In 2020, there is a high awareness of healthy eating and its positive impacts on health. More and more people are generally trying to eat better and exercise in order to improve their quality of life. Despite that, eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia are still quite prevalent in the United States. According to the Eating Disorder Association, 10 to 15 percent of Americans suffer from some type of serious eating disorder. There is plenty of debate about the core causes of eating disorders, whether it’s psychological issues like depression or social impacts from media and advertisements. Often overlooked, though, are the specific factors that impact young athletes. Sometimes, there are no obvious signs that a teen athlete is struggling with an eating disorder. Any signs displayed are often hidden by a teen’s presentation as supremely healthy. Knowing which signs to look for, though, can help parents guide their children to building positive health habits. Why young athletes are susceptible to eating disorders Athletics are a great way to build self-esteem, promote physical conditioning, and demonstrate the value of teamwork, but not all athletic stressors are positive. The pressure to win and an emphasis on body weight and shape can create a toxic combination. One study found that over one-third of NCAA Division I female athletes reported attitudes and symptoms that placed them at risk for anorexia nervosa. Male athletes aren’t immune, though, as many sports lend to a higher prevalence of eating disorders. The stringent weight and size requirements in sports such as wrestling, bodybuilding and running push some men to develop unhealthy habits that lead to eating disorders. Know the signs of eating disorders Just because your teen athlete seems to be in good shape and focused on health, it’s important to keep an eye on them daily to make sure they are not developing unhealthy habits.
- Exercising and training too hard: With such a focus on regimented eating habits to create peak physical performance, athletes can become vulnerable to overtraining. Monitor your child’s training habits, paying focus on whether or not they are eating enough to fuel that training.
- Underweight or notable weight loss: As a culture, we are taught that anybody who is not “overweight” and “obese” is considered “healthy.” Often times, it’s true. But being “underweight” is of significant concern, especially for young athletes and doubly so for female athletes. Enter your child’s height and weight into a body mass index (BMI) calculator online. Any BMI under 18.5 is considered underweight.
- Stress fractures and injuries due to overuse: A trend among athletes with eating disorders is a focus on excessive exercise. Another trend among athletes is to “play through pain.” It’s a toxic combination that together can be a very telling sign of an eating disorder. If your child gets diagnosed with a stress fracture, it could be a first sign that you should evaluate whether your child is showing other signs of an eating disorder.
A hot-button topic in the news the past few months has dealt with the usage of e-cigarettes, or “vaping,” especially among teens. Over the past few years, the negative health effects of vaping have prompted health care professionals to recommend that individuals quit using e-cigarettes. In Canada, Jan. 19 through Jan. 25 is their “National Non-Smoking Week,” and it’s a good chance for us down south to reflect on the harms of smoking, especially with the arrival of e-cigarettes into our lives over the past decade. Answering all the dangers of smoking? When e-cigarettes first arrived on the scene during the first decade of the 21st century, it was touted as a healthy alternative to smoking cigarettes. With decades of research proving that a link exists between cigarettes and lung cancer, millions of Americans tried to quit smoking. While some were successful, others simply couldn’t kick their addiction to nicotine, the chemical found in cigarettes. That’s where e-cigarettes came in. It was supposed to be the magic solution that allowed smokers to smoke in a more healthy way, not having to kick their nicotine habit while also eliminating the harsh odors of cigarettes, since e-cigarette liquid helps create a more pleasant smell. Additionally, without the secondhand smoke of a cigarette, e-cigarettes were supposed to reduce the chances of developing lung cancer compared to smoking cigarettes. However, findings in the past few years about the connection between vaping and harmful health conditions, not to mention the negative effects associated with nicotine, raises new questions about e-cigarettes. Is vaping safer than cigarettes? Yes, but... If you’re bound and determined to choose between vaping and smoking, choose vaping. Compared to smoking, vaping exposes the user to far less harmful chemicals. However, the best choice is to do neither, since both have connections to striking health effects. While the harms of smoking cigarettes are well-documented, as of November 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have confirmed 47 deaths related to use of e-cigarettes, related to lung injury from the prolonged use of e-cigarettes. Another side effect is a condition referred to as “popcorn lung.” Many e-cigarettes contain harmful ingredients that include ultrafine particles that could injure the lungs, volatile organic compounds, heavy metals such as nickel, tin and lead, and flavorants that include diacetyl. Diacetyl is a chemical used in products like microwave popcorn to create a butter-like flavor. Workers at factories that produce microwave popcorn have reported higher incidences of disease related to the chemical. That chemical is included in some e-cigarette flavorants and is directly inhaled, resulting in the “popcorn lung” effect. Knowing the risks is half the battle Just like many are addicted to cigarettes, e-cigarette users can become addicted, as well. This is why health professionals are warning about vape pens and, in particular, targeting teens that have become addicted to e-cigarettes. The U.S. Surgeon General’s Office has created a toolkit to help parents talk to their children that use e-cigarettes. You can find more information at E-cigarettes.SurgeonGeneral.gov. Designed by freepic.diller / Freepik
Help your teen sleep better According to recent studies, forty-three percent of parents say their teens struggle to fall asleep — or wake up and can’t get back to sleep. Help your teen sleep better with the following tips: Maintain a regular sleep schedule Keeping a sleep schedule within an hour of what’s usual helps keep the circadian rhythm in check. Sleeping in hours later than normal on the weekends and during school breaks makes it even more difficult to switch back — and can lead to more tiredness and grogginess. “Catch-up” sleep is also unlikely to make up for the full amount of sleep debt accrued over a week, and we don’t believe it’s as restorative to the body. Discourage afternoon naps Even though they may provide more sleep short term, naps make it harder to fall asleep at night. They also break up sleep, which means lower quality of sleep and fewer benefits. If this is a habit, do everything you can to quit naps for a week to make it easier to not nap going forward. Ban electronics from the bedroom Not being able to stay off electronics — including social media and cell phones — was the top reason polled parents cited for their teens’ sleep troubles. Some research indicates that the light exposure from screens also disrupts traditional cues sent to the brain to wind down. That’s why I recommend physically removing the device. Charge phones elsewhere Make it a family rule to charge all devices in a parent’s bedroom or another isolated space to reduce temptation at bedtime. Many teens I’ve seen in my own practice actually describe a sense of relief when their parents limit phone use because it takes away some of that pressure to keep up with social news and what their peers are up to. Stick to sleep-friendly bedtime routines In addition to banning electronics, limit other distractions in the bedroom. All stimulation should be minimized. Keep lights low and active pets out of the bedroom. We discourage using music or sound machines to help with sleep because they may actually keep the brain stimulated. Realize sleep isn’t instant We don’t expect people to fall asleep right away. It can take half an hour for someone to truly fall asleep. Have your teen follow a routine that helps them de-stress and wind down to get their body into sleep mode and send the right signals to the brain that it’s time to snooze (e.g., bath, reading, bed). Consult a health provider Sometimes an underlying medical issue, such as depression or sleep apnea, may be causing sleep trouble. If a teen continues to have problems falling asleep or is waking up multiple times at night despite healthy sleep hygiene habits, speak to a sleep specialist. Call us if you have additional information. We can help.