Using personal stories to destigmatize and address eating disorders

The weeklong campaign, running now, aims resources and assistance at patients and their families through videos, social media, online screening tools and more.

Anyone can suffer from an eating disorder.

Neesha Arter is an author. “My eating disorder was a way to regain control after losing it when I was sexually assaulted,” she says.

Iskra Lawrence is a model. “The way you feel when you’re in that place—it’s completely lost,” she says. “You don’t know if there’s a way out and you don’t feel like you can ask anyone for help.”

Rachel Paoletta is a journalist. “I didn’t know anyone else who was struggling,” she says, “so I didn’t know who to reach out to.”

They and others speak candidly about their struggles with food issues in this 2017 video from the National Eating Disorders Association:

They also thank the friends and family members who have helped them overcome their affliction.

For National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, Feb. 26 to March 4, the National Eating Disorders Association is shining this year’s spotlight on eating disorders and putting lifesaving resources into the hands of those in need.

Candor is key

This year’s theme, “Let’s Get Real,” encourages people to start the conversation about eating disorders and work together with NEDA to end the stigma surrounding them.

As NEDA’s Chelsea Kronengold says, “We aim to engage people of all ages, races, ethnicities, abilities, sexualities, gender identities and backgrounds.”

National Eating Disorders Awareness Week (#NEDAwareness) is a collective effort of professionals, health care providers, students, educators, organizations and individuals committed to raising awareness of eating disorders. NEDA also forges partnerships with organizations outside the eating disorders field, including universities, corporations and other mental and public health organizations.

Colleges in particular are supporting the effort:

  • Oklahoma University is emphasizing body positivity with a screening of ” Embrace: The Documentary,” followed by a panel of dietitian nutritionists, a doctor, an eating disorder survivor and counselors. The film explores “why poor body image has become a global epidemic and what women everywhere can do to have a brighter future.”
  • St. John Fisher College is screening a different documentary, ” America the Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments.” The film “examines the cause of society’s obsession with dieting and weighs in passionately and humorously on the raging debate between doctors who say fat is healthy versus those who disagree.”
  • The University of Southern Maine offers statistics about eating disorders here, including data that 10 million men and 20 million women will develop an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

NEDA’s information is based on the latest research in collaboration with its clinical advisors. It also incorporates feedback from families and individuals on what resources would be most useful for them.

Tackling the issue of eating disorders can be tricky. Abstinence, though difficult, can quash alcohol or drug abuse, but giving up food outright is not an option; everyone has to eat.

That’s why NEDA encourages folks who are struggling to seek help from a professional who specializes in body image and eating concerns.

NEDA also offers an online screening tool that takes as little three minutes to complete for people to learn whether it’s time to seek professional help: www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/screening-tool.

The digital push

Getting the message out is a multipronged effort, Kronengold says: “We publish blog posts, host twitter chats, manage a database of awareness events, organize and track landmarks across the country lighting up in NEDA colors (blue and green), and more.”

Because it’s a virtual campaign, dissemination of information occurs mainly through social media, downloadable materials and third-party events. Most materials can be accessed on the “Posters, Videos, and Resources” section of the NEDAwareness Week website.

A “Marginalized Voices” Twitter chat centers on the perspectives of communities that have long been marginalized in the eating disorders field. NEDA also encourages people to join the conversation about food, body image and exercise issues on social media with the #NEDAwareness hashtag.

NEDA has also created a fun, Buzzfeed-style quiz to open up the conversation about eating disorders and encourage people to share their unique perspectives on food and body image issues.

To gauge the effectiveness of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, NEDA measures social media impressions, website traffic, community outreach, and help-seeking behavior via helpline traffic and numbers using the online screening tool.

Results from 2017 include:

  • More than 530 million total media impressions
  • A 49 percent increase in NEDA website traffic, with 151,570 unique users
  • An 82 percent increase in partners from 2016
  • A staggering 334 organizations signing on as official NEDAwareness Week partners, including Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and more
  • A 22 increase in helpline traffic

“Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental disorder,” Kronengold says, “but recovery is absolutely possible and early intervention greatly improves the chances of success.”

(Image via)

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