Rise in teens looking to ‘thinspire’

by Bryan Chua

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Food is seen in a negative light amongst more and more youths nowadays.

Victims of eating disorders share preventive measures against eating disorders.

Lately, there has been a steady and concerning incline in the percentage of teens with eating disorders.

Skipping meals aggressively, restricting one’s self from eating and then vomiting out whatever is in the stomach is becoming a norm among teenagers.

A key finding in a study conducted by National University Hospital (NUH) in 2013 has found that eating disorders among teens have risen by 20 per cent in the last three years.

“Sometimes eating disorders may be triggered by bodily changes during puberty. Some may gain weight [after] entering puberty and be subjected to teasing by peers. Others may panic about the weight gain, not realising that the weight gain will stabilise without the need to restrict their food,” says Dr Lee Huei Yen, director of Eating Disorders Programme at Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

According to Dr Lee, the reasons for the rise in teens with eating disorders are mainly social, which includes family and peer pressure to do well academically, and to be thin.

“Teenagers are also under a lot of pressure to succeed and fit in with their peers, trying to conform to society’s ‘ideal’ body image. Some of these reflected in the media are unattainable and unrealistic for the regular person in the street.”

– Dr Lee Huei Yen

“Teenagers are also under a lot of pressure to succeed and fit in with their peers, trying to conform to society’s ‘ideal’ body image. Some of these reflected in the media are unattainable and unrealistic for the regular person in the street,” she adds.

Eighteen-year-old Tourism and Resort Management student Nicole Koh is just one out of the many teens that have fallen victim to an eating disorder. Every time she looked into a mirror, she could only see a big glob of mass, even though she was stick-thin. It was not until she weighed an astonishing 35 kg when she realised that she was suffering from an eating disorder.

Another example is ex-victim of binge eating disorder, 21-year-old kid’s gym instructor Veronica Ang. Obsessed with calories, Veronica exercised excessively, restricted herself from eating in the day, and then binge at night.

There is a cause for worry as figures from SGH has shown that 95 youngsters aged 13 to 19 suffered from anorexia or bulimia in 2013 – a 25 per cent increase from 2010, outpacing the number of adult victims.

Veronica says, “It’s a downwards spiral for society, as in the size of beauty is getting smaller and smaller. One day, size 0 will become the average that everyone should achieve.”

Ms Tiang Shu Hui, a graduate from National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Department of Psychology, says that the rising number of teenagers with eating disorders here is due to them having “a lack of knowledge of eating disorders”.

She adds, “Being skinny is celebrated in our society just by noticing models in advertisements.”

“[The fact that eating disorders are] so talked-about nowadays, [until] everyone thinks that eating disorders are just something that everyone has, [is not helping the whole situation either],” says Nicole.

If not treated, eating disorders can be detrimental to the physical, emotional and social well–being of teenagers. Complications from weight loss include gastrointestinal difficulties, stunting of growth, compulsive behaviours, guilt and shame, or even death.

Fortunately for both Nicole and Veronica, they found themselves on the road to recovery from their eating disorders, and are currently leading much happier lifestyles.

“I simply love food!” exclaims Nicole, when she finds herself always eating and not putting off food as she used to.

“[I] had to eat more stop exercising. And then after that [I] slowly put weight back on,” shares Veronica.

To combat the growing occurrence of eating disorders amongst teens, the ex-victims suggested practical preventive measures.

Nicole suggests teens to “stop looking at photoshopped images” and also “stop comparing [themselves] to models”. In the same vein, Veronica suggests teens to “to get rid of friends around you [who] are constantly putting themselves down, and constantly talking about how fat they are”.

Dr Lee adds that parents at home have to “try to create a ‘weight-neutral’ environment – neither promoting thinness nor obesity” as well.

Seeking early treatment also helps extensively.

“Research shows that those who are most likely to recover and have a good prognosis are those who seek treatment early,” says Dr Lee.

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