Concerns with one’s external appearance, look, and tonus, are generally perceived as a positive motivational factor. People who care what they look like will mind what they eat and try their best to maintain a healthy, active lifestyle – as popular wisdom will have it. Recent psychological research, however, has revealed an alternative take on the matter. There seems to be a thin line between caring how one looks and developing an unhealthy, obsessive-compulsive attitude toward food, and Australia is no exception to this eating disorder-generating mindset. On the one hand, an increasing number of Australian female teenagers are being diagnosed with bulimia, anorexia, or other syndromes on the same spectrum. On the other hand, Australian children are not being monitored that closely for signs of obesity. Meanwhile, Aussies are becoming more and more dissatisfied with their body image, almost in spite of eating disorder prevention programs funded by the federal government. The solution?Nurturing a more balanced attitude toward food, educating individuals in nutrition basics, and emphasizing personal wellbeing as a lifestyle choice.
How Fat Are Our Children, Really?
One 2006 study, which analyzed mothers’ attitudes toward the weight of their preschoolers, found that there is a clear double standard at work in shaping them. The research was conducted on over 300 four-year olds, whose body mass indices were assessed in comparison with those of their peers. Their parents were also handed out a questionnaire, meant to gauge whether or not they perceived the children’s weight as problematic. While 19 per cent of all children were found to be overweight or obese, only 5 per cent of their mothers showed concern over the situation. Mothers of overweight girls generally displayed more concern, as did the women who had a personal history of weight issues, or whose spouses had gone through such difficulties. A disquieting 70 per cent of overweight kids’ mothers thought their children to be of normal weight compared to their peers.
What Are We Teaching Teens about Eating Disorders?
Researchers from the School of Psychology with Flinders University in Adelaide found that the right type of education on weight issues can make a genuine difference in the lives of Aussie teens. They analyzed the reactions of 500 students in Grade 8, both male and female, with an average age of 13.62, to a media literacy educational program. The study clearly revealed that it’s important to educate teens of both genders on the existence of stereotypes about personal appearance. The students who took part in the eight-lesson course displayed significantly lower concerns about their weight and shape. This may just indicate that kids will respond better to such initiatives if targeted from an early age, instead of simply being lectured on the dangers of anorexia and bulimia. Such educational programs on eating disorders are usually addressed to girls in their late teens, by which time it’s plausible to assume that they’ve already been exposed to a fair share of such issues, either through dealing with them personally, or through observing their effect on their peers.
It’s All about Balance
A 2002 review of eating disorder prevention initiatives outlined the fact that Australian women deal with body image issues even when they have no objective cause for concern. Women with a normal or lower-than-normal body weight were found to be worried about their body mass; many of them consequently resorted to questionable methods for weight loss, such as crash dieting, binge eating bouts followed by fasts, abuse of laxatives, etc.. The study, which was conducted by a psychology researcher with the University of Melbourne, concluded that it will take more than just a few programs to deal with the problem efficiently. What Australia really needs, in order to feel better about its weight, is for such initiatives to sanction toxic environments, which drive women and men to mentally misrepresent their own bodies.
Binge eating is oftentimes caused by emotional lacks, which the sufferer perceives as insurmountable through therapeutic means, thus leading them to resort to extreme behaviors. An unhealthy attitude toward food is usually noticeable by the sufferer’s peers and dear ones; it can go either way (anorexia or bulimia), or it can take on several forms at once. Like any detrimental habit, poor nutritional choices cause both physical and emotional damage: they deepen self-image issues, while also weakening one’s circulatory system, bone system, and deteriorating hair and skin.
Binge eating has been reportedly solved through psychotherapy, which includes journaling and working closely with one’s therapist toward improving eating habits. Hypnotherapy has also worked wonders, as it is known to do with any addiction issue. Through neuro-linguistic programming and reimagining one’s life as binging-free, anyone can attain such results with the aid of a trained professional.