Category Archives: New Generation

The Weight of Eating Disorders


American Psychological Association defines eating disorders as “abnormal eating habits that can threaten your health or even your life.” The 3 most common types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating. Anorexia nervosa is an illness in which a person fears weight gain resulting in a restriction of eating to become thinner and thinner. Bulimia nervosa consists of eating an enormous amount of food and then purging almost right after. Binge eating is similar to bulimia nervosa, but without the act of purging.

Although eating disorders only became noteworthy back in the 1980s, the rate of the disorder is on a steady increase all over the world. Eating disorders can affect any race, age, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. As a matter of fact, researchers have noted that there may be a fourth type called “compulsive exercising,” more commonly in men than women, where an afflicted individual may be prone to exercising obsessively. It is crucial to take note of this upward trend, as eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all disorders. One in five afflicted individual’s commits suicide, and every hour approximately one person dies as a result of his or her eating disorder. It is often extremely comorbid as well, specifically with anxiety and depression.

The disorder commonly manifests as an intense fear of gaining weight, resulting in symptoms such as dieting, restricting food intake, pickiness, and preoccupation with body weight and food. Due to a person’s intense fear of gaining weight, a common sign that someone is experiencing an eating disorder is having an excessive amount of measuring tapes and scales around the house, including the bathroom, living room, bedroom, kitchen, and even in their own purses. A research study asked people with an eating disorder to point to the photo that best represented their current body shape (one photo was of their actual current selves and one photo was altered to make them look fatter). They found that people chose the altered fattened photo of themselves, suggesting that a person’s cognitive distortion of their body shape reinforces the classic belief of “I am never thin enough.” Interestingly, although the word anorexia means a loss of interest in food, person’s with this disorder often become more obsessed with food via gourmet cooking, taking photographs of fancy food etc. Their obsession with food acts as a way to regain control and cope with intense emotions.

Eating disorders can be caused by multiple factors including genetic, biochemical, psychological, cultural, and environmental. An example of a prominent cultural factor is the way society has come to view women’s

body as an object of admiration and beauty. In the media there is an overwhelming and consistent depiction of how a woman should look like in order to be considered beautiful. In 2013 a short one-minute video showed an attractive woman with hair and makeup fully done by a professional team getting airbrushed after a photo shoot to the point that she almost looked like two different individuals before and after the photos. The video explicitly revealed the unrealistic and impossible standard regular women strive to reach for. Despite the fact that this clip went viral, the dietary culture remains intact. These societal pressures can lead a young child, who may be going through puberty or getting bullied at school, to develop an eating disorder in order to fit in with their peers and what society portrays as “normal.”

Thinking about environmental factors, it’s important to note that eating disorders do not occur in isolation. According to “Family Systems Theory,” the disorder can be understood by looking at the symptoms embedded within a person’s dysfunctional family structure. Families of children afflicted with eating disorders frequently exhibit the following characteristics: overprotectiveness, a great deal of enmeshment, and lack of conflict resolution. As a result, children do not develop independence or control over their life, leading them to seek control in other areas. The simplest solution is often to control their body shape by controlling what they eat.

The disorder requires meticulous attention to a person’s physical and psychological state. In order to appropriately address the issue of eating disorders, there should be initiatives at both the micro and macro level. Family therapy is a good treatment option because eating disorders affect the whole family, so it’s important to involve everyone’s voices. There should also be more campaigns that work towards redefining the definition of “beauty” to counteract the affects of current media portrayals of beauty.

By: Stella Hyesoo Pock

Stella is a recent graduate from the University of Toronto with a double major degree in Psychology and Neuroscience. She is currently working on three projects that focus on maternal mental health at the Mothering Transitions Lab at the University of Toronto under Dr. Cindy-Lee Dennis. She has various research experiences that range from postpartum depression to LGBTQ members with schizophrenia. She is dedicated to help those who are afflicted with mental disorders.

Talking to Kids about Relationships

Talking to kids about relationships may seem like a challenging task, and it actually is. I do not have any children myself, but I did grow up in an environment where I was able to witness a lot of parent-child interactions. I noticed that parents often tell their children, in regards to romantic relationships, to “wait until you’re older”. Even though this may seem logical since kids are not going to be in a romantic relationship anytime soon, I believe there are many aspects of relationships that children should be told about before they are “old enough” to be in a relationship. They include but are not restricted to:

1. Know your self-worth. 
I believe that it is very important for kids to be explicitly taught what self-worth is. When kids are taught that they should give and be given respect, they will be more likely to enter and maintain healthy relationships in the future. Cultivating the habit of giving and receiving respect will pay off both now and later.

2.  Know that it is okay to say no.
It is important for kids to know that they do not have to accept anything that they are not fully comfortable with, whether it is a person that they do not like, or a whole relationship that they are not comfortable being in. When this is taught at a young age, kids will learn that sometimes they need to place their own happiness first. This will make it less likely for these kids to remain in an unhappy relationship when they are older.

3. Know that you have support.
Parents should let their kids know that they are always there to support them. Even though this may seem like a natural thing, yet you will be surprised as to how many parents do not explicitly say this to their kids. By hearing that they have their parents’ support, kids will feel secure and will know that they always have someone to lean on when times get tough. When these kids grow up and enter relationships, they will know that they have their parents there to give them relationship (and any type of) advice.

4. Know that everyone has their ups and downs.
When kids are taught that they should be considerate and mindful of other peoples’ needs, they will be able to have more realistic expectations of relationships in the future. These kids will later know that when their partner acts off sometimes, it is not necessarily because of them, but it could be because they simply had a bad day or a pending issue worth an open discussion!

Some parents might think twice before starting a “relationships conversation” with their child, which is completely understandable. Things can progress slowly, but there are long-term positive effects with starting the conversation at a young age. By teaching your children some basics that pertain to relationships, they will have a solid base when they grow up and become romantically involved with someone. This will make their transition into romantic relationships easier and more satisfying.

By: Ghinwa El-Ariss

Ghinwa El-Ariss holds an Honors Bachelor of Science Degree in Psychology and Environmental Studies from the University of Toronto. She will be pursuing her Master of Science degree in Psychology at Trent University starting September 2017. She is passionate about Psychology and the Environment. She hopes that her blog posts help you learn a bit about her and her take on certain things. Most importantly, she hopes that you enjoyed what you read!

Do You Want to Increase Mental Fitness?

imagesWe all know how it goes…. Someone tells you not to worry about something and while it may help marginally, it generally doesn’t. Worrying does not just automatically stop when someone suggests that you stop. Something else needs to happen. You need to be able to tell yourself not to worry and this requires you to have a certain amount of control over how your mind is working.

Hearing from someone else that you shouldn’t worry gives you the idea that for others the thing you are worrying about is not necessarily that worthy of worry, you may even feel that things won’t turn out so bad when you are reassured by another. But to take control of your mind, to actually train your mind to not get stuck in loops of worried thought, that can be a harder thing to achieve and it requires a focus on mental fitness.

Research has emerged that is suggesting a possible link between chronic worrying and the likelihood of developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is but one very important reason why mental fitness training needs to become a focus in people’s lives. In the Epidemiology Department of Michigan State University, researchers have found while studying participants over a long number of years, those who as children were prone to worrying a lot over everyday occurrences were much more likely to develop symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder after a traumatic event. The statistics indicated clearly that chronic worrying is an indicator of vulnerability to developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder rather than the chronic worrying being a feature that develops as a result of the trauma.

We can’t necessarily avoid the trauma that happens to us as kids or on our journey through life, but there are things we can do to better prepare the next generation to meet trauma with resiliency. Tuning in to how much worrying children do is the first good step in helping them take control of minding their mental health. This is a key part of mental fitness training but it is only a first step. If the child has a natural propensity towards worrying, you can guide them to an alternative way of thinking, not by saying not to worry, but by increasing their own awareness about what thinking is behind the worried feeling. Helping them to explore what thoughts are causing the worry and then to look at the evidence to suggest that that particular thought is not essential. For example, a child who is worried about what may happen in the schoolyard may be feeling worried because something difficult happened in the yard the week before. By exploring the child’s thoughts around this, they may be able to come up with a strategy to deal with the particular situation and then will begin to develop a belief that is along the lines of ‘I am able to problem solve.’ If this belief becomes strong over time, mental fitness increases. This is not only then a route to better mental health but as the researchers in Michigan have found, it may also be a part of the resiliency a person develops to the development of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is worth learning about and focusing on mental fitness. A fit mind keeps kids psychologically safe.

 By: Anne McCormack

Anne

For simple tips to increase mental fitness, follow Anne @mentalfitnessXX

Young People and Social Media Use – How Parent’s can support them Mind to their Mental Health

socialmediatree-540x440For young people today, social media is an integral part of their world. Parents accept this to be the reality but because parents of today have only ever experienced social media as an adult, it can be difficult for parents to know how best to support their child to mind their mental health while online. Parents can find it hard to relate to what it is to experience social media use as a young person, as they never had the chance to experience social media during their adolescent years. Supervising their child’s interactions online may work at the start for parents but eventually, young people will seek greater independence from parents and that is normal for them to do. Therefore, it is good to think in terms of equipping young people with tools and strategies to mind themselves mentally as well as physically online. There will be times when parent’s are not there by their side so it is good to see the value of preparing young minds for what they may encounter going forward.

One tool or strategy that works well for young people is having knowledge about how their mind is working. For young people about to start into adolescence, the task they are beginning to face in their mind is the task known as identity formation. That means that young people are beginning to look outside of their own small world of family and close friends more. They are beginning, on an unconscious level, to ask themselves who they are in the world and what their place within the world is. Because this task is faced in the unconscious part of their mind, it is therefore not within young people’s awareness. Because of his task, young people can become very fixated on feedback from others online as a way to garner information about what others think of them and therefore, what they are like as a person in the world. This can be a difficult process in many ways for young people as social media is a very narrow filter through which to work out your worth. If young people are given information about their stage of mind development and if this task that they are facing in their mind is explained to them, they at least have the knowledge in their conscious mind and have awareness. They will have awareness about the fact that they are trying to work out their identity. They also will have the knowledge that other people their age are busy working out identities too and that gives them a context within which to understand the behaviour of their peers. Knowing themselves on the inside is a vital tool when it comes to young people minding their mental health. Giving them information about their own mind is one step parents can take; mental health matters so much.

By: Anne McCormack

Anne