So, February 24-March 2 is known as National Eating Disorder Awareness (NEDA) Week. This week long period is dedicated to the PREVENTION of eating disorders. Which makes sense. Prevention is the hot topic in all other areas of health. It’s the new trendy thing in health care, and for good reason. You don’t wait till you get athersclerosis- you behave in a certain way in order to prevent it. You don’t smoke for years and then try and treat the lung cancer that inevitably results. How effective is that?! You don’t smoke in the first place, or you quick ASAP. Kind of a ‘duh,’ right? Well, the same thing is true with eating disorders… and really many other psychological conditions which fall along the mental health spectrum. Prevention is so, so, SO much easier than treatment.
ED thoughts/tendencies and behaviours start years before a full-blown ED results. The trick is to spot them, or spot the susceptible individuals.
Ok, so…Let’s discuss some super early warning signs that may make one susceptible to developing an ED:
- An anxious child and/or one who suffers from separation anxiety (especially from the Mother)
- A perfectionist child
- A child who never wants to do anything wrong and gets upset when they do
- A child that always wants to please/makes everyone happy
- A child who requires more praise and attention than others
- A child that is always told how well-behaved they are my school teachers, sports coaches etc.
- A child deemed to be ‘overly sensitive’
Ok, so these are red flags that you see very early on. I’m talking 5-10 years of age. Of course, not every child with anxiety or what have you develops an ED. No. Not at all. What I am saying though is that if you pair this kind of personality with the behaviours below, you’re in for a rough time. Now, around age 11 or 12 if you see/notice…
- Body conscious/mentions body
- Talks a lot about food
- Develops interest in foods/diets and begins researching online or in books
- Starts to count calories or just take note of calorie counts in foods
Notice above, that no behaviours are changing, or not anything dramatic yet. Just a veering towards a dark road.
Ok, so, logic would dictate that you pair an anxious, perfectionistic child with an interest with food/diets/calories, you kind of have the perfect storm, no? YES.
Around age 13-16…
- Begins to diet, even though already at a healthy/thin weight
- Minor weight loss (</=10 lbs)
- Calorie counting and measuring foods
- Eliminating foods from diet (could be just things deemed as ‘treats,’ or whole food groups)
- Develops an interest in exercise, specifically cardio which is the most satisfying as it provides them with the biggest boost from seeing the calories burned
- Skipping whole meals/saying they already ate at place X/saying they’re not hungry
- Having to eat at certain times (ie. cannot eat past 7pm)
- Small meal sizes, only eating low cal/low fat foods
Clearly, we are headed down a bad, bad path. If you didn’t catch it earlier on, CATCH IT NOW.
You see where I’m going with this. I don’t think I even need to finish. You just continue to watch a downward spiral- restricting further, no period, no social life. Paradoxically, individuals with ED’s typically continue to excel in school and competitive extra-curriculars until they are simply too sick and physically unable to.
Basically, the point of this post is this: ED’s do not develop over night.
The same way that heart disease doesn’t. It takes years and years. Catch either one earlier on, and your chance of recovery is much greater. Trying to treat, even more difficult. At least with atherosclerosis, Dr’s have a ton of control and can perform an angioplasty, put you on medication