Last week, a youth program in which my 13-year-old daughter participates decided to host a "24-hour famine" event. The kids agreed to go without food for 24 hours -- they even spent the night at the center -- to help raise awareness of world hunger and generate donations for the local food bank. I think we can all agree that it was a noble cause, but I'd be lying if I said I didn't have concerns about letting her participate.
Because introducing young adolescents -- particularly girls -- to the concept of going without food feels like a step into very dangerous territory for me. My concerns were confirmed when my daughter came home from school and reported that one of her friends had said, "I bet we're all going to lose weight," to which another girl (who was not participating in the program) responded, "Maybe I should try that."
While researching my book, You'd Be So Pretty If...: Teaching Our Daughters to Love Their Bodies -- Even When We Don't Love Our Own, I came across a study that examined the "body behavior" of adolescent girls -- including how girls in a particular peer group will often mimic each other's behavior when it comes to eating, exercise and attitudes toward weight and the body. Eating-disordered behavior can easily take hold of a peer group and before long, develop into a serious problem.
I was glad my daughter told me about the conversation because we had a good talk about just how unhealthy it truly is to severely restrict calories -- and what that does to the body. And in the end, I did allow her to participate in the famine. I think she walked away with not only an awareness of what hunger feels like and the need that exists in our community, but also with an awareness of the ease with which girls can slip into an eating disorder.
What's your feeling on programs like this?