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Image-conscious America is a tough place to accept your own physique. Media glamorizes unhealthy thinness and websites are now devoted to helping young people develop eating disorders. As a result, “real world” people are left feeling inadequate, particularly the most vulnerable demographic: teens.
Eating disorders can be caused by many factors, ranging from depression to relationship problems to cultural pressures. For many people, teens in particular, societal influences such as media and peers-even parents, often dieting themselves-shape how they think. This can manifest itself in an unhealthy self-image and eating disorders.
“I try to get my students to see how beautiful they are, both on the inside and the outside, but it’s difficult for children to accept that, since they are constantly bombarded with messages about ‘the perfect body’ that is unattainable in any healthy or appropriate way,” said Maggie Krakowiak, who works for NewBridge with the Teen Assistance Program at Dover Middle School, Dover, NJ.
Certain lifestyles can also lead to eating disorders. Many people tend to overeat-whether because of stress, boredom, holidays, or even just in haste to grab a bite on the go-but if not kept under control, this cycle can lead to obesity, or at the very least, a lack of energy and compromised immunity.
Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and compulsive eating affect 10 million men, women and children each year. And unlike many other physical conditions, eating disorders can begin quite early in life. “Children as young as eight are already exhibiting signs of eating disorders,” said Jane O’Neill, registered dietician for NewBridge.
O’Neill stresses how easy it is for a teen to hide an eating disorder. Between the lack of control over what middle- and high-school age students eat for lunch, and the increasing number of teens who are left to fend for themselves at breakfast or dinner, parents may be unaware of just how unhealthy their teens’ diet has become. The latest trend comes in the form of caffeine drinks, which though popular among teens, substitute good nutrition and when consumed in excess, can have unhealthy side effects.
To help raise awareness of eating disorders and nutrition, NewBridge offers programs for schools and organizations on a host of nutritional subjects, including:
Groups can be tailored to any group’s ages and needs.
“Middle school-age children particularly benefit from these programs because their bodies are quickly changing at varying rates,” said O’Neill. “These boys and girls will respond better to nutritional advice when they learn how good nutrition affects many of the things that matter to them-their skin, their hair, their growth and their health.”
For more information on hosting a NewBridge nutritional program, call O’Neill at (973) 839-2521, ext. 565. If you know someone who may have an eating disorder and would benefit from help, call NewBridge toll-free at (888) 746-9333 or visit www.newbridge.org.
About NewBridge Services
Founded in 1963, NewBridge Services, Inc. is a nonprofit 501 (c)(3) community organization providing innovative programs and education services in five focus areas: mental health, addiction, housing, youth programs and senior services. Whether guiding people as they cope with stress, grief, or substance abuse, or providing advice to those with parenting, relationship or caregiving challenges, NewBridge helps people bring balance to their lives.