Remember when going back to school meant getting excited to see friends, new school supplies, maybe even some new clothes?
Or perhaps, especially in teen years, back-to-school created more anxiety for you...unsure of new teachers, worry about what peers thought about you - if you were cool enough to hang out with or "hot" enough to date?
Adolescents is a rough time period in life. It's one of the significant times in life when bodies change - including size, shape, and mentally how we think about these changes.
You may remember, at this time, starting to compare yourself to others. Were you pretty/cute enough, strong enough, smart enough?
Now image, with all this uncertainty, if you'd had access to an app that promised to reduce this anxiety of trying to fit in by simply "eating healthier, move more, and feel great?" Would you have been all in?
I would have. In fact, I did - in spite of being a teen in an app-less era. That was the start of my disordered relationship with food and my body, at age 11. Maybe you have a similar story?
According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), when researchers followed a group of 486 adolescent girls for 8 years (from 12-20 years old), 13.2% of the girls showed signs of an eating disorder.
Cultural messaging for one - both inside and outside of schools. Recently WW (the re-brand of Weight Watchers) launched a new app called Kurbo targeted specifically at kids and teens. The apps utilizes a stop light rating system for foods, encourages food tracking, and "earning" food intake based on amount of exercise.
According to the stop light rating system, green foods include produce; yellow foods include lean proteins and pasta with portion control; and red foods such as soda and sweets should be "budgeted for" based on exercise level.
Here's what that's really staying...you're a good if you eat only produce, carefully measure your portions of protein and carbs, and steer clear of pleasurable foods unless you've earned the right to enjoy them!
In other words, imagine...you're driving. You come to an intersection with a green light - great you get to keep driving. At the next intersection, the light turns yellow, and you make the call to keep driving - maybe even hit the gas to make it through before the light turns red. Down the road, you're approaching an intersection, the light turns yellow, but you're running late and "have to make it through this light." You hit the gas and look up as you're in the middle of the intersection. The light turns red. In that moment, you know you've been a risky, bad driver, and you're scanning around making sure a cop didn't see you run the red light.
Apply two scenarios to the Kurbo App...
The adolescent brain is still developing and tends toward black and white thinking. So the app's messaging around food, in their brains, says...
"If I eat green foods, I'm good."
"I should only eat yellow foods, cautiously." (choosing to stop the car or hit the gas)
"I must only eat red foods quickly before anyone sees me (hit the gas, eat fast), or...
"I gotta earn a free pass (sorry officer, I really didn't think I could stop in time!) 'cause I'm being a bad/unhealthy eater and I don't want to get caught."
This is the perfect set up for disordered eating, roller coaster weight cycling, guilt and shame with food, binge eating, over exercising, and no freak'n clue how to know when you're hungry, full, satisfied, or need a hug!
This cultural view on food and bodies is why incidences of disordered eating and eating disorders continues to rise - not just in teens, but later in life. Because let's face it, how you learned to feel about your body and food choices as a teen has stuck with you all these years. Am I right?
So how can we, as adults, do better by the young people in our lives so that they don't have to go through the same culturally induced food guilt and body shame that we all did?
First lean in to the science and biology of human development. Pediatric research has shown that kids need to gain anywhere from 40-60 pounds just before puberty in ensure normal growth and life transition from child to young adult. If as parents, care givers, coaches, teachers, and mentors we don't encourage and support this normal, healthy, physiological development, the kid's development, both physical and psychological will be delayed.
We as the adults have the responsibility to point out and speak out against weight stigmatizing, fat phobic cultural messaging that come not only from the influences of social media, entertainment, and apps, but also messaging in health classes or through extra-curricular activities like sports, dance, or other activities where body shame/size and health are emphasized. If you feel compelled to do so, I encourage you to sign the Wake Up Weight Watchers petition.
To support your efforts in making this paradigm shift for all the young people in your life, check out this fabulous resource created by my colleagues at Sunny Side Up Nutrition. Their site is a wealth of information about how to support young people in having a health, grounded relationship with food and their bodies.
Remember, young people today deserve to have a better relationship with food and their bodies than you and I did - right from the start! Let's help them do just that.