The importance of food
It's a myth that eating disorders only affect young people (and girls). While the average age of onset is 13 – 24yrs, a person can develop an eating disorder at any age. Often mistaken as 'diets gone wrong’, eating disorders are, in fact, not really about food or weight.
An eating disorder is an extremely complex and destructive mental health presentation that affects every aspect of a person’s functioning – how they behave (how they feed themselves), how they think, their physical well being, and at its core, how the person feels.
Understanding Eating Disorders
Although to the outside world the focus seems to be on food and weight, for the person suffering from an eating disorder, food and weight is the way they express and manage underlying distress and turmoil. Simply put, an eating disorder is a destructive coping mechanism, something a person uses to help them to manage day to day. That’s why it is so hard for a person to change.
Everybody has coping mechanisms and most people have ones that aren’t good for them, like excess alcohol, smoking, having too much coffee. If someone tells you to stop, it’s natural to get defensive. It’s no different for someone with an eating disorder. Resistance to change is normal.
When a person develops an eating disorder the whole household is affected – no matter what age the person is. People often describe the disorder invading their house, taking it over, and ‘ruling the roost’ so to speak. Parents in particular really struggle to know what to do and often describe themselves as ‘walking on eggshells’.
Feeding their child is something they have done since birth and suddenly they lose confidence in their ability to do this and their child (no matter what age they are) no longer thinks logically about how to nourish themselves. Their child is now being controlled by this destructive disorder.
Families, and especially parents, need support to be able to cope with this situation. They can quickly move from being a parent to being a carer and find themselves dealing with a person who is ill and has developed a disorder that is complex, life-threatening and irrational. Parents need knowledge, practical information, skills and support to build resilience to help with recovery. It is absolutely possible to recover from an eating disorder and parents are often a vital part of that process.
Supporting families has been at the heart of Bodywhys, The Eating Disorders Association of Ireland, since its establishment in 1995. They have developed a family support programme – the PiLaR Programme. Based on the idea of Peer Led Resilience and running for one evening a week for four weeks, families come together to learn about eating disorders, about the mindset of a person with the disorder, communication skills, how to avoid arguments and power struggles, how to manage mealtimes, treatment and relapse, all the while allowing time and space for individual questions and support.
The programme is FREE to attend and anyone supporting a person with an eating disorder can attend.
Starting mid-September Bodywhys is running 3 programmes before Christmas, in Donegal, Dublin and Waterford.
Places are free but booking is essential (firstname.lastname@example.org). For venues and dates please see www.bodywhys.ie. Support Information: www.bodywhys.ie Helpline: 01-2107906 Email Support: email@example.com
Here is some of the feedback from the program:
"A course that if at all possible, you should try to attend if you are caring or living with someone with an eating disorder. It is a huge help."
"For all those who are faced with the life-changing situation of caring for someone with an eating disorder, this is the perfect place to start. You will leave with a different perspective and feel more equipped to care for someone and yourself."