Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Useful?

Eating Disorder Awareness Week. Time To Go.

It is about to hit us. Or did it come and go? Whatever, I think it is time to be stopped. Years ago, no one knew anything about eating disorders.  No one understood and knew how to recognise the signs and symptoms in either themselves or other people. This is no longer true.

I agree that people with eating disorders are stigmatised. ED awareness hasn’t changed that. In fact, I fear that ED awareness week normalises eating disorders and can make them “cooler”. Even doctors regard people with bulimia as young and silly; They regard anorexia as a vanity illness suffered by wilful and irrational people. The public still regards compulsive eaters as weak. The new rash of articles about men with eating disorders is helping to bring sufferers into treatment but these articles don’t change the general image of people with eating disorders as being mentally ill. Parents want to keep their children away from someone with an eating disorder in case of infection. You wouldn’t want to ask them home for tea.

Well-meaning people in their hundreds go into schools to teach Health and Education studies about eating disorders. We KNOW that this is not a useful way to do prevention. It does little to change the incidence of problems. In some cases makes the situation worse by sensitising vulnerable girls and boys about issues of food and weight.

Eating disorder activists don’t like to read this; but I publish the evidence in good faith. I know what kind of prevention doesn’t work. Many times I have tried to persuade a former ED sufferer not to go into schools to warn about the dangers of self-starvation or purging. If you tell someone not to do something, chances are they will.

When people with eating disorders get to an investigative journalist, they are portrayed in sensationalist ways. Does this help? Or does it enhance a sense of disgust and revulsion among onlookers.  You even get a chance to hear about purging in 3D.  Let’s face it, the symptoms of an eating disorder are unpleasant; people do terrible, unbelievable things to themselves because of their apparent fears of fatness.

People respond to this with fear and disgust rather than compassion.

I really get cross about eating disorder charities that run Marathons to raise eating disorder awareness. It’s one more excuse for sufferers to burn calories to remain thin. Why not do some good in local communities like pick up the trash or clean the beaches?

And, I’m worried about fetishism of eating distress. I wonder why we don’t have Depression Awareness Week, or Borderline Personality Disorder Awareness week? Self-harm awareness week? There are enough mental illnesses these days to occupy our thoughts every day.

What is this going to do to people who aren’t suffering from a mental health disorder? Feel left out?

Let’s have an informed debate about what it is helpful to communicate – such as who is really qualified to help people with eating disorders; or, how to help schools develop an eating disorder policy to protect the healthy as well as the ill.  Or how to encourage young people to ask for help if they are unhappy – that usually goes before an eating disorder sets in.

I’m game for a reasonable discussion about this – contact admin@ncfed,com  or reply on our Facebook page if you disagree.