What’s the Problem?
With rising rates of eating disorders, it is impossible to have enough treatment providers for all of those who suffer. And unfortunately, many suffer with little to no resources. Eating Disorder Prevention has either never been prevalent, or seems to have taken a seat on the back burner.
I became intimately aware of this when moving to Wichita and seeing that there are less than a handful of providers in the area, and of that, even less that were currently taking on clients.
For some in our area, that is a death sentence.
In fact, Anorexia and ED’s are the #1 lethal mental illness, outweighing schizophrenia and depression and topping the charts of lethality at 20%.
But, more importantly:
Although getting more treatment providers is a necessity in our community, it is also important that we implement PREVENTION measures. And that, we can all do.
Contextually we have a choice to contribute to, ignore, or prevent the problem, and little by little we can change the culture around healthy eating.
A few ways…
1. Know the risk-factors.
Kids going through puberty, athletes in body-aware sports (i.e. bodybuilders, ballerinas, gymnasts, runners, swimmers) persons who are overweight, those with a family history, depression, anxiety, perfectionism, and negative body image are all risk factors for the development of an ED. Keep an eye out for early warning signs — the earlier it’s caught, the better treatment outcomes are.
2. Promote healthy communication and expression of emotions (especially anger, sadness, and shame). This goes for many mental illnesses but is extra helpful in easing the triggers and built up stressors that can lead to an eating disorder.
3. Make it a point to focus on things outside of people’s bodies and to lessen the hype of having a “perfect bod” or the “perfect diet”.
4. Stop talking about diets altogether. Seriously.
5. Be an example about how to positively talk about your body (i.e. “I feel so strong today”, “I’m grateful for my strong legs that help me walk to work”).
6. Make having a healthy mindset and authenticity an ideal, not photo-shopped super models.
7. Compliment others on who they are more than how they look.
8. Understand that everyone deserves to feel good in their bodies and have access to a healthy, active lifestyle.
9. Re-frame exercise as a human privilege, and not a punishment for eating foods.
Another strategy to shift this is through an exercise, introduced by Dr. Levine:
1. Imagine a person who possesses characteristics & accomplishments that you admire deeply…
2. Now, recall what that person looks like. Many people think of people such as Maya Angelou, Abe Lincoln, or Thich Nhat Hahn.
3. Lastly, think about that person’s appearance, or their body type. Did that play a role in their accomplishments? Is their image hanging in your office or home? (If not, wouldn’t that be a great reminder?)
Although there are many complex challenges that create ED’s (genetics, trauma, etc.) and some will be out of our control, there’s a lot we can change by our culture.
Let us work together to challenge distorted beliefs of eating disorders and highlight healthy, full living in our own lives and others. Your impact matters. You make a difference in moving our community toward a culture of health. Be a role model in your community, and you may just save a life through eating disorder prevention.