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Body Image and Eating Disorders

In honor of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, that I missed last week 🥴, I wanted to blog about the importance of our relationship with food. 

Unlike drugs and alcohol where abstaining is the goal. You can't not eat. And every meal can be a battle for someone with an eating disorder. 

This has been more on my mind lately as this past month I have had several girls bring up their body image struggles during my Talk sex education classes. One child wrote in my question bag, 

This breaks my heart... We have to be talking to our kids much sooner than we think about their relationship with their bodies. 

When I was adjunct faculty at CSU Long Beach, I taught a course for three years on Women and Their Bodies and one of my favorite speakers was the OA panel that would share their stories. OA stands for Overeaters Anonymous, basically AA for eating disorders. One of the things they shared that stuck with me was this phrase, 

What's eating you? 

Behind most every addiction is something happened to someone and they are trying to cope. 

A common theme with eating disorders it seemed to me at least was a strive for perfectionism. A need to control something in their lives. Some stories I heard were of binging, feeling guilty and then purging - black out eating - excessive limiting of food or exercise, diet pills, strange behavior with food like digging it out of the garbage, hiding it, chewing it and spitting it out, or only eating the same thing all the time.

I also have a personal story to share...

When I was growing up I had a best friend that lived near me that had disordered eating.

I remember her talking about hating her thighs at 10 years old.

She would come over and I'd ask her to stay for dinner and she would say, "No I can't, my mom put me on a diet." And she was a healthy weight. 

By 13, she was taking diet pills.

I took them with her for a short time. She talked up how good they were and how fast she lost weight. 

Later we learned the pills had ephedrine in them. A stimulant similar to methamphetamines, 

I live in the house I grew up in now because I inherited it. Her mom still lives in the neighborhood and when she sees me, she almost always comments on my body. 

"You look so great! What are you, a size 2 now?", This was my last interaction with her.

She passed on her body image issues to her daughter. It is easy to do if we aren't careful with our modeling at home. Kids are like sponges. 

Teenage girls today face immense pressure to conform to unrealistic beauty standards portrayed in the media and society. This pressure can lead to significant body image issues, impacting their self-esteem, mental health, and overall well-being. As parents, it's crucial to understand the depth of these challenges and take proactive steps to support your daughter's journey towards a healthy body image.

One of the most significant impacts of body image issues on teenage girls is a decline in self-esteem. Research shows that girls as young as 10 years old are already concerned about their weight and appearance. This concern often grows during adolescence, as they compare themselves to the airbrushed images of models and celebrities they see in magazines, movies, and on social media. These unrealistic standards can make girls feel inadequate and lead to a negative self-image. And with TikTok influencers, not experts, giving advice on some miracle product or strategy to change 'whatever' about your body. 

Body image issues can also contribute to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety. Girls who are dissatisfied with their bodies are more likely to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety, which can have long-lasting effects on their mental health. In severe cases, body image issues can lead to eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia, which can be life-threatening if not treated promptly. In the United States, 28.8 million Americans will suffer from an eating disorder at some point in their lives. 


As parents, we need to be aware of how these issues can affect our daughters (boys can be affected too) and take some steps to support them. First off, it's important to keep the lines of communication open. Encourage your daughter to share her feelings about her body image without fear of judgment. Just being there to listen can make a big difference.

Next, let's lead by example. Our daughters look up to us, so it's important to show them a healthy attitude towards our own bodies. Avoid negative self-talk and instead focus on the things you love about yourself that have nothing to do with looks.

Another thing we can do is help our daughters see themselves in a more positive light. Encourage them to focus on their strengths, talents, and inner beauty rather than just their appearance.

Lastly, let's promote healthy habits for the right reasons. Encourage your daughter to stay active and eat well, not to look a certain way, but to feel good and be healthy.

By creating a supportive environment and showing our daughters love and acceptance, we can help them navigate the tricky waters of body image with confidence. 

Dove Campaign for Real Beauty has some excellent videos about media and its effects on girls. 

If you are looking for further support, the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) is the largest nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting individuals and families affected by eating disorders.


The Talk Institute offers an in-person or virtual live 2-hour 'Talk' on Body Image and Self-Esteem. You've got this 👊!



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