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Teenaged Girl At Risk For Eating Disorders Writes, "i Want To Be Confidant With My Body"

Question:

im 15 approx 5’4 and weigh about 119 and i hate it i want to be 100-105.i have no self confidence and i want to look like i just stepped out of a magazine.i eat 24/7 and it kills me i know iff i dont stop im going to look like my mom who is a tad on the chunky side, but im scared ill look worse. i jus want to be skinny what do i do?

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Answer:

I want to acknowledge your difficult emotional and social situation. You are frightened or tense or anxious. I think maybe the best word to use is "ashamed". What the best term might be is not so important, as clearly you are feeling badly. You describe this negative feeling as a lack of self-confidence, and you also use the word ‘hate’ to describe how you feel about your weight.

Concern over weight doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Instead, it is usually influenced by your social situation. Unless I miss my guess, this negative feeling you have about how you look (or don’t look) is as much (or maybe more) about your concern over how you will be judged socially as it is about your absolute weight. You are concerned that you will be rejected by others whose opinion you value very much unless you look like a model in a fashion magazine. It is this fear of rejection – of being unacceptable because of how you look – that appears to be driving your desire to lose weight, and not the other way around. It’s important to identify what it is that is actually making you upset, because you can’t address that thing until you know what it is.

If this problem you have is ultimately about your fear of being rejected by important people, then it is important to recognize that no action you take will ever truly free you of that fear. This is because when you base how you feel on how you are treated by other people, your self-esteem becomes dependent on those people and their whims. If those people were to decide that only the very thinest people were worth spending time with, then your self-esteem would be in the toilet until such a time as you could lose the necessary weight to become acceptable in their eyes. You might spend a lot of time and effort doing just that only to find that your efforts were not enough; that the standard for how thin a person needs to be has become even more stringent and you are still unacceptable. Then again, maybe you’d manage to make the grade. My point is not really that it is impossible to change yourself so that you can meet a standard, but more to the point that the standard you’d be trying to meet is not something you have any control over, and which could be arbitrarily changed on you without warning. Any time a person can’t find a way to love themselves until and unless they meet someone else’s arbitrary standard, they are simply setting themselves up for depression and anxiety and a sense of being a failure. You might manage to lose enough weight so that people will find you acceptable (who would not find you acceptable at your current weight, but the point I’m making is that they could always find a new reason to reject you, and thus your self-esteem would always be subject to their whim. How does it feel to have your self-esteem be owned in this limited fashion? To have your self-esteem essentially held as a hostage. Hopefully, that thought makes you just a little bit angry.

The important question thus becomes (to my mind anyway), who gets to own your self-esteem? Are you a "slave to fashion", or is it possible that you could be allowed to love yourself despite the fact that some other popular people might not? It is very common, even completely normal I think, for teenagers to fall into the trap you appear to have fallen into, which is to let your self-esteem be wholly owned by others. What many adults end up doing, after surviving their own teen years and learning from the mistakes they have made, is to come to the conclusion that they are a reasonably worthy person regardless of what some other people may think, and that while it important to pay attention to how others see you and to modify what you do so as to remain an acceptable relationship partner to those other people, at a basic level it is not okay for other people to dictate to you whether you are a good, acceptable person or not. Healthy adults pay attention to what other people think, but they don’t let negative opinions expressed by others get them down (too much). In other words, healthy adults have learned how to be "selfish" about their self-esteem in a healthy way so as to strike a workable balance between self-regard and the regard of others. You do not appear to have figured this balance out just yet, and instead, are erring on the side of letting others entirely determine your value. Don’t worry too much about not having learned this balance just yet. This balance is something you’ll grow into as you are ready.

What is it exactly that is involved in finding a healthy balance between self-regard and the regard of others. Part of what is involved is figuring out what standards you will hold yourself to meeting. The standard you’ve set for yourself is being determined by magazine fashion editors; those people who determine which models get hired and which ones don’t. You may not know it but even those models fail to meet the standards that their images represent. This is because many photographs that appear in fashion magazines have been photoshopped (e.g., graphically altered and edited) to make the models in those images appear thinner, with more perfect skin and makeup and better hair and lighting. Models look good in real life, but not as good as they look in the magazines. The standard you are setting for yourself is thus one that no human being can really meet; not even the models! Think carefully about this, please, because if you continue to hold yourself to an unattainable standard, you will fail, and you will suffer unnecessarily. You might actually be able to meet your own standards (and thus not feel so badly for a while) if you relaxed them somewhat and made them more humanly attainable.

While we’re on the subject of standards, lets talk about a different sort of weight standard set more by concern for what is a healthy weight rather than what is the most attractive weight. The medical profession thinks about healthy weight in relationship to a person’s height. A number called the body mass index or BMI is computed based on consideration of a person’s height and weight, and ranges of BMI have been computed which reflect how much health risk is associated with any given individual’s height and weight. Being overweight is, of course, associated with significant health risks, but you might not know that being underweight is also associated with health risks. There is such a thin as being "too thin", at least from the perspective of the medical profession. Underweight women risk losing their menses and become infertile among other health problems.

At 5 feet 4 inches, and 119 pounds, your body mass index (BMI) is 20.4, according to the Body Mass Index calculator available on the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute webpage. This BMI falls within the normal range of weights (e.g., between BMI values of 18.5 and 24.9). If you were to lose weight so that you weighed 105 pounds, your BMI would drop to 18.0, which is considered underweight. So, right now, from a doctor’s point of view, you are at a good healthy weight. If you lose the weight you’d like to lose, you will be going out of your way to make yourself more vulnerable to health problems.

The most significant health problem you might be facing, at least to my psychologically attuned mind, are Eating Disorders, about which you can read more in our Eating Disorders topic center. Young women who complain of similar concerns as yours are at heightened risk for becoming Bulimic, or Anorexic. Bulimia is what is happening when girls start making themselves vomit after eating in a (fairly ineffective) attempt to get rid of some of the calories they’ve consumed so that they can be thinner. Anorexia is what is happening when girls start restricting their actual eating and effectively starve themselves until they lose significant weight. In both Bulimia and Anorexia, these behaviors become compulsive, which means that people can’t seem to stop themselves from doing them, even after it becomes clear to them that they are hurting themselves. Both of these conditions are actually medically dangerous. Bulimics and Anorexics both can really screw up their physical health in a permanent and substantial manner. Anorexics can get to the point where they actually die from their eating disorder. Because you would appear to be at risk for an eating disorder of some kind, I think it a good idea to advise you to seek out preventative psychotherapy and other support which might help you avoid developing such conditions.

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