Bullying and Eating Disorders

We need to take steps to make sure that bullying becomes a thing of the past.
09/20/2012 06:36pm ET | Updated November 20, 2012
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Do you remember someone bullying you as an adolescent? I have asked this question to many of my adult patients and they can still vividly remember an incident that occurred in school or home that they cannot forget.

Verbal bullying include put-downs related to physical appearance, mannerisms, socioeconomic status, cultural diversity, gender, sexuality, religion, disabilities and IQ. The bullied are often called names, punched, teased, ganged up on, humiliated, ignored, gossiped about and lied about in person or on social media. Victims often feel shamed, depressed, embarrassed, anxious, sad, lonely, rejected, angry, powerless and fearful.

Bullying comments creates a double injustice. Most teenagers will not report that they have been bullied. They keep it a secret. They live in fear. When they have no outlet for these feelings, they push their feelings down. Many start using emotional eating or focusing on their weight, diet and body image to avoid their feelings. They look for external validation instead of developing a healthy sense of self. Without this sense of self they are vulnerable to assimilating other people's beliefs, values, actions and opinions. They lose this valuable opportunity to develop a real and authentic Self. They conform to their external environment by putting on a mask that can become a prison.

Bullying can have serious consequences, including body image dissatisfaction, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, obesity, anorexia, bulimia, drug abuse, mental disorders and thinking about and attempting suicide. These symptoms are equally common among the bullies and the bullied victims.

During puberty, dramatic physical occur that the adolescent is not prepared to deal with. A healthy girl will gain anywhere from 20-50 lbs. This is normal, as their bodies are developing and they are getting taller. They are increasing concerned about their appearance. They do not have a solid sense of self and are very susceptible to thinking they should look like the models, even if they are airbrushed and really only fantasy. One study recently found that 70 percent of sixth-grade girls stated that they became concerned about their weight when they were about 9 to 11 years old, and that over half of these girls started dieting. Research now suggests that cyclical binge eating and restricting, i.e., dieting, can actually change the chemistry in the brain creating life-long battles with disordered eating.

We need to take steps to make sure that bullying becomes a thing of the past.

If you a friend or loved one that needs treatment for an eating disorder, go to or call 1.866.931.1666