Body Boosters

Weight, body image and eating disorders

As you can see at school every day, there are many shapes and sizes among girls and boys in your age group. Within these shapes and sizes are girls and boys who are tall or short, smaller or bigger, or average.

This is normal, as children inherit the genes that determine their body types and the rate at which they grow from their parents. However, there are increasing numbers of children in Australia who are overweight or obese. If you think you are overweight, or you are concerned about becoming overweight, talk to your parents or a teacher – they’ll know, or can find out, whether your weight is suitable for your height and age, and whether action should be taken to change your eating habits.

At the same time, there are many young Australians who don’t eat enough – because they are unnecessarily worried that eating will make them put on weight and they will become ‘fat’. Some of these young people have problems with their body image – they view their bodies as being bigger in relation to other people’s bodies than they are, and may develop eating disorders.

How do I know if I’m overweight?
Body mass index (BMI) is one method used to estimate your total body fat. This helps to determine if your weight is within the normal range, or if you are underweight or overweight. The BMI of children must be compared against age and sex-specific charts.
As children grow, their amount of body fat changes and so will their BMI. For example, BMI usually decreases during the preschool years and then increases into adulthood. For this reason, a BMI calculation for a child or adolescent is interpreted differently from an adult’s, and takes into account the age and sex of the child or adolescent.

The current BMI charts for children have been developed by the US Centre for Disease Control. They are useful for the assessment of overweight and obesity in children aged over two. However, they should be used only as a guide to indicate when to make small lifestyle changes, and when to seek further guidance from a doctor or a dietitian.

Source: Better Health Channel, Victorian Government.

What is an eating disorder?

The most common eating disorders are:
  • Anorexia nervosa – a person with anorexia typically restricts what they eat; has a fear of gaining weight and has a disturbed body image. The first signs can be restrictive dieting and excessive exercise.
  • Bulimia nervosa – repeated episodes of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviours (e.g. vomiting, misusing laxatives or diuretics, fasting, excessive exercise or use of drugs for weight control).
  • Binge-eating disorder – consists two key features: eating a very large amount of food within a relatively short period of time (e.g. within two hours); feeling a sense of loss of control while eating (e.g. feeling unable to stop yourself from eating).

Eating disorders can occur in people as young as 7 or as old as 70; however evidence shows that adolescents and young people – most commonly females, but also males - are increasingly at risk.
  • Eating disorders represent the third most common chronic illness for young females
  • Eating disorders represent the second leading cause of mental disorder disability for young females
  • Adolescent girls who diet at a severe level are 18 times more likely to develop an eating disorder within 6 months. This risk increases to a 1 in 5 chance over 12 months.

Warning signs of an eating disorder can be physical, psychological or behavioural, but may include:
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Loss or disturbance of menstruation
  • Feeling tired, lethargic and having low energy
  • A preoccupation with eating, food, body shape and weight
  • Feeling anxious or irritable around meal times
  • Dieting behaviour (e.g. fasting, counting calories, avoiding food groups such as fat and carbohydrates)
  • Frequent trips to the bathroom during or shortly after meals
  • Eating in private and avoiding meals with other people.

Source: National Eating Disorders Collaboration

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