How can we nourish a sense of balance towards food in our school-age children?
We've just come to the end of Eating Disorder Awareness Week in the UK. A time for conversation, reflection and taking stock of how we think about supporting people who struggle with problems around food.
It is well documented that eating disorders carry with them some of the highest mortality rates of any mental health problems and as such are afflictions which need serious attention. It is also evidenced that recovery is definitely possible and made more likely with early interventions, better awareness and psychological support leading to more positive outcomes.
Understanding Eating Disorders
Eating disorders are complex and can be tricky to understand particularly from up close; as when looking at an intricate image in detail, spatial warping can be experienced. From the outside looking in, eating disorders may seem entirely concerned with food, calories and close management of eating habits. In reality, living with an individual who is struggling with an eating disorder can be incredibly challenging. Witnessing the daily routine of eating becoming laden with difficult feelings can be intensely distressing for both the sufferer and the people around them.
Why do people develop Eating Disorders?
So what are eating disorders about? They are not particularly about the food itself, but rather intense, consuming feelings which overwhelm, trigger and cause the development of the illness. The right kind of support for individuals who are struggling with food and eating is to give them an opportunity to express their feelings in a safe, non-judgmental and supportive way. Cultivating this type of space provides a chance to begin to unpick these disordered thinking patterns.
Supporting young people with Eating Disorders
Therapy is a fantastic environment for fostering this kind of thinking. It is client-led and offers a chance for young people to begin reflecting and processing what is happening to them. If the right words are hard to find, then engaging in creative expressive arts within the therapy can allow ‘thinking’ to occur on a non-verbal level. This often is useful for people who are concerned with their physicality as such visceral sensations can be challenging to put into words.
As an art therapist, I facilitate creative exploration through a child’s use of art materials; dramatherapists and music therapists use the rich possibilities of their own modalities. Personally, I am instinctively drawn to thinking through my hands; they often stumble upon answers where my conscious mind has floundered and failed. I am essentially exploring and playing when I make art and much can be learned from this place of creative exploration.
Although therapeutic interventions are a much needed element of the support which we should be offering to young people affected by eating disorders, raising awareness of their difficulties is another way in which we can proactively assist in battling the issues together. By sharing our knowledge and experiences, attending regular training events and keeping an open dialogue around all forms of disordered eating, we can give the young people in our care the best chance at being able to achieve a balanced and healthy approach to food and eating.
After all, nourishment is not just about food, it is also about being emotionally available to meet the young person, where they are in the moment of need, to support and sustain them.
One Education are offering training on 5 June 2017 entitled ‘Beating Body Battles: Nourishing Minds’, an interactive training session with practical guidance for SENDCos, safeguarding leads and teachers to assist children in beating body battles, and feeling safe in a world of disordered eating and social media.