Being a Teenager is Stressful!
That’s no surprise to you! You’re probably facing all kinds of new responsibilities right now. You’re feeling more pressure at school and at home. You want to be more independent. You may have ideas and opinions that are not necessarily the same as your parents, your teachers, or even your friends. And, your body is changing. Being a teenager can be tough!
Then, On Top of That, Girls Get Judged By How They Look
In magazines, in movies, on T.V., everybody is like ultra-thin. Everywhere you turn you get messages about how “thin is in” and what’s “in” keeps getting thinner. Even your friends are comparing notes and competing about who weighs less. It’s like how you look is all that matters. The adults in your life tell you, “It’s what’s inside that counts.” But, many of them are dieting and working out and trying to be thinner, too.
Everybody is Focused on Weight.
But, What If It’s Really About Something Else? Here’s what we believe at A WEIGH OUT. We believe people focus on weight and on what they will or won’t eat— as a way to avoid focusing on other things that may upset them. At first, focusing on food (or your weight) may feel safer than focusing all the things around you that are changing and feel out of your control.
Instead of Facing Uncomfortable Feelings, People Focus on
Food and Weight Here’s an example of what we mean… Let’s say you’re angry at your best friend because she cancelled the plans you two had on Saturday night. Instead of focusing on how angry you are at your friend, or how upset you are about having nothing to do Saturday night, you start to think about food, or how much you weigh, or about what diet you’ll start tomorrow morning. As soon as you start thinking about the food, or weight, or dieting, you’re no longer focused on how betrayed or hurt you feel because your friend blew you off. Using food thoughts, or weight thoughts, helps you avoid thinking about something else.
You can’t THINK about food, or weight, or a diet, and FEEL at the very same time
Think about that for a minute. Do you ever find yourself having a food, or a weight, or a diet thought when you’re feeling anxious about something else…like a project that’s due at school, or about a relationship with someone you really like but you’re not sure likes you, or when you feel like you’re “not good enough” to do whatever?
This Coping Strategy Becomes a Habit. People Choose It Because it works!
It works for a little while. It does help you not focus on feelings like boredom, or nervousness, or fear, or loneliness, for a little while. But, then it creates this vicious cycle that makes everything worse.
The “Emotional Eating” Cycle Looks Like This
You have an uncomfortable thought or feeling, something you’d rather avoid—Automatically, you flip to a food, weight, or diet thought instead—Maybe you eat something—you feel guilty that you ate something—you have another food or diet thought in an attempt to avoid the guilt—now you feel trapped— and fat—- and out-of-control…and worthless…and you have more diet and food thoughts…and so on…and so on… and so on….
Why Food and Food Thoughts?
Food can be good company. It can be comfort. It can be fun. It can stop boredom. It doesn’t judge. Basically, it can take you away from dealing with all that stuff you don’t want to deal with. Thinking about eating, or not eating, and thinking about being thin, can help you avoid thinking about a math test coming up on Monday morning. Thoughts about food, thoughts about being thin — all do the same thing – they take you away from dealing with difficult and uncomfortable feelings.
Why Can’t You Stop?
The relief you get when you use food thoughts or thoughts about being thin is only temporary. So you have to do it again and again, and before you know it, it becomes the way you cope with everything.
There’s also some research that says we pick certain foods (sweet and starchy foods like cookies and ice cream, bread and pastas) because those foods have a calming effect on us. It’s actually a chemical effect and it works. And, that may be another reason we keeping doing it over and over again even when we say we’d rather stop.
Diets Don’t Work
Diets set people up for failure. 98% of people gain back all the weight back that they lose. Low calorie diets slow down your metabolism (that’s the way your body burns calories to give you energy) and makes it easier to gain more weight, even more quickly, when you go off the diet. Diets confuse feelings of hunger and fullness so your body doesn’t know what to feel. Restrictive diets set you up for more overeating and bingeing. (See Connections To Dieting?)
A Healthy Body = Healthy Food + Healthy Behavior
The younger you are when you start dieting and the more diets you’ve been on, the more likely you are to struggle with food and weight gain in the future. The best way to counteract the effects of damaging diets is to eat three healthy meals a day, plus healthy snacks, and to do physical activities that you actually enjoy. It’s amazing how quickly the body can restore itself to optimal health if given the chance. And you’re the only one who can give it that chance.
A Counselor Might Help
When it comes to learning other ways to deal with uncomfortable feelings, some young people may need to talk to a professional counselor. With support, teens can and do learn healthier ways to manage all feelings that lead to emotional eating and obsessive dieting. It’s O.K. to ask for help!
Your Body Image
Emotional eating is often tied up with self-esteem (how good you feel about yourself, in general) and how you feel about your body. The worse you feel about yourself and your body, the more likely you are to be focused on how thin or fat you think you are, and to think about eating or dieting. Often, a person’s image of his or her body is very different from how he or she looks to the rest of the world. This is called “a distorted body image”. Sometimes people see themselves as bigger than they really are. Some people see themselves smaller than they really are.
Healthy Bodies Come In All Shapes and Sizes
The latest research says, eating a well-balanced diet and getting plenty of exercise are what count above all else. You do not have to buy into the advertising and entertainment industries unrealistic norms for an ideal body to be healthy, fit and attractive.
No one else is just like you. Your physical self is an amazing and unique result of your heritage, your genes, your environment, your past, your activities, your taste and the choices you make every single day. You have a unique spirit. Your personality is all your own. Why does your body have to be like everyone else? Think about it. You get to set the standard for yourself. When you are true to yourself, you have only yourself to please.
Also, it’s O.K. to speak your mind if someone gives you their unsolicited opinion about your size and shape. It’s O.K. to tell that person that your body is your business, and your business alone! This takes courage! But, hopefully, your friends and family will respect you for setting personal boundaries and maybe even learn something from you about “self-care”, how to take good care of yourself.
SO, WHAT CAN YOU DO TO BREAK THE CYCLE?
- Stop dieting
- Get rid of the bathroom scale (your clothes tell you all you need to know)
- Start to notice if/when you’re having food, weight or dieting thoughts
- Understand that food and food thoughts may be your way of coping with uncomfortable feelings
- Eat three balanced meals a day, plus healthy snacks
- Listen to your body’s signals about hunger
- Stop thinking of any/all foods as either “good” or “bad”
- Don’t deny yourself – learn healthy moderation
- Find physical activities you enjoy and do them regularly
- Appreciate your unique “physical self” and celebrate it
- If you’re having a tough time, talk to an adult you trust – It’s ok to ask for help!