Does Being an Early Bloomer Increase Risk for Eating Issues?

Girls mature at different rates. Some adolescents develop at a young age, showing signs of physical maturity which can make them feel different from their peers. This perception could increase their desire to diet in order to regain their prepubescent shape. This mindset can set the stage for disordered eating and often predicts anorexic or bulimic behaviors. The additional stressors of emotional, neurologic, and hormonal changes can exacerbate underlying conditions and increase those at risk for problem eating. Identifying risk factors for early maturation in girls could help clinicians provide interventions that might prevent future disordered eating. Kathryn Paige Harden, Ph.D., of the Department of Psychology at the University of Texas, recently conducted a study examining how these changes affect young girls’ perceptions of conformity and contribute to disordered eating.

Harden reviewed interviews of 1,848 sisters and analyzed them for factors related to maturation, self-esteem, romantic objectification, parental influence, and peer status. She found that the girls who thought that they matured faster than their peers were more likely to engage in dieting that predicted eating problems. These girls were exposed to genetic risks that caused them to mature early and therefore engage in dieting behaviors. Additionally, these same girls were more sensitive to other’s views of their rapidly developing physical bodies and perceived themselves as different when they compared themselves to their less-developed peers, fueling the desire to conform through extreme measures.

The genes that cause girls to mature can be identified as a potential risk factor for eating problems. For instance, some studies have suggested that genes responsible for ovarian hormone development are more pronounced and mature sooner in girls with disordered eating than in those without eating issues. Therefore, recognizing which girls are likely to experience early physical and biological development could help schools and medical professionals target this population with interventions designed to address the emotional and physical consequences of early maturation. Harden hopes that current programs that are aimed at changing the perceptions girls have of themselves will consider all of the risk factors present in girls who mature early in order to prevent them from developing problem dieting and eating patterns.

Harden, K. P., Mendle, J., Kretsch, N. (2012). Environmental and genetic pathways between early pubertal timing and dieting in adolescence: Distinguishing between objective and subjective timing. Psychological Medicine 42.1, 183-193.

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  • micah n

    micah n

    March 15th, 2012 at 4:23 AM

    I can super identify with this because I matured really early, like 4th or 5th grade, and every day since then it is like I have been on this dieting wheel. I think that you hit the nail on the head when you say that it was always an effort to get back that shape that I had when I was younger. That’s a long life to go through battling biology that would never cooperate with my own personal goals.

  • Zoe


    March 15th, 2012 at 10:12 AM

    @ Micah- I know exactly what you have felt because I too had this same thing happen to me and my mother fed into my desire to always want to get thinner. She always told me how pretty I would be if only I would lose a little bit of weight. Lose weight? Did she not know what kind of emotional weight those words of hers were doing to me? Obviously not, because it almost felt like those were the words she was saying to me until the day she dies. I have simply tried to move on but it still hurts.

  • EMMA


    March 15th, 2012 at 9:52 PM

    Wow this is something I’ve never thought about before but yeah I can imagine how it impacts so many young girls out there.And in addition to the dieting they may also feel different from their peers and this feeling could well become the breeding ground for negative thoughts in their mind,don’t you think?

  • Sloane


    March 16th, 2012 at 11:28 AM

    I came from the other end of the spectrum in that I was a late bloomer- and how much I wanted to be like those girls who developed early! I see now that the grass is of course always greener on the other side.

  • renee


    March 17th, 2012 at 7:42 AM

    What makes this so hard too is that other kids are so mean to ach other! This is something that you know the mean girls in class are sure to pounce on and the boys are just stunned into stupidity when they finally notice what is going on. And no matter what you tell your kids at home or the ways that teachers try to control the classroom those little barbs and looks hurt.

  • Karilyn


    March 18th, 2012 at 6:05 AM

    We all want to do the right thing in these cases. But I have a little feeling that if we begin to point all of these things out, the girls who it did not bother before may actually develop the worries. And in that case this would come from something that was created and not necessarily something that was already there. I do not want to contribute to the problems that may of these young girls are already dealing with.

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