All teens deal with struggles in their lives. It takes a powerful teen to admit she has a problem, work through her challenges, and use what she’s learned to help others. This article is the result of an interview with Alex Shabo, a teen who is recovering from an eating disorder and helping others in the process. (Photo credit: Carol Britton Meyer)
Alex Shabo and Jasmine Benger are battling their eating disorders in public. And they’re winning.
These 2 high school students from the idyllic New England town, Hingham, Massachusetts (a town nearby to where I live) hosted an open forum entitled “Our Body- Our Sacrificial Self.” The presentation was an effort to bring awareness to eating disorders and help give support to others who are facing similar challenges.
“Women’s bodies have become material objects, and both men and women have begun to treat them as such,” Shabo and Benger agree. “Self-awareness can be lost beneath overwhelming, restrictive societal values and attitudes – which can lead to a distorted image of body, loss of self, and eating disorders.” (Wicked Local)
Jasmine’s eating disorder began in freshman year:
“It started as innocent dieting, if there is such a thing. I was trying to be healthier, watching what I ate, and it slowly turned into an obsession,” she said. “Pretty soon I’d cut out so many essential nutrients that I didn’t have the wherewithal to be like: ‘This is so messed up.’ I was really sick.” (Patriot Ledger)
Alex was a sophomore when her eating disorder began:
“I started dieting, to be healthy,” she said. “That’s what’s being thrown at you, that dieting is a way of life, a way you should live your life.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing the Alex personally so that they can help us understand how best to help our daughters and help us to better understand the challenges they face:
How was the turn out at the eating disorders forum you hosted?
We were very amazed by the turn out at our forum and we are actually doing at least four more for elementary schools, the middle school and the high school in Hingham.
What specific signs would you advise other parents to look for in their girls to figure out whether their daughters might have an eating disorder?
There aren’t always the physical signs that come out first for an eating disorder patient. Although anorexia does have the physical component (rapid weight loss), bulimia and binge eating disorder do not. Some signs besides the drop in weight is skipping meals, restricting on certain foods (fats, carbs, etc.), counting calories, going to the bathroom for a while right after meals… I know there are many more but it really differs for all cases. I know something that my mom said at the forum that was very powerful was that parents don’t want to see this sort of behavior in their child and tend to ignore it. A lot of parents wait till they get comments from outside sources which can sometimes be too late. The best thing for parents to do is to talk to their kid when they see any change in behaviors socially or regarding food.
What are 3-5 pieces of advice that you would give to other parents of girls who are grappling with an image conscious society?
MODERATION: In a society where diets are telling you to not have this and avoid that, it is best to enjoy everything in moderate amounts. You can still be eating but not eat the right things and still really put your body in harms way. I see moderation as eating what you feel like eating and enjoying it rather than obsessing over the calories. If you give your body what it is craving, you are least likely to have any obsessive thoughts. Moderation is definitely one of the most difficult parts to achieve in our society.
Be aware of what you say; self awareness: A lot of people find commenting on how a person looks as a way to determine their emotions. It is a sad reality but it is what people feed off of to determine their own outlook on themselves. There is really no need to talk about calories, diets, or the bodies of others. I would just say it is important to be mindful of what you say because you never know how it will affect people around you.
Don’t encourage a dieting household: I am always shocked when I meet girls who are struggling with eating disorders who has a mom on a diet at their house. Not only is there diet food around but now they have a mom stressing out over her body as much as she is. Diets really are a short-term relief and are not always the most nutritious for our bodies.
Would you say that other girls in Hingham are having similar problems with eating disorders but have not come forward? What made you come forward and talk about this when other girls in your class and school have not?
This is one of the most frustrating parts about our forum. Our town is brought up on perfection and image. Everyone has a greener lawn than the one next to them and competition is definitely high. Eating disorders are very secretive because the reaction from people can be so diverse. Some people understand and really take pride in a person being honest but most kids at our school just don’t understand it and don’t wish to learn. Immediately, you are judged by what you are eating, what you aren’t eating, how you look this day or that day. I was definitely nervous about putting our names out there because now everyone wants to see ‘what does someone who is recovering do/eat/look’.
I honestly, find closure and help in talking about my eating disorder. It really motivates me to stay on track in my recovering. Keeping it a secret is a burden that really cripples recovery. Rather than concentrating on helping yourself, you are trying to hide this huge secret from the rest of the world. Also, if we don’t talk about, it won’t get better. If it keeps being swept under the rug more girls and boys will develop it because they are just so uninformed.
Alex and Jasmine plan to have more forums for parents and students in the area.
Congratulations on using your challenges to help others. You are truly Powerful Girls. It took great courage, tenacity, and confidence to come forward, take control of your problems, and motivate others to do the same. You’ve likely inspired many people!
Filed under: Body Image, Body Image Press, Confidence, Dr. Robyn Silverman, Health, Interesting Press, Powerful Girls, Teens | Tagged: Anorexia, Bulimia, Dr. Robyn Silverman, Eating Disorders, girls, Interview, Recovery, Sacrificial Self, Teens | 11 Comments »