Thursday, September 24, 2009

Steriod Abuse Rife amongst Body Conscious Boys

A recent article exposed a shocking fact cited by child health experts: boys as young as 13 are taking steroids to get the ''six-pack'' physique of their sporting heroes.

Clinical psychologist Rita Princi says that body image has become so important that teenage boys are prepared to risk their health by taking steroids if it helps to make them appear more attractive.

''Boys are wanting that buff, manly body and believe that one way to obtain it is to take steroids,'' Ms Princi said. ''They are getting too focused on what they look like rather than who they are.''

University of Sydney child health researcher Jenny O'Dea said she conducted a 2002 study that found teenage boys had started using steroids or were buying pills from a gym or drug dealer to ''bulk up''. "In many ways boys are under more pressure than girls because the girls' task is to be slim but the boys' task is to be slim and then build up muscle,'' Dr O'Dea said.

My book Why Can't I Look the Way I Want; Overcoming Eating Issues exposes a disturbing trend amongst guys being the belief they do not have big enough muscles. A person suffering anorexia thinks 'no matter how much I restrict food, exercise or purge I'm not thin enough', whereas a person suffering muscle dysmorphia thinks 'no matter how much I work out, or how many steroids or muscle-enhancing supplements I take, I can't build enough muscle mass'. As a result, males can develop an obsession with lifting weights in their quest to obtain a muscular physique.

According to Dr Murray Drummond of the University of South Australia, muscle dysmorphia is associated with the drive for muscularity. "Because muscles are created by physical effort, if males want to attain the desired physique, they have to consciously go out and try to achieve it," he says.

Because it is socially and culturally acceptable for guys to undertake a lot of physical activity, body dissatisfaction can often go unnoticed by family and friends. Worse, the behaviours could be encouraged. Working out at the gym is 'healthy'; however working out to mask feelings of inadequacy is not.

Melbourne doctor Rick Kausman, who specialises in weight and eating issues, said he was not surprised teenage boys were using steroids. ''What I am seeing is more boys in distress around their body image,'' Dr Kausman said. ''There's a shift towards doing gym to make my body look better compared to doing gym to be fit for footy.''

Misuse of anabolic steroids can cause cardiac, liver and renal problems and lead to severe mood swings.

As always, we need to be vigilant and watch for warning signs to help the males we love who may be suffering low self esteem and a negative body image. Warning signs include an overaggressive approach to fitness, following dietary programs to the extreme, an increased interest in fitness magazines and a change in eating habits. This can be triggered by childhood bullying, difficulties dealing with being gay, low self esteem due to issues during childhood such as emotional or sexual abuse and parental strictness, especially from a father.

To read the article go Here

Monday, September 21, 2009

'Health Warning' a positive move for body image

The news this morning reported that French politicians want to stamp a 'health warning' on photographs of models that are altered as part of a campaign against eating disorders.

French parliamentarian Valerie Boyer, a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party, and some 50 other politicians have proposed the law to fight what they see as a warped image of women's bodies in the media.

"These images can make people believe in a reality that often does not exist," Ms Boyer said in a statement, adding that the law should apply to press photographs, political campaigns, art photography and images on packaging as well as advertisements.

Under the proposed law, all enhanced photos would be accompanied by a line saying: "Photograph retouched to modify the physical appearance of a person."

Luxury brands and fashion magazines have also been accused of digitally enhancing models so that they appear thinner, with white teeth, lengthened legs and fewer wrinkles.

Ms Boyer says being confronted with unrealistic standards of female beauty could lead to various kinds of psychological problems, in particular eating disorders.

During the research phase for my book Why Can't I Look the Way I Want; Overcoming Eating Issues coupled with years of devoted work to helping those suffering from eating disorders, I know firsthand that low self esteem and feelings of worthlessness can potentially be exacerbated by unrealistic images of thinness - and this can perpetuate a cycle of self destruction which can lead to the onset of an eating disorder.

I wholeheartedly agree with the proposed 'health warning' and hope this paves the way for other countries to follow suit.

To read the news article go Here

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Recognising Disordered Eating in Children

In a recent media interview, I was asked whether it is my personal belief that negative body image in teenagers is perpetuated by images portrayed in the media. I believe that young people are susceptible to triggers if they are suffering low self esteem, and a common trigger is images of extreme thinness.

The average child in the UK, US and Australia sees between 20,000 and 40,000 television advertisements per year. They are bombarded with images about how they should look and what they should own. Children struggle to keep up, suffering from anxiety, stress and lower satisfaction in themselves. 1

Societal pressure is taking its toll on our young people. More than two thirds of 15 year old girls are on a diet and a quarter of children diagnosed with anorexia nervosa are boys.

Now more than ever, it is important that parents become aware of the early warning signs so they can gauge if their child is developing an eating disorder.

Jessica Burde, who writes for Helium, has this advice:

1. Eating with your child several times a week will allow you to get a feel for their eating habits. Watch for changes in those habits; a one night change shouldn't worry you, but a severe change that lasts for several weeks is a concern.

2. Watch for sudden weight change i.e. a noticeable change in weight within a short period of time.

3. Listen for 'fat' talk. When your child stops celebrating weight loss, and is not happy no matter how many kilos they've lost, it is a red flag.

4. Watch for bones. Some young people are good at hiding their eating habits so if you start seeing your child's collar bones and wrist bones sticking out, take them to a doctor.

5. Obsessive Eating; an inability to stop eating, especially in times of stress. Some clues to watch for:

a) Are they enjoying food? An obsessive eater generally doesn't enjoy what she or he eats, they just eat. Be worried if your child is eating large amounts of food constantly, but doesn't realise how much they are eating, and/or isn't enjoying it.

b) Watch for cravings - obsessive eaters have them all the time. They go around with food constantly in their hand, and can get irrationally upset if they can't find something to quiet the craving. These cravings will typically worsen when under stress.

In my book Why Can't I Look the Way I Want; Overcoming Eating Issues, there is a chapter dedicated to early warning signs. These signs are often subtle and can be passed off as 'normal' behaviour - unless you know what to look for. Some common ones are avoiding eating with others, obsession with food preparation and a change in attitude towards food e.g. becoming vegan or cutting out entire food groups under the guise of wanting to be 'healthy'.

Another lesser known warning sign is ritualistic behaviour when eating, such as cutting food into tiny pieces, insisting that meals are eaten at a particular time each day or obsessive use of the same crockery and cutlery.

Whilst images in the media can heighten our children's anxiety when it comes to self image and body image, if we become vigilant about the early warning signs and therefore understand what constitutes disordered eating, we have a very real chance of catching the behaviour early and reducing the alarming incidence of eating disorders.

1 Williams, Z 2006, The Commercialisation of Children, Compass, London

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Body Image A Huge Concern for Teens

A survey of almost 2,000 Australian teens has revealed that the vast majority have anxiety over their own body image and the unhealthy images being promoted, with only 27% of Australian teens claiming they are happy when they look in the mirror. A significant 33% of teens have had an eating disorder, or have known someone with an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia.

Habbo released the findings yesterday as part of an online survey of 1,957 Australians aged 12 to 18 (Generation Z). An even number of males and females participated in the survey, with respondents from each state and territory.

The following channels were voted as responsible for promoting unhealthy body images:
  1. Media – 43%
  2. Models – 27%
  3. Friends – 7%
  4. Schools – 6%
  5. Parents – 5%
  6. Body builders - 5%
Australian teens (32%) believe that using healthy sized models and ambassadors across all media is the best way to increase awareness about healthy body image. 31% suggested further education in schools, followed by television programs promoting a healthy outlook (13%).

Ngaire Stevens, Business Development Manager, Sulake & Habbo, explains “The results from the Habbo Body Image Survey suggest that teens in Generation Z are wary of the pressures around them to have a certain type of body image ... the concerning thing is that they are still dieting, are not happy with their own body images and feel pressure to adhere to what’s being promoted in the media and other channels of influence. Generation Z is an extremely aware generation and they are calling for healthier body images to be promoted ... the initiatives currently in place are clearly not having a significant enough impact. We would like to see action taken by the media industry, health departments and the Federal Government to address body image issues for Australian teenagers.”

Last night I took part in an online forum for Reach Out discussing body image and it is clear there is still much that needs to be done to make young people aware of the dangers of dieting and the serious consequences of eating disorders. We also need to educate young people about the best ways to help and support someone they love.

With that in mind, this survey clearly establishes the need for the media industry in particular to actively promote health and wellbeing in direct relation to positive body image to protect and foster the body confidence and self esteem of this next generation of Australian teens.

For details of the survey go Here