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Tag: anorexia nervosa

“But what about the boys?”

Frequently when I speak at conferences I am asked what our company, Enlighten Education, is doing to support young men. My response? Whilst we recognise boys also need positive, proactive programs to help them make sense of the changing world around them, we have decided to specialise in working with young women. That is not to say, of course, that many of the resources we offer (especially via this blog) would not help inform raising amazing boys. In fact, as I mentioned in my previous post, I have been asked to deliver my workshop on supporting teens to nurture respectful relationships with their peers, and navigate cyber world safely and responsibly, to the young men at Cranbrook School next week.

But it may surprise many of my readers to learn that aside from the issues we traditionally associate with young males (e.g: violence, substance abuse, reckless driving, and poor school performance) boys are also struggling with issues we tend to more readily associate with young women too. Especially body image.

In fact, a recent Australian Institute of Family Studies Growing Up in Australia survey, based on an assessment of 4164 children, indicated that boys are more likely than girls to diet and exercise to lose weight.

And boys also suffer from more extreme forms of body image dissatisfaction. The Centre of Excellence in Eating Disorders reports that one in ten young adults and approximately 25% of children diagnosed with anorexia nervosa are male. In this clip, Psychologist and muscle dysmorphia expert Dr Stuart Murray discusses the features of muscle dysmorphia; a newly identified psychological condition which is more common in males than females:

Jane Higgins, Enlighten’s Program Manager for South Australia, independently established her own in-school program for young men; The Odyssey Program. Odyssey’s workshops cover a variety of topics from masculinity to mate-ship, drugs and alcohol, girls and relationships, anger management and, yes, body image.

Jane offered me this insight into why her proactive work on body image with boys has become increasingly important:

“Just as the media rarely offers diverse images of what beauty in a young woman may look like,  it also presents a very narrow and one dimensional view of what a man should look, feel and be like and boys are responding to this pressure in unhealthy ways. The push for boys to appear muscular and buff is particularly problematic.  “Ripped, Shredded, Cut, Buff, Chiseled, Muscle up, Bulk Up, 6 pack Abs, Brutal, Clean!!” The way they are marketed to would almost have one think you were discussing a machine!

If a boy wishes to conform to this ideal, then he only has to turn to the “Health” food shops where he can buy “Bulking Up” drinks and powders. They contain ingredients that include electrolytes, amino acids, arginine, glutamine, caffeine and some contain nitric oxide and 1,3-Dimethylamylamine, or DMAA. It is like a glass of stimulants. Even more concerning is the research that shows that 3-12% of teen boys will use even more extreme muscle enhancing drugs including steroids.”

For more discussion on body image dissatisfaction in young men you may wish to read the following excellent articles:

Boys aren’t immune to body image pressures and never have been

The man behind the mask – male  body image dissatisfaction

Body image boosters for guys 

Regardless of gender, all young people deserve to be recognised as somebodies, not just bodies.

Eating Disorders and Primary School Children

Last week the Herald Sun reported that children as young as seven are being hospitalised with eating disorders. Equally as alarming, The Children’s Hospital at Westmead’s eating disorders clinic, which specialises in working with people aged seven to 17, has experienced a 270 per cent increase in admissions since 2000.

The crew at Kerri-anne asked me to come on and discuss this worrying trend with viewers yesterday. I asked for Melinda Hutchings — an eating disorders survivor, ambassador for The Butterfly Foundation and author of the incredible Why Can’t I Look The Way I Want?: Overcoming Eating Issues to accompany me to offer her personal insights.


As is always the case with live breakfast television, there wasn’t enough time to offer all the insights we would like, so I have asked Melinda to be my guest blogger this week.

image001 A study published in the Medical Journal of Australia in 2009 found that between July 2002 and June 2005, 101 children aged from five to 13 years old were newly diagnosed with an eating disorder. About two-thirds were affected by anorexia nervosa; the rest were experiencing “food avoidant emotional disorder”, a condition unique to children, which involves extreme weight loss driven by high anxiety levels, rather than wanting to be thin.

And according to a 2003 study of 135 South Australian children conducted by Professor Marika Tiggemann, of the School of Psychology, Flinders University, two-thirds of girls in year 1 believed that being thin would make them more popular. Even more believed weight gain would attract teasing.

Children spend much of their early lives at school, an environment that can be competitive, with hierarchies often based on physical appearances. A negative fixation on weight and size potentially lends itself to self-destructive thoughts and behaviours, which can be triggered by situations, comments or events that bring up feelings of anxiety and worthlessness. These include family arguments related to eating (e.g. “You’re not leaving the table until you’ve eaten everything on your plate”), feelings of being misunderstood, rejection by peers (e.g. “Go away, we don’t want to play with you”) or feeling like a misfit.

Negative emotions can lead to unhealthy thought processes and feelings of insecurity around body image. If left undetected, these feelings can lead to the onset of an eating disorder.

In my book Why Can’t I Look the Way I Want?: Overcoming Eating Issues, there is a chapter dedicated to the early warning signs. These signs are often subtle and can be passed off as “normal” behaviour – unless you know what to look for. Common warning signs include avoiding eating in front of others, making excuses to avoid family meal times, obsession with food preparation and a change in attitude towards food, e.g. becoming vegan or cutting out entire food groups under the guise of wanting to be “healthy”. In addition, ritualistic behaviour when eating, such as cutting food into tiny pieces, insisting that meals are eaten at a particular time each day or obsessive use of the same crockery and cutlery is cause for concern.

There are also warning signs before the warning signs. If a child is constantly complaining of headaches and tiredness, or appears to have trouble coping at school, this could indicate there is something deeper going on. Emotional issues, including feelings of inadequacy, often manifest as physical ailments, so stay aware of any symptoms that persist or behaviour that indicates difficulty coping, such as falling behind in class.

Becoming vigilant about the early warning signs means there is a very real chance of catching the behaviour before it spirals from an eating issue into an eating disorder.

Here are five tips for parents and carers:

1. Eat with your child as often as you can so that you become familiar with their eating habits.

2. Watch for changes in those habits, especially anything that appears unusually strict and lasts for several weeks.

3. Listen to the language your child uses around food. If they start talking about diets or calorie contents, or complain that they are fat (when they’re not) this is a red flag.

4. Watch for a change in disposition. If your child displays hostility around meal times, they could be experiencing internal conflict towards food.

5. If your child eats large amounts of food constantly but doesn’t realise how much they are eating and/or aren’t enjoying it, especially during times of stress, this could indicate obsessive eating.

In the event your child begins to display an aversion towards food and changes in their eating patterns, seek medical advice as soon as possible so that they get the right treatment without delay. Early intervention is critical in reframing the mindset before it becomes entrenched.
Melinda Hutchings

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