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National Eating Disorder Awareness Week is Feb. 21 to 27

Women Urged To Talk About Life-Threatening Illness

Girls eating vegetablesMost people know that eating disorders can be life-threatening.  What most people don't know is that eating disorders cause more deaths annually than all other mental and emotional health conditions combined

That's why the Chicago-based Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center and the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) have designated the week of February 21 to 27, 2010 as National Eating Disorder Awareness Week. 

To get the conversation started, Timberline Knolls is urging women to committ set aside 30 minutes on Thursday, February 25  to learn more about eating disorders and to reach out to loved ones - daughters, sisters, nieces, mothers, friends - to talk about what can be done to help others.

According to Dr. Kim Dennis, medical director at Timberline Knolls, a residential treatment center focusing on helping women and adolescent girls deal with such complex problems as eating disorders, self-injury behavior and substance abuse, "Eating disorders are more common now than they have been in the past. We're not sure exactly why that is, whether we're simply more proficient at identifying them or whether they actually are increasing in frequency," she explained. "But it means there are more opportunities for women to conquer their disease and live healthy lives if we reach out and let them know help is available."

Female athletes: feeding the fire of denial

Eating disorders and disordered eating are commonly experienced by female athletes, but sorely under-recognized by coaches, teachers, parents, therapists and physicians. "In my clinical experience, says Dr. Dennis, "the level of institutional denial of eating disorders in athletes exceeds that of non-athlete females with eating disorders. The fire of denial can be fed by coaches who rely on the exceptional talent and extreme drive for success that many athletes possess to win games, titles, and awards. When a female athlete is still winning or competing and ill, it may be easier to disavow an active problem with food or eating."

Dr. Dennis continues: "Another character trait that has been shown by clinical research to be abundantly present in patients with eating disorders is perfectionism. Competitive athletes rely on precision and 'perfect' execution of planned movements, behaviors, and training rituals in order to succeed and win. Competitiveness itself is another trait commonly seen in individuals with eating disorders. And this can be fueled by coaches who expect perfect."

Tips for coaches and administrators

Dr. Dennis advises coaches and sports administrators to:

  • provide education around prevention and recognition of eating disorders particularly to staff and coaches for female athletes;
  • provide education around prevention and recognition of eating disorders to female athletes; 
  • make appropriate treatment recommendations for athletes who are suspected of having an illness; 
  • work with treatment team professionals to set clear expectations around necessary recovery parameters to resume or maintain athletic participation; 
  • foster a culture of safety around the athlete asking for help and expressing concerns about weight; 
  • allow for and enable a female athlete to express when a training schedule feels like too much or feels too intense; and
  • be part of the solution, rather than part of the problem (denial, shaming, etc.).=

Encouraging positive body image

In light of news from the First Lady on fighting obesity, Timberline Knolls encourages to recognize the pressures, attitudes and behaviors that shape the illness. "NEDA Week is just one way to wage the war on unrealistic, body-perfect expectations," said Dr. Dennis. "Our goal is to work to prevent eating disorders and body image issues, and improve access to treatment."

Activities during NEDA Week across the country will encourage positive body image, including among the residents and staff of Timberline Knolls. Opening day ceremonies kick-off with a "Declaration of Independence" signing by the entire Timberline Knolls community and residents. The oversized document declares that "the beauty within ourselves is hidden but soon will be found," calling for "a happy life" because "struggles make us stronger." Featured speakers include Dr. Dennis and Timberline Knolls alumni returning from as far as New York.

Local students from Oak Park River Forest High School also have the chance to participate in the "Chat Challenge" when Timberline Knolls program coordinator Loreta Stavskiene visits their campus on Thursday, February 25, from 3 - 4 p.m. to discuss the challenges of teen life and the prevalence of eating disorders, much in part due to unrealistic body images.

Other activities at Timberline Knolls throughout the week include a music performance by recording artist Todd Warren, a unique kitchen tour and scavenger hunt and dance activities such as Nia dance and hip-hop. Closing ceremonies will feature an alumni performance.

"It's vital that people everywhere become aware of how severe and common eating disorders have become," said Dr. Dennis. "It is only through awareness that we can begin to see the warning signs in loved ones and intervene early in order to stop the deadly cycle of this disease. Believe you can help someone and do just one thing. It can make a difference."

Source: Timberlane Knolls

Created February 17, 2010