Bullying and Eating Disorders

Bullying and Eating Disorders

Authored by Pin Ng PhD

Edited by Hugh Soames

Reviewed by Michael Por, MD

Bullying and Eating Disorders

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children and teens that involves a real or implied power imbalance between the child who is bullying and the child who is being bullied. This unwanted behavior is repeated or has a strong likelihood of being repeated again in the future.

Bullying can impact young people physically, mentally, and psychologically but most importantly can lead to the development of eating disorders at a very early age.

Types of Bullying

Bullies often use their physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or their own popularity at school to hurt others. Bullying can be broken up into three types: physical, verbal, or social.

Physical bullying includes hurting someone physically or damaging their possessions.

Physical bullying includes:

 

  • Hitting/kicking/spitting
  • Tripping/pushing
  • Breaking someone’s belongings
  • Using rude gestures to insult

 

Verbal bullying is saying or writing mean things to someone in person or online. Bullying happens frequently on social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, or TikTok.

Verbal bullying includes:

 

  • Inappropriate teasing
  • Name-calling
  • Taunting
  • Threatening

 

Social bullying involves hurting someone’s reputation or excluding them from social groups.

Social bullying includes:

 

  • Leaving someone out
  • Telling others not to be friends with someone
  • Spreading false rumors about someone
  • Embarrassing someone in front of others on purpose

 

Bullying and Eating Disorders

More than 70% of school-aged children report having been bullied while another 30% admit to bullying others. While most people might believe that bullying only takes place at school, children can experience bullying from their peers, coaches, siblings, and even parents at home.

Victims of bullying can have depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, and symptoms of PTSD or suicidal ideation. Children who are bullied may feel shame, guilt, fear, or sadness – the same symptoms experienced by those who struggle with eating disorders.

While genetics, a child’s social environment, and psychological factors can all contribute to the development of eating disorders, some adolescents may be at an even higher risk of developing anorexic, bulimia, or binge eating if they have been the victim of bullying.

Biological Risk Factors

Biological predispositions for bullying and eating disorders include:

 

  • Having a family member with an eating disorder. Children who have a parent or sibling with an eating disorder have an increased risk of developing an eating disorder themselves
  • Having a family member with documented mental illness. Anxiety, depression, and addiction can run in families. These conditions increase the likelihood that a person will develop an eating disorder
  • Dieting history. Having a history of dieting or the use of weight-control methods can lead to binge eating
  • Intentional nutrient deficiency. Children who try to restrict their diet by burning off more calories than they consume
  • Type 1 diabetes. 25% of females with insulin-dependent diabetes will develop an eating disorder
  • Being born premature, having a low birthweight, or being a twin
  • Having a personal diagnosis of ADHD, Bipolar, or BPD

 

Social Risk Factors of bullying and eating disorders

 

Social predispositions for bullying and eating disorders include:

 

  • Coming from a culture where being skinny is socially valued. Weight stigma – the idea that thinner is better – is discrimination or stereotyping based on a person’s weight.
  • Growing up with family members who are constantly watching their weight or trying out the latest diet fad.
  • Having parents who restrict foods like carbs, fats, or sugars so their child doesn’t get fat.
  • Restricting food or becoming vegetarian as a child because you think it’ll help you lose weight.
  • Seeing other children being praised for dropping weight and wanting to emulate them.

 

Psychological Risk Factors of bullying and eating disorders

 

Psychological predispositions for eating disorders include:

 

  • Being a highly sensitive person, having difficulty controlling emotions and feelings, or being behaviorally inflexible.
  • Perfectionism or having unrealistically high expectations of yourself.
  • Body image dissatisfaction.
  • Low self-confidence, depression, anxiety, or other mood disorders.

 

While many different factors can lead to the development of eating disorders, most cases consist of a perfect storm of vulnerabilities. Being teased or bullied, especially about your weight, is a risk factor for many eating disorders. 60% of those with eating disorders have reported that they were bullied.

Bullying can increase anxiety and depression, encourage withdrawal, and contribute to feelings of guilt, shame, and low self-esteem. People who feel this way may use eating disorders to help them cope with their intense feelings.

Signs of Having an Eating Disorder

When most people think of eating disorders, they imagine angsty teens or emotionally distraught young adults. Eating disorders can also affect children under the age of twelve as well. It’s important for parents or anyone who works with children to recognize the warning signs, because eating disorders can cause damage to a child’s body and keep them from growing and maturing the way they should.

Early detection and prevention are key in treating eating disorders. Many signs can be subtle. A child doesn’t have to be hyper-focused on their weight or body image to be at risk for developing an eating disorder.

Here are some warning signs that you should be looking out for bullying and eating disorders:

 

  • Eating habits have increased or decreased
  • Weight loss
  • Stunted growth
  • Thinning hair
  • Puberty delay
  • Hiding or hoarding food
  • Mood swings

 

Getting Help for bullying and eating disorders

 

If you’ve done all you can think of to help resolve a bullying situation and nothing seems to work, or you or someone you know is in immediate danger, there are ways you can get help.

 

  • If there has been a crime or someone is in immediate danger, call your local emergency number.
  • If you or someone you know is feeling hopeless or suicidal, there are free and confidential resources available to you 24/7.
  • If you or someone you know begins to act differently, seems sad, anxious, distracted, or no longer seems to take care of themselves, contact your local counselor or mental health service.
  • If you know a child who is being bullied at school, contact their teacher, counselor, and principal.
  • If the school is unable to stop the bullying, contact the superintendent or state department of education.

 

If you have a child with an eating disorder, contact your pediatrician, nutritionist, or mental health professional to get the support you need to help your child. Teaching your child to have a healthy relationship with food will benefit them their entire life.

Summary
Bullying and Eating Disorders
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Bullying and Eating Disorders
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Victims of bullying can have depression, low self-esteem, anxiety, and symptoms of PTSD or suicidal ideation. Children who are bullied may feel shame, guilt, fear, or sadness - the same symptoms experienced by those who struggle with eating disorders.
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