Warning signs of body image issues in Arizona summer

PHOENIX – Summer is just around the corner in Arizona, but for many teenagers it can be a time of great uncertainty because of the fear of having to put on a bathing suit.

About 9% of Arizona residents will develop an eating disorder in their lifetime, according to the Arizona Department of Health Services. A survey on risky behaviors among teens found that 50% of Arizona teens engage in unhealthy habits such as fasting or vomiting when trying to lose weight.

Sabrina Solares, a licensed professional counselor at Denova Collaborative Health who helps children, teens and adults overcome eating disorders, said there are warning signs that parents and others need to watch for.

“If they are very afraid of gaining weight, they check their bodies much more often, perhaps constantly stepping on the scale or pinching their skin,” Solares said.

Solares believes that no teenager should practice “intermittent fasting,” a diet trend in which the person eats only during an 8- or 12-hour window.

She said our bodies need constant energy throughout the day and fasting can actually backfire.

When you only eat once a day, your body responds by retaining what few nutrients it has, including stored fat. Solares says even if you sit for most of the day, your body is still working to pump blood, breathe and keep your digestive tract moving.

What other body image symptoms should parents look for?

According to Solares, mood swings can also be an indication that a teenager may be suffering from an eating disorder.

“Social withdrawal is a big problem. Body image issues and eating disorders thrive in isolation,” Solares said. “When they no longer want to go out with friends, when they frequently deny their hunger, when they make excuses not to eat or have meals.”

It's important for parents to have open and honest conversations with their children about how they see themselves. Solares says some good questions would be, “How do you feel about your body?” and “What pressure do you feel to look a certain way?”

She recommends making mealtime a positive experience to help teens develop a healthy relationship with food. She says eating meals together as a family and adding variety to the meal is a good start.

If your child is skipping meals, taking laxatives or vomiting, Solares says it may be time to seek the help of a professional, licensed therapist.

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Anna Harden

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