Eating Disorders and Body Image
By Clarice J. Kestenbaum, M.D.
Q: My daughter is 12. She says she can't make friends because she weighs 120 pounds and everyone else weighs 80 to 100 pounds. She feels left out because at dances nobody wants to dance with her. How can I help her? How can I help her lose some weight?
A: Your daughter has fallen victim to the rampant condition that affects millions of young women: dissatisfaction with their bodies in the pursuit of thinness. Young girls today compare their prepubescent bodies with the photographs of anorexic fashion models and end up starving themselves so that they can measure up to the current ideal of feminine beauty. Eating disorders anorexia nervosa or bulimia, severe dieting, purging and overly strenuous exercise can cause hormonal changes, constipation, cessation of menstruation, insomnia, or worse.
The first step is to consult your pediatrician so that your daughter can learn about eating disorders, including obesity. The doctor should recommend a diet that will enable your daughter to receive adequate nutrition while lowering her caloric intake. Junk food should be replaced by healthier snacks. If this plan is not successful, a behavior modification plan often in a group setting for teens can be very helpful. It is important to get a referral for child and adolescent psychiatrist or psychologist if you see signs of depression or failure to comply with the treatment plan. Let your daughter know how much you care about her and her health and happiness.