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IMPORTANCE FROM INSIDE: EATING DISORDERS IN ADOLESCENTS

I have seen it happen.

Growing up in the Silicon Valley, I have been exposed to skinny moms, skinnier girls, and avoiding eating at all costs. Don’t get me wrong, I love where I grew up. It will always be home. But, the Silicon Valley is largely about image. Wearing the most expensive clothes, driving the nicest car, and having the best body. At a young age (much too young), I was exposed to terms like “thigh gap” and “bikini bridge”. I remember splashing around in the pool one summer, probably around the age of eight or nine, and overhearing some teenage girls talking. “I’m working on my thigh gap”. “Your stomach is so flat, I’m jealous”.

I went home and looked in the mirror. Why don’t I have a thigh gap? I thought. Why is my stomach round and bloated? I wondered. I was eight years old. Maybe nine. And I was worried what my body looked like when I should have been worried about what time Hannah Montana came on or what was for dinner.

So, I can see how eating disorders can develop. I have seen it happen. I have seen my friends transform from happy, bright, fun-loving girls into a shell of their former selves, consumed by their eating disorders. I always thought I couldn’t do anything other than be there for my friends. However, through this project I have come to understand that while I cannot do anything to help their mental illness, I can help in another way: by raising awareness and reducing the stigma of eating disorders.

What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders are “serious medical illnesses marked by severe disturbances to a person’s eating behaviors”. Signs of an eating disorder may include “obsessions with food, body weight, and shape”. There are many different types of eating disorders, but the two that are most common among adolescents are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa (NIMH).

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa in adolescents is characterized by weight loss, difficulties maintaining an appropriate body weight, and, often distorted body image. Individuals with anorexia nervosa typically restrict the amount of calories they intake or the types of food in their diet. Compulsive exercise, purging (through vomiting or use of laxatives), and binge eating may also be vehicles used by individuals with anorexia nervosa (NEDA).

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia nervosa in adolescents is characterized by a cycle of binge eating and “compensatory behaviors”, such as self-induced vomiting. These “compensatory behaviors” are performed in hopes to undo or compensate for the binge eating (NEDA).

Who is affected by eating disorders?

Although eating disorders can develop at any age, most cases develop during adolescence.

0.9% of American women suffer from anorexia nervosa in their lifetime (ANAD).

1.5% of American women suffer from bulimia nervosa in their lifetime (ANAD).

A staggering 70% of adolescent girls report feeling dissatisfied with their bodies. There are many possible causes for this, but in my opinion it is largely due to body image in the media. Let’s be honest: we all use Instagram, read Vogue, and keep up with the Kardashians. There’s nothing wrong with that, until we fall into the belief that we should look like the Insta model, the latest Vogue cover star, or Kendall Jenner; it’s not reality. These images we see are usually of professional models, are taken at a strategic angle, or are photoshopped. Yes, celebrities love photoshop. Take a look for yourself at two of the most well-known individuals nationwide: Kim Kardashian and Justin Bieber.

How can I help?

Learn.

Absorb as much as you can. Read, search the web, even call your doctor. Learn the difference between facts and myths of eating disorders.

Plan.

Rehearse what you are going to say, maybe even write your main points down. Choose a private and comfortable place to have the discussion with your loved one.

Show them you care.

Be honest about your concerns. Tell your loved one that you are worried about them, and want to help.

Encourage them to seek help.

Offer to help your loved one find a doctor, therapist, or program that will help them recover. Sometimes it is easier for someone to do this for the loved one rather than themselves, so be available for this.

Tell someone.

Finally, tell someone; especially if you are a child or teen yourself. This is a lot to deal with at any age, but dealing with it as a child or teen is especially hard, so tell a parent, trusted adult, or even your school counselor.

Hotlines:

National Mental Health Association: 800-969-6642

National Eating Disorder Association: 800-931-2237

Works Cited:

“Learn.” National Eating Disorders Association, 25 Feb. 2017, www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn.

“NAMI.” NAMI, www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-Conditions/Eating-Disorders.

“Eating Disorder Statistics • National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.” National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, anad.org/education-and-awareness/about-eating-disorders/eating-disorders-statistics/.

“Who Is Affected?” Who Is Affected?, www.nedc.com.au/eating-disorders/eating-disorders-explained/something/who-is-affected/.

Schober, Tony, et al. “Don’t Use the Scale to Gauge Healthy.” COACH CALORIE, 12 Dec. 2015, coachcalorie.com/dont-use-the-scale-to-gauge-healthy/.

Miller, Korin. “Kim Kardashian on Retouched Complex Magazine Photos: Yup – I Have Cellulite!” Nydailynews.com, New York Daily News, 9 Apr. 2018, www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/gossip/kim-kardashian-retouched-complex-magazine-photos-yup-cellulite-article-1.362120.

“Unretouched Photo from Justin Bieber’s Calvin Klein Shoot Reveals Photoshop Enhancements.” PetaPixel, 10 Jan. 2015, petapixel.com/2015/01/09/unretouched-photo-justin-biebers-calvin-klein-shoot-reveals-photoshop-enhancements/.

“Photo D1089_40_335, from Dissolve.” Dissolve, dissolve.com/stock-photo/Despaired-anorexic-young-woman-royalty-free-image/101-D1089-40-335.

Guerra, Julia. “Netflix’s ‘To The Bone’ Illustrates How Eating Disorders Do Not Define A Whole Person.” Elite Daily, Elite Daily, 17 Dec. 2018, www.elitedaily.com/entertainment/film/netflixs-bone-illustrates-eating-disorders-not-define-whole-person/2018966.

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COMMENTS: 26
  1. April 26, 2019 by Kyra Geschke

    I live in Silicon Valley as well and I see this issue around so much. There are so many people in our community who are doing the most in order to achieve the best figure possible when in reality, as you mentioned, not everyone is going to look the same! I love the advice you gave and how you looked at it from multiple perspectives. There were also tons of suggestions which is super thorough and smart. good job!

    • April 30, 2019 by Alexandra Polverari

      Hi Kyra! Thank you so much for reading.

  2. April 26, 2019 by Addie Anderson

    I love the person connection and how there is clearly a direct change that can happen in your own community, which also makes me think of the image culture we live in and seem to each experience in some level.

    • April 30, 2019 by Alexandra Polverari

      Thank you Addie! I agree the images we are constantly fed have huge impacts on body image issues.

  3. April 26, 2019 by Vivian.Fong

    Like Addie said, I really like your personal connection. It adds to your project and makes it so meaningful. I also really loved the call for action where you listed ways the community can help someone with an eating disorder.

    • April 30, 2019 by Alexandra Polverari

      Thank you so much Vivian!

  4. April 27, 2019 by Rachel.Dulski

    Alexandra, I really liked reading about your experience. I grew up in the Bay Area as well and I definitely felt the pressure to have a perfect body and live up to body standards. What do you think we can do to help reduce the pressure people feel to have a “thigh gap” or a flat stomach?

    • April 30, 2019 by Alexandra Polverari

      Thank you so much Rachel! I think it all starts with attitudes towards body types, especially when growing up. I think that if there was more body positivity and acceptance of all body types, things would improve.

  5. April 27, 2019 by Julia.Kashimura

    I agree with Vivian because I also like your personal connection with this issue since I never knew eating disorder was this common. I really liked how you listed the possible suggestions to help. You bolded each suggestion with detailed explanations following it, which made it look very organized.

    • April 30, 2019 by Alexandra Polverari

      Thank you Julia! Eating disorders are much more common than you’d think, so I’m glad you learned something from my project.

  6. April 27, 2019 by Anika Stenberg

    I really liked the suggestions and resources you listed in your call to action. I can definitely see some of these issues around me, but I didn’t realize until recently how common they were. Your images also drew me into your project and kept me interested while I was reading.

    • April 30, 2019 by Alexandra Polverari

      Thank you Anika!

  7. April 27, 2019 by Riley.Weinstein

    This was such a good presentation! It not only addressed the problem but it showed us how was can help. I didn’t truly realize how serious these problems could be! It was interesting to see how it made such an impact on you throughout your childhood. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • April 30, 2019 by Alexandra Polverari

      Thank you Riley! I know, these issues are often overlooked but are extremely serious.

  8. April 28, 2019 by Hanan Sherka

    Hey Alexandra! I really enjoyed reading through your project, especially as someone who has struggled with disordered eating. One of the most impactful sections, I think, was the tangible action steps that could be taken, because it feels like a solvable issue. Also, it is very clear the amount of work you put into this. Great job!

    • April 30, 2019 by Alexandra Polverari

      Hi Hanan, thank you so much! It means a lot that you enjoyed it.

  9. April 28, 2019 by Lauren Mazza

    I loved your project. I thought it was very insightful and had a lot of great information to help people and education people about anorexia. Iloved how you made it personal because it shows how much you care about this issue.

    • April 30, 2019 by Alexandra Polverari

      Thank you so much Lauren! I really do care a lot about this issue and I’m happy I was able to teach others about it.

  10. April 29, 2019 by Taylor.Hurt

    This was so great Alexandra!! I really liked the personal touch in this presentation, and how concise the information was. I also really like how you listed ways to help a loved one who may be struggling. Thank you for sharing!

    • April 30, 2019 by Alexandra Polverari

      Thank you Taylor! I’m glad you liked it.

  11. April 29, 2019 by Adriana Castro Colón

    Hi Alexandra!

    I really enjoyed your project. The first few paragraphs really caught my attention, I like the personal touch you include on such a heavy topic. I also want to say how well you did explaining the different types of eating disorders, while I knew anorexia and bulimia where common eating disorders I didn’t really understand the medical difference between them. Until now. Thanks for sharing!

    • April 30, 2019 by Alexandra Polverari

      Hi Adriana! Thank you! I’m glad I was able to explain the difference.

  12. April 30, 2019 by Ava.Glazier

    Hi Alexandra – I love your presentation! Eating disorders are hugely prevalent where I live as well and I agree that it is important to speak about them and educate ourselves. I loved that you included a video on what individuals can do to help their family/friends/loved ones that are experiencing eating disorders. Nice job!

    • April 30, 2019 by Alexandra Polverari

      Hi Ava, thank you so much! I agree–education on these issues are so important.

  13. April 30, 2019 by Day.Nuckolls

    Hi! I found your presentation so interesting especially because now eating disorders are becoming so common. I hope that this raises awareness to others and they can share what all they have learned from your presentation!

  14. May 02, 2019 by Juliette Gaudreault

    Hi! I really enjoyed your project, and really liked the fact that you shared your own experience. It is really inspirational, especially for other girls. I agree that is important to teach and tell others about it. Really enjoyed the format of your presentation as well. Good work!

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