It’s no secret that Generation Z is under a lot of pressure. Whether it be college admissions or parental expectations, it can all seem so overwhelming. It’s no wonder that in recent polls and studies, Gen Z seems to be more anxious and self conscious (1). As we grow, we assume more responsibilities and subconsciously compare ourselves to others, which can lead to unhealthy habits. Particularly, we tend to struggle with body image and self-esteem. Some kids as young as 8 year old begin to exhibit signs of a poor esteem and that spills over into other areas of their life.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that extreme diets are detrimental to one’s health and wellbeing, many still choose to partake them and disregard the repercussions. Some think that the cause is external pressure and unrealistic beauty standards. Whatever the case may be, it is affecting how students across the nation in school and interact with others.
Evidence of this is seen in how people partaking in these diets have been documented having a decreased focus and higher rates of anxiety and depression (2). Withdrawal from loved ones, lowering grades, and apathy are other warning signs as well fluctuation in weight (3). This is significant because in withdrawing from friends and loved ones and experiencing apathy, it becomes harder to notice that said person is struggling.
It’s a well known fact that malnutrition negatively impacts school performance , but what is the difference between the quality of the food we eat and the quantity of our caloric intake. Studies have shown that there is a correlation between unhealthy foods and how well kids do in school but in the case of restricting calories (4), doctors have found that restrictive diets cause your brain to lose some of its cognitive function (this is known as brain fog). K. Aleisha Fetters, a writer from U.S. News , writes that your brain function suffers when on a crash diet (5). They cite a study done by Pediatric Research that explains that theses habits can cause long term problems with memory and can increase your brains level of cortisone, therefore adding more stress. Additionally, David Just from the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics adds that vitamin deficiencies from poor nutrition inhibit cognitive abilities and focus.
For some of us, it’s hard to think that, with all these consequences, kids actually do this! The Canadian Pediatric Society estimates that up to half of teenage girls and a quarter of teenage boys have tried a diet in order to fix their appearance (6). But what can we do to reach out to peers that might be struggling with dissatisfaction with body image?
Encourage them to vent their feelings, to you or to someone they trust. Writing down feelings of discontent can be helpful. Asking for validation often takes courage so try to not to get frustrated with them. Although you are not responsible for your friend’s mental health, it can be hard to detach yourself from that feeling. Above all, we must acknowledge that we will need to actively change the stigma associated with mental illness and address the effect of unrealistic beauty standards in our society.
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