I was approached by two of our Grade 12 students to publish their research project they did for Social Justice 12 course. Mehala Breederland did her project on eating disorders and Elizabeth Humphrey did her’s on self harm. In the middle school we have a motto that we ask students to do real work with a real need for a real audience. So I agreed to publish the girls work, here is the first project by Mehala.
Eating disorders are an issue that our society is facing today on a large scale. Statistically more girls face this issue than boys but that does not mean that it is exclusively a problem in females. Anorexia is a quickly growing problem in today’s world that anyone can deal with. In today’s society, eating disorders are associated with a lot of misconceptions because of the lack of education. It is important to know to be aware of the truths of these diseases so that you are able to help those in your community.
Often it is thought that those teens who are getting straight A’s, playing sports, participating in youth group and hanging with friends are doing great, when in reality this is a recipe for an eating disorder. They feel such a need to be good at everything that their weight becomes one more thing to conquer. Some tests show that eating disorders are the 3rd most common chronic illness in adolescents. Another study showed that 69% of girls grades 5-12 reported that magazine pictures influenced their idea of a perfect body. Many things can lead to eating disorders including troubles at home, the media’s obsession with beauty and thinness, family obesity, bullying for various issues and heavy involvement in athletics. Many counselors say that in a large amount of cases it comes down to control. An individual might have all sorts of problems in their life that they can’t change but they do have the power to change their weight and look. If they’re family or parents are very controlling then sometimes this backfires and the individual decides they will control what they can, their weight and appearance. You’re teen may have been raised in ideal circumstances but can still stumble into an eating disorders because of cultural influence. All around us we feel the pressures of looking good and attractive and sometimes those pressures can outweigh what we thought we knew and the confidence we thought we had. Also in today’s culture, many are very focused on healthy eating which is pushed through media but also in schools. Vending machines are disappearing and healthy snacks are being sold instead. Although this has a great idea behind it, it can also have negative affects in certain situations by reinforcing diet and healthy eating for those already struggling with self-image. Eating disorders are not a simple complication but a disease caused by a variety of influences in ones life.
After learning more about these issues regarding eating disorders, we wanted to get a better understanding of the reality of this matter at Langley Christian. We spoke to Estera Boldut, the middle/high counselor, who opened our eyes to what our students are struggling with. She said that currently she is working with students in LCS struggling with eating disorders and that there’s likely more who have not come forward. When asked why some might not be coming for help, she said it often is about shame and not wanting to be associated with the stigma that goes with this problem. Unfortunately, she agreed with what we already thought, that students in our school possibly feel more shame because we are a Christian school. Students can feel added pressure to be a “perfect Christian” and when they are facing these problems they could feel like a total failure. Estera also said, many feel that if they come forward in a Christian community people will give them superficial answers such as “Just pray more”, which turns kids away. The last thing we asked Estera was if she thought the teachers knew what our students are facing. Her answer was no. Because issues such as self-harm and eating disorders seem to be a taboo topic at LCS it can make it worse for those who are struggling. These issues are rarely talked about which leads people to think they are the only one, creating more shame.
Estera and many other professionals say that parents and teachers need to avoid freaking out. If a teen comes forward, making a big deal will only cause them to feel worse. Eating disorders can be hard to pinpoint and diagnose especially regarding bulimia, which can go unnoticed for quite some time. There are some things parents, teachers and friends can keep in mind when approaching someone you think may have anorexia: (taken from National Eating Disorder Information Center and National Eating Disorders Association)
- Focus on feelings and relationships, not on weight and food. Share your memories of specific times when you felt concerned about the person’s eating behavior. Explain that you think these things may indicate that there could be a problem that needs professional help.
- Tell them you are concerned about their health, but respect their privacy. Eating disorders are often a cry for help, and the individual will appreciate knowing that you are concerned.
- Do not comment on how they look. The person is already too aware of their body. Even if you are trying to compliment them, comments about weight or appearance only reinforce their obsession with body image and weight.
- Make sure you do not convey any fat prejudice, or reinforce their desire to be thin. If they say they feel fat or want to lose weight, don’t say “You’re not fat.” Instead, suggest they explore their fears about being fat, and what they think they can achieve by being thin.
- Avoid power struggles about eating. Do not demand that they change. Do not criticize their eating habits. People with eating disorders are trying to be in control. They don’t feel in control of their life. Trying to trick or force them to eat can make things worse.
- Avoid placing shame, blame, or guilt on the person regarding their actions or attitudes. Do not use accusatory “you” statements like, “You just need to eat.” Or, “You are acting irresponsibly.” Instead, use “I” statements. For example: “I’m concerned about you because you refuse to eat breakfast or lunch.” Or, “It makes me afraid to hear you vomiting.”
Avoid giving simple solutions. For example, “If you’d just stop, then everything would be fine!”
As a community we all need to be more aware of the reality that students in our school are dealing with these issues and try to be more available to those struggling. Knowing some of the influences that can lead to eating disorders we can combat this by sending positive messages to those we care about. Most importantly, especially as Christians, we need to show our love, care and support for all those around us.