Distorted body image and eating disorders among young girls are debilitating conditions that are all too frequent, but fortunately there are ways fathers can become aware of common symptoms and understand how to best approach their daughters who might be struggling alone. Because girls seek validation from their fathers, it is important for fathers to understand how they can help their young, adolescent, or even adult daughters that might be suffering psychologically and physically because of their poorly perceived body image.
Therefore, to dive deeper into this topic, Growing Girl spoke to Dr. Arthur S. Trotzky, who is internationally known as a treatment and trauma specialist, and whose work focuses especially on addictions. Dr. Trotzky spoke about the neurochemistry abnormalities of eating disorders and how they often tend to drive addictions.
Women will suffer from eating disorders in far greater numbers than men.
According to Dr. Trotzky, there are ways of identifying potential signs of eating disorders in young or grown daughters who never seem to be happy with their appearance. This article presents fathers with evidence-based approaches and best practices on how to guide their daughters from prevention, to looking out for the initial signs, and getting treatment.
Familial predisposition in the development of anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorders
The first thing to remember is that the development of anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorders can start at any time. However, it’s most prevalent throughout pre-adolescence or adolescence. A growing body of research characterizes eating disorders as addictive diseases and how addictions develop depend on several factors. For example, if someone is persistently dissatisfied with themselves, this can trigger an eating disorder. If their brain is lacking feel-good brain chemicals like dopamine and they feel they can only reward themselves with food, this can turn into an addiction because certain foods can change your mood. Foods that are high in processed white flour and sugar can boost dopamine levels (that feel-good chemical), temporarily improving that person’s mood. Using this as a solution to feel better about themselves can quickly lead to a food addiction which will eventually cause higher levels of stress and anxiety if they can’t find other, more productive ways to satisfy their negative emotions.
Aside from a possible genetic predisposition in addiction prone families, from a nurture perspective, the family’s attitude towards how a young girl looks will explain the outcome, too.
If the focus is solely on what size waist she has, instead of her abilities or unique characteristics, this can affect young girls immensely.
That said, how fathers or parents react to their daughters’ perception of self-worth is essential.
Preventive factors families with young daughters should be aware of
If daughters start showing signs of an eating disorder such as binging on a lot of food but not gaining any weight or if a child goes out for a 2-mile run but ends up being gone for two hours, the chances are they have been running longer than they should have. Dads can help to minimize these behaviors to a certain degree by spending quality time with their daughters and reaffirming their skills and abilities backed up with real-life examples.
For the most part, fathers who accept their daughters and love them for who they are instead of who they want them to be contribute to their daughters’ mental health and development. Their physical and mental health should be the main priority to their well-being.
This might sound like conventional wisdom, but when fathers nurture their daughters, without being critical, girls can develop and actualize their potential.
Another way to help prevent serious food issues is to watch what their daughters are eating and notice how they feel about their bodies. For instance, if a child says that they are getting fat, they ate too much or they are showing concern about calorie intake, this is a big red flag. If any of this is occurring in your daughter, dads can seek support from a counsellor or family therapist.
Proven interventions with adolescent females
Finding an intervention that will work can be difficult for anyone that is struggling with addiction because that person is most likely going to deny it, in addition to reject any advice that comes from worried and anxious parents.
In general, this is not an easy topic to bring up, let alone to a young girl who is growing into her body and trying to figure out who she is. With that said, it is essential to refrain from showing anger or confrontation. Instead, show concern. They are not engaging in distorted eating because they’re being bad.
Addiction is often described as a “hole in the soul” and our daughters often use their eating disorders as a coping mechanism that they’ve learned to make them feel better.
With this in mind, understand that she just wants to be loved and accepted exactly for who she is. Addiction has a lot to do with not loving yourself, so the most important thing a father can do is help his daughter understand that she is important for who she is.
Group therapy is an effective intervention
Group therapy is a powerful and effective method that can change behavior. It has a much stronger influence as opposed to a single person telling a young girl what she should or shouldn’t be doing. People with the same problems can understand each other better, and empathize with one another, without judgment. In group therapy, eating disordered participants will motivate each other to keep going.
What happens if the adolescent doesn’t get the help she needs?
If a young girl is struggling with eating disorders, and she doesn’t get the help that she needs, she will most likely keep engaging in this destructive behavior throughout her life until something significant and life-changing happens that will make her want to stop. For instance, she might want to get pregnant but has a hard time doing so because of her eating disorder, so she will seek help for her symptoms in order for her to get pregnant. However, as long as the method serves her and makes her feel better, she will keep doing it.
Once an eating disorder starts to be treated, the sufferer will likely experience depression for about a month. They will feel terrible. However, with the help of a supportive group, they can get through it and turn their lives around for the better.
Fathers should do their best to help their daughter throughout all her stages of life.
Help her understand that who she is matters and that her body will change throughout her life and that is okay.