New York, New York (PressExposure) April 10, 2012 -- Swapping freezing temperatures for the triple digits doesn't just mark the start of summer. For teenage girls burdened by body-image concerns, swimsuit season can awaken eating disorder behaviors that may have hibernated or gone unnoticed during the colder months. Dr. Judy Scheel, Ph.D., author of When Food is Family: A Loving Approach to Heal Eating Disorders, warns parents and caregivers to look for signs that could indicate underlying eating-disorder concerns.
According to Dr. Scheel, a teenager could have a body image issue or eating disorder if parents begin to notice their child exhibiting:
Crash dieting and sudden weight loss
Fasting or refusal to eat
Ruminating about body size and shape
Noticeable mood swings related to weight or body image concerns
Binging and purging
Fear or refusal to wear a bathing suit or attend a pool or beach event
Increasing time spent reading magazines on weight loss or other media promoting unrealistic views of body size and shape
Increased isolation due to weight and body concerns
"For someone who may be anorexic or is headed in that direction, it's easier to mask severe weight loss with bulky clothes in cooler months, but summer wardrobes often uncover what she's been hiding from family and friends," said Dr. Scheel. "When the temperature warms up and clothing becomes more revealing, body image concerns can rise to the forefront, which tends to increase anxiety and fuel further weight loss in an effort to manage the anxiety and negative self-perception."
According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), 10 million women suffer from a variety of eating disorders, and are finding it harder and harder to live up to the "perfect" female image. Additionally, the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders reports over one-half of teenage girls use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting and taking laxatives to achieve the desired body image.
The stresses associated with summertime can trigger anxiety and feelings of loneliness, isolation and disconnection for someone struggling with an eating disorder. "Many teens begin the warm-weather season thinking they need to lose a few pounds, and may go on a crash diet or begin a cycle of bingeing and purging," said Dr. Scheel. "The weight problems aren't just physical; underlying psychological and emotional issues are also at play and must be addressed to get at the root of problem."
In her book, Dr. Scheel explores how relational issues can be a trigger for eating disorders, offering a step-by-step approach to help families, health-care practitioners, therapists and others who are dealing with eating and food disorders. On the surface it may look like a teenager is controlling her eating habits in a desire to be thin, but in reality dangerous behaviors are a response to deeper emotional pain, depression, anxiety and other interpersonal issues, she said. "If you notice your child exhibiting any of these behaviors, it's important to reach out to trained professionals early on."
"The sooner signs and symptoms of eating disorders are noticed, the sooner they can be addressed and treated by someone licensed to do so," said Dr. Scheel. "What causes an eating disorder to emerge and recovery is a different process for everyone, but awareness and early intervention are critical for every treatment approach."
Dr. Scheel has been treating eating disorders for more than 20 years. She is the founder and executive director of CEDAR Associates, a private outpatient practice specializing in the treatment of eating disorders and other self-harming behaviors. A member of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), Academy for Eating Disorders (AED), and the Eating Disorders Coalition, Dr. Scheel emphasizes the importance of mutual respect, empathy, trust, and the need to live authentically in eating disorder treatment approaches.