Teenage diet problems often last into adulthood

Abby Ellin is the author of “Teenage Waistland: A Former Fat Kid Weighs In on Living Large, Losing Weight and How Parents Can (and Can’t) Help.”

Teenagers who develop eating disorders – such as extreme dieting, weight control and binge eating – can be damaging their health in the long term, according to a new report published this month in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

The study shows that dieting and disordered eating was high among the study population (2,287 young adults) and remained constant over time, affecting not just adolescence, but young adult life as well. The most alarming statistic was the increase, not decrease, in weight control behaviors. The use of diet pills, for example, more than tripled in the 10-year period with nearly half of the study’s female participants admitting to having dieted in the past year. Ironically, such behavior is often counterproductive, as most of the dieting is short term and unsuccessful.

“An eating disorder is a multi-level problem and the root of the issue needs to be addressed at each separate stage,” says lead researcher at the University of Minnesota’s School of Health Dianne Neumark-Sztainer. The problem often stems from pre-adolescence, as children are born into a society where being thin is highly regarded. “Small steps towards prevention should begin at home; never should parents speak to their child about weight.”

“Loosely speaking, one third fully recover, one third are in the recovery stage and one third don’t recover from their eating disorder,” says Neumark-Sztainer. In her opinion, full recovery can be achieved with therapy acting as a key component to the rehabilitative process. “Most people fully recover and many go in to working within the field either as counselors or researchers.”

One expert’s story

As a teenager, Abby Ellin’s backpacking ‘essentials’ included sarongs, bikinis, her Walkman and scales. She went on her first diet at age 10 and her grandmother would regularly make her step on the scales. “How an eating disorder develops into adolescence and young adulthood depends on the environment the person grew up in combined with personality traits,” Ellin tells Metro. Someone who is a perfectionist, worries a lot, is rigid and ambitious – all this together could create a pre-disposition towards extreme, controlling behavior, especially when negative remarks concerning appearance are made on top of that.

Ellin’s definition of ‘recovery’ is on the opposite end of the spectrum to Neumark-Sztainer. “If there were a cure to solving eating disorders, that person would be a millionaire. Full recovery is getting to a place where you don’t compulsively think about food every day. You may be healthy, but as long as food and weight remain at the forefront of your mind, you are ‘recovering’. Not recovered.”

For her, those who have ‘recovered’ yet end up working within the field are still thinking about their past issues. “Full recovery means not thinking about food at all. That said, it’s impossible to get into another’s’ mind. Maybe they have fully recovered.”

——– ——–

** Abby Ellin is a journalist and writer for The New York Times and author of Teenage Waistland: A Former Fat Kid Weighs In on Living Large, Losing Weight and How Parents Can (and Can’t) Help.


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