The week of February 21-27 every year marks National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, started by NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association). Each year comes with a unique theme, and 2016’s theme focuses on the importance of early intervention.
Every decade has brought its own set of revisions to the symptoms we associate with eating disorders. Binge Eating Disorder (BED) for example, was added as an official eating disorder diagnosis only recently in the DSM 5 (psychology’s holy book). Orthorexia, although popularly spoken of in the media, is yet to be classified officially despite the wide use of it by professionals treating eating disorders. Are BED and Orthorexia any less of a problem than anorexia or bulimia? Certainly not.
With the amount of literature made accessible online in psychological journals or websites and through the personal accounts of people who in recovery or who continue to struggle with an ED, we are no longer in the dark. However, a lot of us continue to hide in plain sight or get caught up in webs of secrecy over maintaining these ‘habits’ that we use to police our bodies and the ruminating that sustains them. Social media does not make us open books; it serves to create convenient ways to concoct facades. Technology has made it easier for us to hide our secrets in laptops and mobile phones, away from prying eyes, bookmarked in hashtags and private forums.
Which makes NEDA’s 3-minute confidential online screening test a thing of genius.
It appeals to the short attention span we are willing to fork out on any given page on the internet. It still manages to ask precise questions that are indicative of ED symptoms. The results of the test is followed by resources the individual may wish to peruse to seek further information on the disorders or to get in contact with professionals to get help.
For someone like me, the test was a useful tool to alert me that it might be time to revisit and reinforce past intervention strategies or to learn new coping methods. It is a constant learning process. Most of us who have lived with a mental health disorder will know what I mean when I say that we do not just recover and walk away from the ordeal. We stay in recovery – it is a conscious, regular effort to remain vigilant of the signs that point towards a possible downward spiral. Our troubles have a way of occasionally creeping up on us instead of presenting themselves in an obvious fashion.
Why is early intervention so important?
It is a pretty obvious answer that we often take for granted – prevention is better than cure.
The studies, statistics and real life accounts that we read of cannot be blatant lies. The emergence of body positivity is no coincidence.
There is a lot more than can be taught today to children and adolescents aside from swift warnings about food to avoid or the perils of neglecting regular physical exercise. Early intervention does not only point toward the screening of eating disorders. It requires the involvement of medical practitioners, pediatricians, schools, nutritionists, parents or caregivers to be aware of destructive habits that have unsuspectingly sneaked into their patient or loved one’s life. Awareness of problematic eating behaviours can prevent further obsession. Body dysmorphia can be worked on concurrently, along with the processes or experiences that have contributed to disordered living. Emotional triggers can be identified, and underlying trauma or stressors can be addressed in therapy. If need be, family therapy can be extremely educational and cathartic. Suicidal ideation and depression can be allayed, both of which are commonly experienced by people suffering from Bulimia Nervosa. A person’s life can be saved. Screening, treatment and the right support can make all the difference.
Calling out something you feel ashamed of or have been hiding prevents social exclusion and restricted opportunities, among the many other reasons why early intervention is so important. While we do still exist in a problematic Fatphobic society there is more dialogue about things we have thought best not to question in the past like the BMI or calorie counting, for instance. Wellness today should speak of what to embrace. I embrace the fact that I would have been very grateful for the resources we have today had they been available to me as a struggling Bulimic when I was 15. Early intervention would have prevented me from going down the slippery slope of obsessive orthorexia and purging in my young adulthood. It would have helped educate me about this overwhelming need to fill the void of sadness within with food, a sadness exacerbated by society’s views of my body. It would have alerted me to the fact that being overweight was not reason enough to dispute struggling from an eating disorder. It would have stopped me from self-harm and from developing social anxiety.
As important as awareness and education can be, taking action brings the change that we hope for.