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The Link Between Bullying and Eating Disorders on Kids

Do you remember someone bullying you as an adolescent? I have asked this question to many of my adult patients and they can still vividly remember an incident that occurred in school or home that they cannot forget.

Today bullying is at a whole new level. Now we have cyber-bullying and even bullycide. The U.S. Department of Education’s defines bullying as follows:

  • Bullying involves intentional, and largely unprovoked, efforts to harm another
  • Bullying can be physical or verbal, and direct or indirect in nature
  • Bullying involves repeated negative actions by one or more against another
  • Bullying involves an imbalance of physical or psychological power

Verbal bullying include put-downs related to physical appearance, mannerisms, socioeconomic status, cultural diversity, gender, sexuality, religion, disabilities and IQ. The bullied are often called names, punched, teased, ganged up on, humiliated, ignored, gossiped about, and lied about in person or in social media. Victims often feel shamed, depressed, embarrassed, anxious, sad, lonely, rejected, angry, powerless, and fearful.

Bullying comments creates a double injustice. Most teenagers will not report that they have been bullied. They keep it a secret. They live in fear. When they have no outlet for these feelings they push their feelings down. Many start using emotional eating or focusing on their weight, diet, and body image to avoid their feelings. They look for external validation instead of developing a healthy sense of Self. Without this sense of Self they are vulnerable to assimilating other people’s beliefs, values, actions and opinions. They lose this valuable opportunity to develop a real and authentic Self. They conform to their external environment by putting on a mask that can become a prison.

Bullying can have serious consequences, including body image dissatisfaction, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, obesity, anorexia, bulimia, drug abuse, mental disorders, and thinking about and attempting suicide. These symptoms are equally common among the bullies and the bullied victims.

During puberty dramatic physical occur that the adolescent is not prepared to deal with. A healthy girl will gain anywhere from 20-50 lbs. This is normal, as their bodies are developing and they are getting taller. They are increasing concerned about their appearance. They do not have a solid sense of Self and are very susceptible to thinking they should look like the models, even if they are airbrushed and really only fantasy. One study recently found that 70 percent of sixth-grade girls stated that they became concerned about their weight when they were about 9 to 11 years old, and that over half of these girls started dieting. Research now is showing that cyclical binge eating and restricting, i.e., dieting, can actually change the chemistry in the brain creating life-long battles with disordered eating.

Many of my patients report being told that they were fat or criticized at home. Unknowingly the remark is taken in and manifests itself later as an eating disorder. It is not always what was said, but what was heard. Eating disorders are a very complicated disorder and require professional help. At Rebecca’s House Eating Disorder Treatment Programs we provide a free support group for families who are having problems with a friend or family member with disordered eating. We also provide assessments for people who think they may have an eating disorder.

-Rebecca Cooper

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