How To Help A Teenager With Body Image Issues

how to help a teenager with body image issues inspirational quote at Discovery Ranch South, a residential treatment center for girls and teens assigned female at birth

Discovery Ranch South is not primarily an eating disorder treatment facility, but many of our students arrive with disordered eating and a history of eating disorders. We will help your child manage their unhealthy body image, address their eating disorder, and choose the right treatment moving forward.

We want our children to develop positive attitudes about themselves. Body image is directly involved in this. People struggle with personal image issues every day. However, in younger people, a struggle with body image can lead to a number of issues. Adolescents aren’t fully developed mentally, physically, or emotionally. This immaturity and lack of perspective make them vulnerable to information that can be harmful to how they view themselves and others.

Without proper skills in place, a teen struggling with body image issues may resort to extremes. They may try to change what they don’t feel is acceptable and/or become depressed, anxious, and withdrawn. Somehow, they feel unfit to participate with those peers they perceive as more superior. Aggression and other unwanted behaviors may also result as a way to try and cope with the overwhelming amount of negative self-talk.

Defining Body Image

Body image is how you see yourself when you look in the mirror or when you picture yourself in your mind. It encompasses:

  • What you believe about your own appearance (including your memories, assumptions, and generalizations).
  • How you feel about your body, including your height, shape, and weight.
  • How you sense and control your body as you move.
  • How you feel in your body, not just about your body.

Unfortunately, for some teens, the level of obsession about their appearance can lead to a more severe case of body image disorder. Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a mental disorder that develops as a result of obsessing over a perceived flaw in one’s appearance. These individuals will resort to extremes to try and “fix” what they feel is not perfect including surgeries.

Consider The Following Statistics:

  • More than 90% of girls aged 15 years 17 want to change at least one aspect of their physical appearance, with body weight ranking the highest.
  • Girls’ self-esteem peaks when they are nine years old.
  • 80% of children who are 10 years old are afraid of being fat.
  • 9 million teens in America below 15 years are obese, that’s three times more than in 1980.
  • Obese boys and girls have significantly lower self-esteem than their non-obese peers.
  • Up to 12% of teen boys are using unproven supplements and/or steroids.
  • Nearly a quarter of girls aged 15-17 would consider undergoing plastic surgery.
  • 13% of girls aged 15-17 acknowledge having an eating disorder.
  • 7 in 10 girls believe they are not good enough or do not measure up in some way including their looks, performance in school, and relationships.
  • 80% of 10-year-old girls have dieted. 90% of high school junior and senior girls diet regularly. Young girls are more afraid of becoming fat than they are of nuclear war, cancer, or losing their parents.
  • The top wish among all girls is for their parents to communicate better with them which includes, more frequent and more open conversations, as well as discussions about what is happening in their own lives.

Signs & Symptoms of Negative Body Image

Symptoms of unhealthy or negative body image may include:

  • Obsessive self-scrutiny in mirrors, thinking disparaging comments about your body, and frequent comparison of your own shape and size to other people
  • Envy or a friend’s body, or just as commonly, the body of a celebrity or someone else in the media.

We have created a world where our children are learning that there is a “correct” way to look. And, if we don’t measure up to this ideal, we should be unhappy and start working to change what we have to match what is “correct”.

What Can Be Done?

When your own child can’t see what you see, it is heartbreaking. How could anyone look at their own body and be so disappointed that it affects every other aspect of their life? For many parents, this is painful to observe. No matter how many times they try to reassure, compliment, and invest in their teen, it feels as though it’s falling on deaf ears.

For those teens that may be a little more emotionally vulnerable, having a poor body image may have started with a comment by a friend or family member. Body image and the media have a direct correlation as well. Many images produced for the purpose of selling products in a magazine or commercial depict an alternative reality that many young people don’t yet have the maturity to understand. As adults, we understand the army of people it takes to create this perception of perfection displayed in pictures or on the screen, and as a result, we understand that this level of “perfection” is unrealistic and not something to aspire to.

Teens struggling with low self-esteem, body image issues are becoming more common, and destructive behaviors and conditions are usually a symptom of this problem. Adolescents need an opportunity to step away from the mirror and all the other influences feeding into their negative self-talk. They need a break from their current environment. Parents need some respite too.

When families contact us, it’s usually because things have escalated to a point of no return. All other strategies have failed. When parents can’t reach their children anymore, residential treatment is an option clinically proven to turn things around and provide an experience that can last a lifetime.

Discovery Ranch has been helping families for over ten years, as there is a great need for intervention. Unless you are an identical twin, no one person is exactly like the other. To feel pressure to be a certain height, weight, hair color, eye color etc. is a lot to deal with for an adolescent or adult.

Girls may unknowingly try to find acceptance of themselves through inappropriate sexual behavior. Boys may seek out inappropriate attention on social media or may experiment with body altering substances. Either way, our young people need to understand that beauty is not only skin-deep, and our program will open their eyes to this fact. Our value can not be accurately measured through a lens or mirror.

An Integrative Approach To Find The Right Fit: Discovery Ranch for Girls Treatment of Unhealthy Body Image, Eating Attitudes, And Behaviors

Adolescence can be a particularly difficult time for young women in our society. In addition to the daily challenges that teens face in their social, familial, and academic lives, young women are perpetually bombarded with unattainable ‘ideals’ and unhealthy messages from our media and society. Discovery Ranch for Girl’s Disordered Eating Program will provide your daughter with the opportunity to restore healthy eating behaviors, utilize alternative coping strategies to replace negative compensatory behaviors, challenge unhealthy preconceptions about self-worth and societal pressures, and build a stronger, healthier sense of self.

Our Approach to an Eating Disorder vs. Disordered Eating and Compensatory Behaviors

‘Disordered Eating’ and ‘Compensatory Behaviors’ refer to a variety of abnormal and unhealthy patterns of behavior that may, or may not, meet criteria for an eating disorder diagnosis. These behaviors may include food/fluid restriction, compulsive dieting, bingeing, over-exercise, calorie-counting, abuse of laxatives/diuretics/diet pills, and purging. Although frequency and severity of symptoms may not reach a diagnostic threshold, disordered eating and compensatory behaviors can have serious long-term implications and consequences.

At Discovery Ranch for Girls, we recognize the dangers associated with disordered eating behaviors. We also acknowledge the difficulty arising from long-term identification as someone with an eating disorder. Our approach is to support your daughter in her recovery through education, empirically supported therapeutic interventions, and balanced eating and exercise. Additionally, our emphasis on building pride and mastery in various areas of life will help support your daughter’s formation of a solid, positive identity.

Benefits of Our Approach to Treatment of Disordered Eating and Compensatory Behaviors

Although Discovery Ranch South is not an eating disorder-specific treatment facility, many of our students come to us with eating disorder histories and/or current disordered eating behaviors. At Discovery Ranch South, your teen’s eating difficulties will be treated according to their individual needs. Utilization of various modalities, including motivational interviewing, cognitive behavioral, dialectical behavioral, and acceptance-based approaches ensure our ability to meet your child where they are.

While we do not institute meal plans or place emphasis on calculating dietary exchanges, we do provide well-balanced meals that will increase your daughter’s comfort with food and ability to restore healthy perceptions of appropriate nutritional intake. As a residential facility, we are capable of implementing behavioral interventions and protocols to support appropriate food/fluid consumption and monitor behaviors following meals.

In extreme circumstances where medical stability may be compromised, we will recommend a short-term admission to an acute care facility to guarantee physical health and safety before resuming treatment. At Discovery Ranch for Girls, we believe that balance is essential in treatment. Our emphasis on providing appropriate treatment interventions while maintaining the least restrictive experience possible allows us to treat your daughter--not just the disorder.

Discovery Ranch South’s Body Image Group

The Body Image Group is designed to support recovery and restore healthy beliefs and behaviors through education, utilization of skills, and therapeutic support. This group employs Dialectical Behavioral, Cognitive-Behavioral, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy processes to provide a comprehensive and valuable experience for members at any stage of change. Members of this group will address unhealthy beliefs and behaviors in a recovery-oriented approach, give and receive support from young women with similarly shared difficulties, and challenge each other to advance in their recovery.

Benefits of Our Body Image Group

The Body Image Group provides your daughter with an opportunity to increase understanding about factors underlying body image distortions, identify her own personal triggers and experiences contributing to distress, challenge unhealthy thoughts and beliefs, and take ownership of her views about herself. Your daughter will gain insight regarding her individual and shared difficulties, while simultaneously increasing her ability to express herself in appropriate and adaptive ways. Weekly homework will be assigned to promote personal responsibility with implementing skills and increasing healthy thoughts and behaviors in daily life.

Body Image Issues through Art Group

The Women’s Issues through Art Group is a lightly structured, theoretical, and process-oriented group. This group is adapted from a variety of therapeutic approaches, with core components stemming from feminist psychology and social awareness. This group is designed to increase awareness of the social and gender roles impacting young women and promotes development in individual’s self-confidence, empowerment, and equality.

Benefits of Art Group

The Body Image Issues through Art Group provides your daughter with an opportunity to explore personal, cultural, and societal values in an artistic and multimodal venue. Guided by a clinical psychologist with undergraduate training in fine art, the purpose of this group is to provide a creative outlet for identifying and processing issues unique to women. Utilizing art to support your daughter’s exploration of her own difficulties and insecurities will promote openness, increased objectivity and ability to challenge longstanding anxieties and assumptions, and practice using art as a healthy and adaptive coping strategy. Members of this group will also have opportunities to increase skill level and confidence in artistic expression.