As part of LifeLine*, I went to a training session the other night about eating disorders; anorexia and bulimia. Overeating was touched on too but wasn't the focus of the evening. It was fascinating. Some of the things that came out of it:
1. Early occurrences of anorexia, in the 13th century and earlier, were associated with religious purity and fasting. If you could resist the base urge to eat then you must be more godly.
2. Traditionally they have been female disorders but more and more men are being diagnosed with them.
3. A survey found 50% of primary school children wanted to weigh less and 25% have dieted.
4. 99% of women aged 18-35 years old are larger than the standard shop mannequin.
5. It is not physically possibly for a woman to match the measurement ratios of a Barbie Doll.
6. Nowadays young girls see more images of outstandingly beautiful women in a day than their mothers saw in their entire adolescence.
All interesting stuff. Unfortunately all these things conspire to keep women on an eternal treadmill, in search of the 'ideal' weight, along with the beauty, happiness and friends that it is supposed to bring with it. The sad part is that the treatment of anorexia and, to a lesser extent bulimia, is very difficult as the patient refuses to believe that they have a problem. So that brought up an interesting strategy.
The first step is something that applies to all conditions: don't label people as the problem. A person is not an 'anorexic', they are someone 'living with anorexia'. We were then taken through a process where we ask the patient if we could interview the problem.
"Could I have a conversation with just that part of you that is the Anorexia? This means you get the chance to just sit back and listen to us talk, is that okay with you?"
It sound bizarre but it can work really well. You can ask the problem when it came, how it helps the patient, how it hinders the patient, what it would like to change, when it will know that it is time to leave. It can be a revelation for the patient and yet they are answering the questions!
It does not have to be limited to eating disorders, of course. Any habit or condition can, theoretically, be interviewed the same way.
*Curious in some respects, as a characteristic of anorexia is denial that there is a problem so they would never call LifeLine.