By Ella Hall and Emma Scepkova
Although food provides nutrients to the body, an individual can view food with a positive outlook or, in some cases, with fear. The positive outlook isn’t an issue in this case; however, the fearful view is, especially in teenagers.
An anonymous source at Key West High School (KWHS) experiences a different outlook on food daily. “When there’s a day I feel good about my body, I’ll eat [two to three] times a day but never get over 2,000 calories,” he explained. “On days I feel bad about myself I eat very lightly… sometimes I don’t eat anything and call it ‘fasting’ as an excuse.” An entire day could possibly be written off due to an insecurity that has unfortunately been engraved into the minds of young people.
Outside influences such as social media have been a huge factor in a teen’s mindset about eating. “A total of 75.4% of girls and 69.9% of boys had at least one [social media] account where Instagram was the most common, used by 68.1% of girls and 61.7% of boys” (www.forbes.com). Although social media is a fun way to interact with others and post creative content, it can be a misleading tool for what the average man and woman should look like.
Anonymous shared what social media “ideal bodies” are and how they impact his thought processes. “Muscular for men, and toned and skinny for women. Being a part of this, I always felt like I needed to lose weight to be liked more and appreciated. I never just wanted to be the fat one.” These specific body types are often praised and complimented on social media platforms and generate insecurity in people, which results in a negative mindset.
Aleksandra Turek, a junior at KWHS, has also taken a toll from the harmful side of social media as well. “I think the main cause of my unhealthy eating habits was wanting to be skinnier due to the ‘ideal’ body shown on social media,” stated Turek. Social media spews insane, appearance-based expectations on high schoolers, leaving teenagers to battle these unrealistic standards that have taken hold in their minds.
Likewise, Teresa Gaitan, an additional junior at KWHS, also feels the pressures of social media impacting her daily consumption of body fuel. “Sometimes those influences can really help, [but] sometimes all they do is bring you down even more,” disclosed Gaitan. “When all you hear is that in order to nourish your body you need to starve or have tiny amounts of food so you can look a certain way, [it is damaging].”
Feeling insecure about food and eating is a dilemma far too many students face, that can lead to even more problems. “[Adolescents] who are food insecure are more likely to be in poor health and struggle in school” (www.rednoseday.org). High school is already a challenge with balancing education, extracurriculars, jobs, and social life, so imagine changing your food intake to match other people’s expectations of your body. It just adds unnecessary stress to a high schooler’s plate. “With high school being so focused around sex and people wanting sex, I felt like I needed to. I was told [people] weren’t ‘sexually attracted’ to me,” stated anonymous. “I lost [eight] more pounds after hearing that. Hearing the one thing I thought was true: I’m not attractive because of my weight.” The influences of comments from others could majorly impact the relationship people have with food and immensely damage their self-esteem. It can be detrimental to both their mental and physical health.
Nevertheless, social media and rude comments are not the only driving factors in a toxic relationship with food. Sports like wrestling and competitive weightlifting, which revolve around how much you weigh, can create the same problem. In those particular sports, coaches can tell their players something on the lines of “don’t eat anything until you weigh in.” Depending on where they are traveling to, this could be almost hours until they take their first bite of the day. “You have to make sure you’re on top of your weight, [which means you have to justify that what you eat is] healthy,” explained Gaitan, who is a member of the KWHS girls weightlifting team. “It can be exhausting and really take a toll on your mental health, especially when people are telling you that you are eating too much or what to eat and not eat.”
Adding on to the physical aspect, the way to get that “dream body” everyone wants is not through starving. In fact, it only makes it worse for what you are trying to obtain. “I was 30 pounds overweight [again after I shed it all off]. I lost it all [again this year] and gained muscle by February,” said anonymous. “I want to build [more] muscle, but I can’t because I don’t want to eat a lot of food.” The “dream body” can be achieved through a good, healthy relationship with food; it is possible.
If your relationship with food is currently filled with fear, that doesn’t mean food will never be positive for you. “I think it’s getting better, but it’s never going to be perfect. I think there will always be a part of me that thinks the bare minimum is too much” stated Turek. Correspondingly, Gaitan and anonymous hope they’ll eventually have a healthy relationship with food as well.