It's tough being a teenager. The pressure to look good is enormous and it doesn't help that all the Hollywood starlets seem to be super slim. So what is the ideal weight for a teenager? And at what point does a diet become an eating disorder?
In a world full of food, some kids are starving themselves sometimes to death.
- One percent of teenage girls are anorexic, or won't eat
- Five percent are bulimic they'll eat and then purge their food
- Another one percent have binge eating disorder uncontrolled over-eating
At 13, Melbourne girl Brigitte Austinelli developed anorexia. Several times, her weight was so dangerously low she had to be hospitalised and fed through a tube. For five years her life was all about avoiding food.
"After I ate it was 'I shouldn't have done that, I feel so guilty'. I'd spend hours crying after every meal and before every meal as well," says Brigitte.
Teenage anorexia is often triggered at times when kids are going through enormous changes in their lives or when there may be family conflict like divorce.
Not eating gives them back control of their lives: "Every time something bad did happen I used anorexia as a distraction, something I could control and I thought it would help fix it but it doesn't," Brigitte says.
After years of therapy Brigette, now 20, has fully recovered and is studying bio-medicine at Melbourne University.
People with anorexia have intrigued psychologists like Melissa Keogh. She's been collecting case studies and has found that for most victims, there is hope of recovery.
"I feel a lot stronger; I notice that I definitely react to things in different ways," says Brigitte.
So what is it that causes teenagers to literally starve themselves to the point of death?
Dr Melissa Randall, a Los Angeles psychologist who specialises in treating eating disorders, says social pressure from the media is also a big influence.
What do they think they will get as a result of being so thin?
"The boy of their dreams, that they'll get into the college they want. There's an irrational belief, 'if I'm skinny I will be happy, I will be everything I want to be' and that's just not the way it is, says Dr Randall.
But are Australian teens swallowing the hype? Our reporter Leila McKinnon caught up with a group of youngsters at a Sydney cafe to find out.
Leila: What about models and movie stars, they're all so slim. Do they influence the way that you want to see yourselves?
Girl: Yeah a lot.
Boy: For guys I don't think it matters that much because we're not as exposed to those…
Leila: Would you worry about whether your girlfriend was thin or not?
Because some girls don't think they can have their cake and the guy, more than half are, or think they should be, on a diet.
Californian Leslie Richman, has had a topsy-turvy battle with weight and was worried she was on the verge of anorexia.
"I had no clue what was the right portions to eat and what was the right amount of carbs and protein to eat. So it was really important that someone taught me how to do it," she says.
Leslie turned to Los Angeles dietician, Alicia Calvos, who at fortnightly weigh-ins checks Leslie's food and exercise records. Making sure she's eating healthily is just as important as her weight.
Alicia's recipe for success is simple:
- Eat regular well-balanced meals
- Allow yourself some treats
- Exercise at least three hours a week
So that's how to eat but how do you know if your child is developing an eating disorder?
Here are some warning signs:
- They become obsessive about what's on their plate.
- They avoid eating meals with their family, so no-one can keep track of what they're actually eating.
- They play with their food, cutting it up into tiny portions, pushing it around the plate anything but eat it.
- Meals are followed by long trips to the bathroom and noise like turning on the taps to cover the sounds of vomiting.
Confronting the issue early is vital as eating disorders are difficult to treat. Around 20 percent of sufferers never fully recover, 10 percent die.
The fact is, we're all born in different shapes and sizes and a healthy weight for your body type should be the ultimate goal. You can't go past a sensible diet and regular exercise, just don't be obsessive about it. And remember that supermodel skinny isn't everybody's cup of tea.
- We think of anorexia as a teenage disease. But at what age does it typically begin? Just five years ago the average age was 16. Now, it's between 12 and 14, with some kids as young as seven being diagnosed.
Experts say kids are being pressured to act and look like grown-ups from a younger age and the kids are reacting to that.