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Part Four: Some Utah Teens Struggle with Anorexia, Perfection

Part Four: Some Utah Teens Struggle with Anorexia, Perfection



Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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Maria Shilaos, KSL Newsradio In a community where parents place an emphasis on achievement, teenagers often have a tough time meeting their high expectations.

In part four of our series "The Child First and Always," KSL Newsradio's Maria Shilaos tells us why anorexia is a growing problem for teenage girls in search of perfection.

Wenner: "I call these girls angels because they're good and so compassionate and so caring. They're just wonderful kids."

Dr. Matt Wenner works with teenagers, like Alana, who have eating disorders.

Alana: "I've always been a perfectionist and an overachiever. My food issues sort of became a way for me controlling my life."

Wenner: "What I see a lot with anorexics is what I call having good qualities and hyper drive. They are hyper moral. They are compassionate, very emotional, very feeling people, but those qualities are turned up so high it actually gets in their way."

Dr. Wenner is an adolescent psychologist at the Alta View Center for Counseling which is branch of Primary Children's Medical Center. He says while each teenager he sees is unique, they often fall into the same pattern.

Wenner: "It usually starts slow with some dieting or obsession with low fat, and then they start cutting or become vegetarian, or they start to exercise more."

Alana: "I'd start my day before the sun came out going to the gym so I could get in enough exercise before I had to go to school and find some excuse to skip lunch...it was just full of lies and excuses, and then I'd fill my day with so many activities and commitments so that I didn't have time to listen to my body and stop to eat something."

Wenner: "In my view, self-hatred is kind of the fuel that drives the eating disorder. You have to kind of whip yourself into submission to "succeed at an eating disorder. It takes a lot of emotional energy, a lot of time and effort to sustain an eating disorder."

Alana: "For me it was little things that triggered it. If I didn't do as well as I'd like to in a class I told myself I'm just not good enough, I'm stupid. I'm fat. I'm ugly. Every inadequacy I had in my life I changed to being about my body because I felt like that was something I could fix."

But fixing an eating disorder that has consumed your life isn't easy. Dr. Wenner says it takes time to undo the months and even years of negative self-talk.

Wenner: "Self-awareness leads to self-change. They have to know the distortions in their head, and then they are able to start and confront some of those lies and get it out of their head. But again it takes a lot of courage to overcome this thing. And it's not in my hands, it's in theirs."

Even after spending four months at the center for change in Orem, Alana is still working with a counselor and a dietician.

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