4 Ways You Can Instill a Healthy Body Image in Your Teen Athlete

By the time your son or daughter reaches the teenage years, they will inevitably be involved and immersed in many interests as they explore their developing skills, talents, and passions. One of the most common pass times that teens typically enjoy at various degrees during adolescence and beyond is athletics.

Participating in athletics is a fantastic way for your teen to stay healthy and fit, while learning the value of teamwork, respect, and hard work. Playing sports can also build self-esteem and help your teen form healthy bonds of friendship as they learn how to handle success and defeat.

However, as you teen begins to develop athletic skills and pursuits, they will also become more aware of their bodies and how they compare to their peers and any athletic icons they look up to as role models and motivation.

Unfortunately, this heightened body scrutiny and comparison can give way to unhealthy body image issues and evolve into eating disorders very quickly if your teen is not equipped with a strong sense of what it means to be healthy, strong, and athletic. In fact, according to the National Mental Health Institute, 2.7 percent of teens age thirteen to eighteen have struggled with some type of eating disorder.

4 Ways You Can Instill a Healthy Body Image in Your Teen Athlete

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, here are four ways that you can help support a healthy body image in your teen athlete to protect them from developing dangerous, unhealthy eating or training habits:

Understand eating disorders and other body image issues your teen may face.

It is important to understand that eating disorders do not stem solely from eating or not eating in unhealthy manners. Eating disorders are a symptom of a much deeper mental, emotional, or psychological issue that may be plaguing the happiness and well-being of your teen. Make sure that you do the research on what different body image issues and eating disorders exist, and fully understand how they may impact your teen as they strive to excel in athletics.

Know how to identify if your teen is struggling with their body image or suffering from an eating disorder.

To keep your teen healthy and safe, know the warning signs and symptoms to look for that may provide you early warning into a potential problem. Most teenagers will not come forward openly with their body image or eating disorder problems, so you will need to begin the open, honest, supportive conversation if you witness the warnings. According to the Mayo Clinic, warnings of an eating disorder may include:

  • Abnormally low body weight
  • Fear of weight gain
  • Distorted body image
  • Expressions of self-hatred or loathing
  • Excessively limiting calories or food intake
  • Escaping to the rest room immediately after a meal
  • Refusing to eat
  • Vomiting after meals
  • Use of weight loss pills or laxatives

Talk to your teen about their athletic role models, and help them identify healthy bodies and training regimes.

As the Summer Olympics quickly approaches, your teens will be watching with added excitement and attention as the very best competitors in their favorite sports compete for medals. This is a great opportunity to point out healthy, strong bodies and talk to your teen about the best ways to accomplish their fitness goals in a safe manner.

Additionally, there are many athletes who have overcome eating disorders. Sharing these stories of triumph and success can help encourage your teen to open up and seek help if they have been experiencing issues with their body or are developing an unhealthy relationship with eating.

Intervene with support, positivity, and straightforward help when you suspect body image issues or eating disorders in your teen.

If your teen exhibits the warning signals of poor body image or a potential struggle with an eating disorder, you should intervene immediately. When you bring up this topic with your teen, do not speak in judgmental or negative terms. Be open, positive, and straightforward as you encourage your teen to speak openly while you listen. If your teen continues to display unhealthy behaviors after you’ve intervened, it can be immensely helpful to consult the advice of a professional teen counselor to help you reach your teen with tools for an active and healthy approach to athletics and life.

Signs Someone You Love is Struggling with Anorexia

If you suspect someone you know may suffer from anorexia, check out these warning signs (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

If you suspect someone you know may suffer from anorexia, check out these warning signs (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

When a person has anorexia nervosa, they are starving themselves and not providing their body with the basic nutrients and calories needed for survival.  When this happens for an extended period of time, the body takes drastic action to conserve energy and preserve life.  Unfortunately, these defensive mechanisms can have very serious long-term health consequences.   The challenge for parents, teachers, coaches, and teens is to know when someone they care about is in trouble so that help and support can be provided in an effort to avoid these negative consequences.  While the main sign that someone is struggling with anorexia is their appearance, there are other signs that can be seen before the disorder progresses to the point that it is visibly noticeable.

1.     Dramatic Weight Loss

One sign that someone you love may be in trouble would be a dramatic reduction in weight within a relatively short period of time.  Healthy weight loss for those who are overweight is generally considered to be 1-2 pounds per week.  If someone is losing significantly more than that, they may be struggling with anorexia or another eating disorder.

2.     Obsession with Food

Many people with eating disorders exhibit a preoccupation or type of obsession with food.  This can include obsessively weighing everything before it is eaten, fanatically tracking weight, food, calories, fat, or other related information, or going on extreme diets. Other signs of food obsession can also include collecting recipes, watching TV cooking shows, and looking at internet food sites.

3.     Distorted Body Image

It is not uncommon for people with anorexia to have a distorted image of what their body looks like.  This can result in very thin people complaining about being fat or obsessively talking about the need to lose weight no matter how much weight they lose.  While it may seem like a strategy to get attention, in many cases the image the person sees when they look in the mirror does not match the reality.

4.     Unusual Eating Habits

Some people with anorexia exhibit unusual eating habits.  This can include things like avoiding entire food groups, eating food in a certain order, denying that they are hungry, and excessive chewing.  People who avoid eating any of their meals with other people or who participate in meals but don’t really eat anything are also exhibiting unusual eating habits consistent with anorexia.

5.     Obsessive Exercise

When people with anorexia do allow themselves to take in some food, they can become obsessed with burning off those calories as soon as they eat them.  People who have become obsessive about exercise as part of their anorexia will be rigid in their adherence to their workout routine.  They will exercise regardless of weather, illness, or injury.  The need to rid themselves of the calories they have taken in can be more important than anything else.

6.     Social Withdrawal

Another behavior that many people with eating disorders like anorexia display is social withdrawal.  They may stop participating in activities they previously enjoyed or stop spending time with friends or loved ones.

Anorexia is a serious eating disorder that can lead to long-term health consequences and even death.  If you suspect someone in your life is suffering from anorexia, reach out and get them the support they need.


Related articles


Are You Guilty of Weightism?

Do you jump to conclusions about someone based solely upon how they look? (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

Do you jump to conclusions about someone based solely upon how they look? (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

If you have ever looked at a person who is overweight and made assumptions about their life like they must be lazy or lack willpower, you are guilty of weightism or weight stigma.  If you have ever looked at a thin person and decided they must be healthy and self-disciplined, you are guilty of weightism.  Weight stigma, which is also called weightism, weight bias, and weight discrimination, happens when a snap judgment is made about a person based solely on their size, weight, or body shape.  It happens when we buy into standard weight-based stereotypes that define a person’s capabilities, intelligence, health, or abilities based on their size.  This societal stigma can have far reaching consequences for all of us, regardless of our size.

Weight-discrimination is no different than any other kind of discrimination and it can affect a person’s ability to get an education and a job.  It can negatively impact their self-esteem making it difficult for them to pursue their dreams or take advantage of opportunities that are available to them.  Worse still, the external messages we get about our weight can change the way we see ourselves, turning our own inner voice into the most devastating critic of all.

Throughout our society, the beliefs behind weight stigma abound.  Large-bodies are equated with laziness, lower intelligence, lack of self-control, lack of willpower, and lack of discipline.  When someone has a thin body, we assume that they eat right, exercise religiously, take better care of themselves, are more attractive, and have iron-clad willpower.  But basing these judgments about a person on the size and/or shape of their body does us all a disservice because it discounts our actual abilities, regardless of our size.

Ending weight stigma and creating a world where people of all shapes and sizes can live happy, healthy lives with the support of those around them are the goals of Weight Stigma Awareness Week.  This awareness campaign, which runs from September 23-27 this year, is sponsored by the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA).  Help spread the word about weight stigma and increase awareness about the damage it causes and work to end weight stigma forever.

BEDA encourages everyone to participate in this awareness week and has three ways that anyone can get involved.

  • See Through…From Weight Stigma to Body Acceptance, a body sculpture challenge using something everyone has around the house, tape.  Based on the work of artist Mark Jenkins, the life-size tape sculptures over a unique way to celebrate people of different sizes and shapes.  For more information on how to participate in the See Through project, click here.
  • Weight Stigma Awareness Week blog conference – Participate in awareness week by blogging about your personal experiences with weight stigma and weight discrimination.  Share your blogs and read those submitted by others on BEDA’s website. For guidelines and additional information, click here.
  • Follow along and participate via Twitter using hashtags #WSAW, #WEIGHTSTIGMA, #SeeThrough, #mentalhealth, #bullying


Teen Body Image: What’s Normal and What’s Not

As parents, we always think our children are beautiful.  We can see them for the whole person they are and for the potential they have to do great things in the future.  Because of this, we may struggle to understand how our teenage daughter, who wears a size 4, can look in the mirror and say that she is fat or that she needs to lose weight.  We may feel frustrated that no matter what we say, we cannot seem to influence her opinion of herself.  We may worry that her concern with her appearance is unhealthy or that she is at risk for an eating disorder.  While we have reason to be worried, it isn’t because this attitude is abnormal.

In truth, the size 4 teen who is worried about being overweight is fairly typical.  In our society, one of the ways we define attractiveness is size and there is no question that there are social advantages to being considered attractive.  Attractive people tend to be more popular, get better grades, and are more likely to be hired for a job.  The pressure to be attractive, especially during the teen years, can be overwhelming.  This is likely why research indicates that only two out of every ten girls are happy with the way they look when they look in the mirror.  However, even though this attitude might be normal, it doesn’t mean it is healthy. 

Unfortunately, the definition of attractive has become so narrow in our culture that it has become virtually unattainable for most of us, especially when it comes to weight and body type.  The images held up as examples of the ideal body represent only 5% of the female population.  This means that the other 95% of women are striving to become something that is almost impossible to achieve.   For teens, this is often where the trouble starts.

Research has shown that when people have a negative body image, it increases their risk factors for unhealthy behaviors like extreme calorie restriction, compulsive exercise, vomiting, and laxative abuse.  Additionally, the more people think about their appearance, the more dissatisfied they become.  Negative body image can become a vicious cycle that leads to eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and other dysfunctional behavior.  This is why the size 4 teenager’s attitude may be normal, but it isn’t healthy.

There are a number of factors that influence how we see ourselves.  The images of the ideal presented by the media mentioned above are one factor.  Another important factor is the messages we get from the other people in our lives like parents and peers specific to ourselves.  In some ways, these messages carry more weight than those from the media because of their specificity.  It is one thing to feel inadequate in comparison to a movie star or model; it is another to feel inadequate because someone who knows you tells you that you are.  For this reason, the most important thing parents can do to boost their teens body image is to monitor the messages they are sending.  If you have concerns about your teen’s body image or are concerned that their body image is contributing to other problems, talk to a mental health professional to determine the best course of action.


Healthy Body Image Tips for Pregnant Women and New Mothers


These tips are adapted from Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat? The Essential Guide to Loving Your Body Before and After Baby (HCI Books)

by Claire Mysko and Magali Amadei

Take weight out of the equation. This might seem like a radical suggestion considering that pregnancy weight gain and post-baby weight loss are such hot topics of conversation among mothers-to-be and new moms. To add fuel to the fire, weigh-ins are often the center of every visit to the doctor. But truthfully, there really isn’t any reason you need to keep track of your weight. If you know that it could become an unhealthy fixation, tell your OB or midwife that you prefer not to discuss the number unless it becomes a medical issue. When it is necessary to be weighed, you can step on the scale backwards and remind the physician’s assistant that you don’t want to be told your weight. You’ll discover that there are plenty of other interesting—and more substantive–things about becoming a mother that you can talk about than the number on the scale.

Choose a health care provider who is sensitive to food, weight and body image issues. Most women have struggled with poor body image and many have personal experience with disordered eating. That means we need to find prenatal and postpartum healthcare providers who are knowledgeable and compassionate when it comes to these issues. We’ve heard from women who ended up in the examination room—and sometimes even the delivery room—feeling belittled and unsupported by their own doctors. The best way to avoid this scenario is to push through whatever shame you might be feeling and be upfront with your OB or midwife about your history and your pregnancy-related body image fears. If you’re met with criticism or any other reaction that makes you feel uncomfortable, remember that you are well within your rights to walk out that door and find another doctor who will treat you with more respect. Of those we surveyed, 73% of pregnant women with body image issues and histories of eating disorders and disordered eating said they had not discussed this history with their OBs or midwives. It’s time to break that dangerous silence.

Be aware of the triggers of pregnancy. The incessant counting, comparing, and measuring that happens during those nine months and beyond can tap into some of the very vulnerabilities that are linked to eating disorders and food and weight obsessions. Perfectionism, loss of control, feelings of isolation, and memories of childhood often bubble right to the surface. But if you’re getting the support you need, you’ll have a better chance of weathering those storms without resorting to self-destructive habits. Resist the urge to shut down or close off. Remember that there is nothing shameful about asking for help. It’s the most courageous thing you can do for yourself and your baby. Look at your recovery as an ongoing process that will help you reach your full potential as an individual and as a mother.

Break the cycle of body hatred. Allow yourself to celebrate the fact that your body is working some serious magic right now. Before you get stymied by stretch marks or focused on flabby skin, take time to reflect on how you will teach your child—in your words and in your actions—that you appreciate your body. We have the power to help future generations grow up placing a higher value on good health than on weight and physical appearance. But before we can pass along those positive attitudes, we must first embrace them for ourselves.

Everybody Knows Somebody. Get involved in NEDAwareness Week 2012, February 26- March 3! Visit the NEDAwareness Week homepage under Programs & Events to register today and learn more about how you can do just one thing to help raise awareness about eating disorders and become part of the solution.

National Eating Disorders Helpline: 800 931-2237 

5 Ways to Help Girls Resist the Pressure to be Perfect


These tips are adapted from You’re Amazing! A No-Pressure Guide to Being Your Best Self

by Claire Mysko (Adams Media)

Girls today are told they can do anything. Unfortunately, the message they’re often getting is that they have to do everything–and please everyone while they’re at it. All this pressure is adding up to big time stress. According to The Supergirl Dilemma, a study conducted by Girls Incorporated, more than half of girls in middle school reported that they often feel stressed. By the time girls get into high school, that number jumps to 74%. One third of all girls in grades 3- 12 said they often feel sad and unhappy.

When girls get caught up in the quest to be supergirls, they are less likely to feel confident in themselves and more likely to struggle with low self-esteem and poor body image. Here are five tips to help the girls in your life tackle The Supergirl Dilemma.

  1. Does the pressure to do it all sound familiar? Supergirls and Superwomen hear the same voice, and it says “you’re not good enough.” Remember to give yourself a break and take time for healthy stress relief. If we want to break this damaging “super” cycle and set positive examples, we have to start with ourselves.
  2. Teach girls to be savvy and critical media consumers. Resist the urge to simply lecture about what you think is inappropriate. Instead, ask them what they like about the movies and TV shows they watch and the magazines they read. What do they dislike? Talk about the difference between fantasy and reality by showing girls real examples of retouching. Point out how often retouching is used to make models and actors look artificially flawless.
  3. Encourage girls to exercise their bragging rights. Girls are often hesitant to talk about what makes them amazing because they don’t want to be seen as conceited or they feel like they’re not perfect enough to be proud of themselves. Turn that thinking around by challenging girls to take pride in all of their amazing qualities, not just their achievements. Ask a girl what makes her amazing. If you get a sheepish shrug or an “I don’t know,” press on. You can spark the conversation by sharing a few of her qualities that you think are amazing, but don’t let her off the hook until she can say this sentence out loud: “I’m amazing because…”
  4. Discuss the value of making mistakes and taking healthy risks. Many girls are so focused on being perfect and doing things “right” that they miss out on valuable opportunities because they are so afraid of failure. Share a mistake you made or a risk you took in life that helped you get where you are today.
  5. When girls talk about the pressures they feel, the best thing you can do is listen. Don’t judge, interrupt, or get upset. Remember that what girls need most of all in their lives are supportive adults who take the time to hear what they’re saying.


Amazing Girl

  • Asks questions
  • Makes mistakes and learns from
  • Talks about her feelings, fears, hopes, and dreams
  • Tries new things
  • Supports other girls
  • Is proud of her accomplishments, no 
matter how big or small
  • Knows three trusted adults she could 
turn to if she had a problem
  • Knows how to set boundaries and 
say no
  • Takes care of her body, mind, and 

Super girl

  • Is afraid of not knowing the “right” answer
  • Makes mistakes and agonizes over them
  • Keeps it to herself when she’s stressed or sad
  • Doesn’t take on new challenges
  • Is jealous of other girls’ successes
  • Feels like no accomplishment is good enough or big enough
  • Wants adults to think she is happy, even if she doesn’t always feel happy
  • Sometimes does things she doesn’t want to do if she thinks people might like her more for doing them
  • Wishes she could be smarter, prettier, more popular, more athletic- -the list goes on

Everybody Knows Somebody. Get involved in NEDAwareness Week 2012, February 26- March 3! Visit the NEDAwareness Week homepage under Programs & Events to register today and learn more about how you can do just one thing to help raise awareness about eating disorders and become part of the solution. National Eating Disorders Helpline: 800 931-2237