The summer body frenzy is harmful for people with this disorder

The summer body frenzy is harmful for people with this disorder

Days are longer, weather is warmer and kids have begun counting down the days to summer. However, this time of year also means TV commercials and social media videos about “obtaining a summer body” are making their way onto screens across the country. This can be triggering for the alarming number of teens battling eating disorders.

“That language can be harmful for a young person who is developmentally at a stage where they’re already struggling to accept their changing body and have a strong desire to fit in with their peers,” says Dr. Huma Khan, an adolescent medicine physician at Advocate Children’s Hospital.

According to the “Journal of Pediatrics,” eating disorder-related health visits more than doubled among people under the age of 17 between 2018 to 2022. While social media can certainly be a risk factor, Dr. Khan says triggering “summer body” language can be found almost everywhere. Teens also pay attention to the way peers and family members talk about their self-image. Because of this, Dr. Khan advises parents to also be aware of how they speak about food and their own bodies.

“Aim to have a household focused on body positivity. We know diet culture has harmful effects on teens. It’s important to model language and behavior that promotes body positivity versus self-criticism and fears of certain foods or weight gain,” she says

Eating disorder development is multifactorial and it can be hard for parents to detect whether their teen might be struggling with one, especially early on.

Dr. Khan says signs of an eating disorder to watch for include:
  • Fixation on calorie counting
  • Measuring food, becoming more restrictive about food choices or completely removing a food group from their diet
  • Increased interest in reading labels
  • Excessive exercising
  • Avoiding eating with or in front of others
  • Cutting food in small pieces or taking a long time to eat
  • Negative or distorted self-image
  • Physical signs like weight loss, lightheadedness, dizziness, constipation, abdominal pain or loss of menstrual period in females

If your teen is exhibiting any of these, Dr. Khan says to not avoid the topic but to approach it head on.

“It’s a difficult conversation. I recommend choosing a quiet time and approaching the teen in a calm, nonjudgmental way. It’s also important to use ‘I’ statements, like ‘I’m really worried about the way you’ve been eating’ or ‘I notice you have been exercising a lot more.’ Be prepared for anger and denial because those are common feelings for someone who does have an eating disorder and is approached about their eating behaviors, especially if they are an adolescent,” says Dr. Khan.

Once that conversation happens, the next step is scheduling an appointment with a pediatrician or adolescent medicine specialist.

“The sooner eating disorders are diagnosed, the better the prognosis,” says Dr. Khan.

Are you trying to find a doctor? Find one in Illinois or Wisconsin. 

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About the Author

Lee Batsakis
Lee Batsakis

Lee Batsakis, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator with Advocate Children’s Hospital. She graduated from Western Michigan University with a degree in public relations and has worked in health care since 2013. Outside of work, she enjoys reading, exercising, and spending time with her fiancé and two dogs.