Eating Disorders - Preventing eating disorders

Many eating disorder organizations focus on prevention in their programs. That is, stopping eating disorders before they even start. The belief is that awareness and education can go a long way in preventing the onset of these painful illnesses, which can become lifelong struggles. Many eating disorder experts promote teaching prevention at a young age since eating disorders usually begin in adolescence, although there are reported cases of eating disorders starting in children as young as eight years old.

There are a few main objectives that eating disorder organizations focus on in their prevention programs. These objectives help to provide people with the tools they need to cope with the problems that may contribute to an eating disorder.

Prevention means:

  • reordering thoughts on food and weight
  • focusing on health
  • understanding the dangers of dieting
  • developing a positive body image
  • rebelling against cultural and media messages that encourage unhealthy behaviors
  • explaining why fat is not the enemy
  • helping to end fat discrimination

Reordering Thoughts about Food and Weight

Since there is enormous pressure to be thin in many cultures, including the United States, many people are dissatisfied with how they look, believing that they are inadequate and unworthy of affection or love. As a result of a negative body image, many people go on strict diets and believe that food is the enemy. However, the body needs food to survive and going on restrictive diets will only lead to an intense preoccupation with food, calories, and weight.

The first step in preventing the development of eating disorders is to reorder feelings and thoughts about food and weight. Eating disorder experts recommend that people reject unhealthy messages about weight, body shape, and diet. Since body shape and weight are determined mostly from genetics, there is only so much a person can do to control or change weight and body shape. Trying to fight against or change the body's set point (the weight at which one's body naturally falls) is unhealthy and possibly dangerous because it creates a cycle of yo-yo dieting. Research has shown that while not every diet leads to eating disorders, 80 percent of eating disorders are initially triggered by a diet. [See Chapter 1: Nutrition, for more information on body set point.]

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