are alarming:
- By 17 years old, 89% of girls have dieted.
- 15% of young women have disordered eating
- 42% of girls in grades 1-3 want to lose weight
- 45% of boys and girls in grades 3-6 want to be thinner
- 51% of 9 and 10 year old girls say they feel better about themselves when they are dieting
- 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat
- 9% of nine year olds have vomited to lose weight
All of this can be helped with prevention. By teaching and addressing these issues with kids before the media gets to them will give them a solid background of knowledge.
The issue is that once young children get exposed to the online world, that becomes their source of information. The not only see photos of what they think they need to look like, they are also exposed to the wide range of diets being sold.
Diet culture is a huge precursor to body image issues. Young kids tend to believe what they see online.
If you are concerned about your young adult, teen or child and want to catch the issue before it spirals out of control, there are some red flags you can watch out for:
- They are going from diet to diet.
- You notice they are restricting calories or whole categories of food.
- They are seeking constant attention based on looks.
- They acknowledge it themselves and ask for help.
- You notice a dramatic weight loss.
- They start to dress in oversized clothing or layers to hide themselves.
- Talks negatively about their body.
- Avoids situations where food will be present.
Since body image issues can present itself differently with every child, it's important to keep tabs and have some strategies in place. Here are some things you can do:
- Have family dinners to see how they eat (Are they eating plain salad without dressing? Are they not eating enough?).
- Follow them on social media and see what they post and what they say about themselves.
- Watch how they talk about themselves.
- Have open conversations about the subject, maybe it's something their friend says or does or how their friend seeks attention.
- Don't talk negatively about types of food or assign emotion to them.
- Watch how you talk about yourself and others.
Intuitive Eating and Teens
Teaching your teen about intuitive eating can be a great way to help them have a positive body image.
Intuitive eating helps eliminate diet mentality all together, no food is bad. It allows all food to be accessible, and takes away emotion from food.
The focus is on listening to your body instead of restricting yourself.
Teaching intuitive eating
Julie is an expert at helping teens build their intuitive eating skills. One thing she loves to do is introduce food journaling. She has clients write what they are eating in their food journal but also includes their feelings before and after they eat each thing.
This helps her see clients eating habits, but also helps them start thinking about food beyond nourishment.
The food journal helps her guide them into setting goals in areas they need, including both nutrition and lifestyle.
The truth is no one really wants to diet, especially teens. Teens don't like restriction so intuitive eating is liberating to them.
While I was skeptical about teaching teens intuitive eating, Julie says that teens are very receptive because nothing is off limits. Instead she teaches them to just listen to their own body and to have no guilt.
This gives them control and they love that! Diets take away control and since teens love being the boss, intuitive eating tends to work well.
While teaching good eating habits is a great strategy to help with body image, movement is also very important for teen mental health. Life today is more focused on a sedentary lifestyle overall.
From video games to TV and social media, people in general aren't as active as they used to be.
On the other end of the spectrum, there is the competitive nature of sports programs. It seems that kids younger and younger are pushed into competitive sports.
The comparing of ability and pressure to be the best makes it seem that there is no in between when it comes to athletics.
So this leads to kids who either can't afford to pay the fees that competitive sports charge, or don't want the pressure. And therefore they stop altogether.
There needs to be an in between, a balance between the extreme ends of competition and nothing.
Finding something that you enjoy, whether it's playing a sport for leisure or simply talking a walk, is good for both physical and mental health. Movement releases happy hormones and will lead to an overall more positive body image.
Make sure to follow Julie on her website Rise Wellness Coaching to grab a free intro consolation and her resources for health hacks and snacks.
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