Monday, February 22, 2010

It's Time to Talk About It!

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (NEDAw) is in full swing. In my last post, I shared about the mission and goals of NEDAw, so if you missed it, take a look! This year's theme is "It's Time to Talk About It" and the hope is for everyone to do just one thing! If we all do one thing, no matter how small, think about the attention we can bring to highlight a major psychiatric illness in our society that is often very misunderstood! One suggestion for doing one thing (compliments of NEDA- National Eating Disorders Association) is to use your social networking sites (think facebook, twitter, etc...) to post some kind of link or information about eating disorders that may serve to initiate conversations or educate people about eating disorders. Margarita Tartakovsky wrote a blog post on some myths and facts about eating disorders that might be of interest (you might learn something yourself too- this is a great list)! Below is the list that she made with the help of some eating disorder professionals (access it in full here). I would encourage you to read it, but also to pass them on to someone this week in order to raise awareness about the facts behind eating disorders!

Eating Disorder Myths

In honor of NEDA’s theme, let’s talk about eating disorder myths and facts. There are many misconceptions surrounding eating disorders. I’ve asked several clinicians to share a few myths and facts.

Myth: Media is the primary cause for the development of most eating disorders. (Julie Holland, MHS, CEDS, Eating Recovery Center)

Fact: Although recent surveys have confirmed that adolescent girls get much of their health information from the media, media messages themselves are not a primary cause of eating disorders. Messages that promote an unrealistic thin ideal can set unrealistic standards regarding body size and shape. The fact is, media messages have the ability to positively or negatively affect one’s body image and/or self-image based on the message and how it is presented. It is important that we teach individuals critical thinking when looking at media images.

Myth: Eating disorders are triggered by a desire to be thin.(Emmett R. Bishop, Jr., MD, CEDS, Eating Recovery Center)

Fact: Eating disorder behaviors do not develop merely because an individual has a longing to be thin. For instance, an individual who does not know that he or she has wheat or lactose intolerance may develop a fear of food due to the discomfort or pain it causes. Someone in chemotherapy or with a gastrointestinal disorder may stop eating to avoid nausea.

Myth: Eating disorders are a choice. (Julie Holland)

Fact: Although individuals may choose to start a diet or engage in certain behaviors, eating disorders themselves are not a choice. People do not choose to have anorexia or bulimia. These disorders develop over a period of time and require various levels of treatment to address complex symptoms including medical, psychiatric and other underlying issues.

Myth: You can tell if someone has an eating disorder just by looking at them. (Marla Scanzello, MS, RD, Eating Recovery Center)

Fact: Many people with eating disorders are of normal weight, or even overweight. Weight is not a tell-all sign of an eating disorder. Furthermore, eating disorder patients can become quite skilled at hiding their disordered eating behaviors.

Myth: People with eating disorders will eat normally / recover when they choose to do so. (Dr. Ravin)

Fact: This myth implies that EDs are willful behavior and that a patient can simply make a choice to recover. Thus, it blames people with EDs for having an illness that is not their fault. Most people with EDs are not able to eat normally on their own; they require significant outside support (nutritionist, parental support in refeeding, residential tx, etc.) in order to normalize their eating habits.

Myth: Developing a positive body image is not that important in the overall recovery from an eating disorder and should be worked on towards the end of the recovery process. (Carolyn Jones)

Fact: A continued negative body image is one of the main contributing factors to a relapse in the eating recovery process. Improving a person’s body image is one of the hardest and most time-consuming things to change in the healing process and should be undertaken early during treatment.

Myth: Eating disorders are not deadly. (Kenneth L. Weiner, MD, CEDS, Eating Recovery Center)

Fact: In all actuality, it is quite the opposite. Eating disorders are the deadliest mental illness. A woman with anorexia nervosa is 5.6 times more likely to die than another woman of her same age. The most frequent causes of death from eating disorders are suicide (32 percent), complications associated with anorexia (19 percent), and cancer (11 percent). The average age of death for an individual with anorexia is only 34 years.

Myth: You can never fully recover from an eating disorder. (Julie Holland & Sarah Ravin)

Fact: According to Holland, “Recovery takes commitment, dedication, hard work and time. However, full recovery is absolutely possible through finding the appropriate treatment professionals and program.”

According to Dr. Ravin, “The people who believe this are probably those who did not receive treatment, received inadequate or low-quality treatment, lacked the necessary social support, or were never pushed to reach and maintain an ideal body weight and stay there long enough for brain healing to occur.The underlying biological predisposition will always be there, but people can and do recover fully from EDs. I’ve seen it happen many times.”

Of course you are not limited to posting this information on your social networking sites! There is a lot of great information on NEDA's website (follow this link to access their information/resources page) as well as on many other sites. Maybe you can re-post a blog, an article, or the name of a book that you have read and enjoyed about body image, eating disorders, etc... Anything that you can do to help raise awareness is meaningful. We often hear so much in the news about schizophrenia and Alzheimer's (which are both worthy of our attention), but would you be surprised to learn that eating disorders impact five times as many people as schizophrenia? And eating disorders affect double the number of people with Alzheimer's? (These statistics were taken from John Grohol, PsyD, of PsychCentral). This information does not serve to take anything away from either of these illnesses, but rather the purpose is to illustrate the prevalence of eating disorders as psychiatric illness. If you have learned anything new from this blog post (or even if you haven't!), I would encourage you in honor of this week to share something new with your families, friends and loved ones because it's time to talk about it.

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