Dr. Sarah Elison

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Dr Sarah Elison PhD, Academic Psychologist wrote:


It’s estimated that around 1.1 million people in the UK currently have an eating disorder, with the majority of these people being between the ages of 14 – 25. Recent figures also show that 1 in every 20 young women will at some point display eating habits that cause concern amongst their friends and family. This means that most people will know, whether they realise it or not, someone who has had, or currently is in the grips of, an eating disorder of some kind.

By their very nature eating disorders are secretive creatures. Most people with an eating disorder become very skilled at hiding their difficulties from the outside world. This means that the experience is a very isolating, lonely one, which can cause the individual affected to further withdraw from the people that care about them. All too quickly the eating disorder takes such a powerful hold that before long it has the individual affected convinced that they, the eating disorder, is their only true ‘friend’.

Our understanding of the causes of eating disorders has rapidly expanded in recent decades, and we now know that these causes come from a wide range of sources. Often societal pressures and expectations about the ‘body beautiful’ are involved, and it is this that has been blamed for the worrying increases in the numbers of people experiencing eating disorders, and the alarmingly young age at which children are developing these problems.

However, when you explore each individual’s ‘journey’ into their eating disorder the same common threads are usually discovered. Feelings of low self-esteem and self-worth from childhood, a tendency towards perfection and self-criticism, and relationship difficulties within the family system are all common causes of eating disorders. Yet each individual’s journey is also in its own way unique, which is perhaps the reason why there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to treatment of them.

What may work for one individual may not work for others, and there a range of treatment approaches out there, it’s just about finding the combination of treatments that works best for each individual. Counselling, cognitive-behavioural therapy, group and peer support, medications and inpatient treatment have all benefited many individuals on their road to recovery, a road that can be a difficult and long one. Recent research has shown that it takes around 7 years for someone to fully recover from an eating disorder such as anorexia, and often what is most important on the journey to recovery is having the strength to keep going even when you feel you’ll never be free.

This is something I have my own first-hand experience of, as the majority of my 20’s were spent overcoming anorexia that first took hold at the age of 11. If as a teenager I had been given the information and support Project Dare workshops contain I may have been able to develop a healthier relationship with my body, and with food, that might have prevented me from travelling down the road to anorexia, and subsequently the long, road to recovery.

Project Dare workshops are unique as they specifically support each individual person to nurture a positive relationship with themselves, and to care for and celebrate their body and mind. It is this kind of holistic, preventative support that people need, and exactly the kind of approach that is required if we are going to impact on the shocking statistics around eating disorders.


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