My Body, My Self: Study Shows Eating Disorders Impact 500,000 Teens, Mostly Girls
Girls struggle disproportionately with eating disorders, and education could be the key to helping them. NY1's health reporter Kafi Drexel filed the second part of a three-part series on young women's health.
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Diana Velasquez's first memories of being obsessed with weight might be surprising to some.
“I remember being six and jumping up and down on my bed doing ‘exercise’ because I needed to be ‘sexier,’” says Velasquez.
By 12, she says she was having bouts of binge eating, and into her early and late teens she admits to compulsively counting calories, weighing food and exercising.
“I was very shy, and I thought part of the reason I didn't have any friends is because I was overweight,” says Velasquez. “So I thought, ‘when I'm thinner, I'll have more friends.’”
Through the Renfrew Center, which specializes in women's mental health and eating disorders, she's been getting the care she needs, but a recent government study shows a staggering half million teens across the country, mostly young girls, have had an eating disorder and never sought treatment.
“There are a lot of factors at play with an eating disorder, but they start with diet,” says Lynn Grefe, president and CEO of the National Eating Disorder Association. “There's a lot more pressure on young girls now, and I think we have to be careful as a society in what we are doing here. We should be focusing on health, not size.”
Getting young people the help they need means making sure the adults in their lives are also educated and paying close attention.
“Girls are going through puberty much earlier, and puberty is a trigger point for eating disorders — genetically it's a trigger point,” says Jessica Fishman Levinson, RD, founder of Nutritioulicious. “I think that parents need to take a look at what's going on with their children. Most children who talk about their weight don't have eating disorders. It's the kids who hide it that you really need to be aware of.”
Velasquez says recognizing that and seeking help can make a world of difference.
“To change something I didn't like about myself, I had to change my body, so I had to accept whatever abilities and skills I had and say ‘No, these are good things about me’ and embrace them,” says Velasquez.
Finding self-worth can definitely be a game-changer. Part three of this series will explore the impact playing sports has on girls and their self-esteem.