Can we ever beat eating disorders?

dJmusAWBiMSbhcN-800x450-noPadIt’s British Pie Week and soon it will be National Cereal Day. Chances are that whenever you read this blog, there will be an awareness day, week or month in flow.

It is modern trait to colonise part of a calendar to push an interest or a cause but they make convenient marketing springboards into our consciences and the opportunity to trigger emotional responses.

Nothing wrong with that but the calendar has become pock-marked with prospectors’ stakes for commercial gain and the rush to claim a day has created the discordant dating that places pie and cereal celebrations immediately after Eating Disorders Week in the UK.

And that is a perfect example of the scale of issue facing valiant people fighting eating disorders and the campaigners and health workers striving to combat the complex personal issues involved and to promote wider understanding. Progress is followed by a slap in the face with a pie.

The advertising spend and marketing reach of big food companies is truly impressive or terrifying depending on who pays your wages. Spending on junk food advertising is 30 times greater than the government spend on promoting healthy eating, according to research by the Obesity Health Alliance. But that is only part of the story.

There are complex personal factors involved in eating disorders but it seems that few moments are free from the mental assault of seductive imagery because that spending power washes over the psychological touch points that influence how we feel about our personalities and appearance.

Try this experiment: how many pieces of advertising that seek to impact your appearance (i.e. your body shape and size) do you encounter during a routine day? Check out what the people look like; are they ‘slim’, ‘toned’, ‘attractive’ and ‘happy’? This is not just fashion and food, it is all the adverts that carry an undertone, or even blatant, message that there is a way to look. We probably don’t register this kaleidoscope of imagery that flashes across our peripheral vision but the brain clocks them, stores them and builds a bigger picture.

Just try it out; count the ads, the images and be surprised….and maybe a bit disturbed.

Add to this mix, the accelerant of social media; the photos and behaviours freighted with extra toxicity because they come from a supposed peer group, even if you’ve never met them or understand what personal challenges may simmer behind these perfectly staged images. Its a mega-pixel moment that disguises the truth.

The ads and social media are essentially telling us how to be better, happier and prettier, according to Camille Williams, writing for the Eating Disorder Hope charity in the US.  Her excellent work and advocacy, like that of many, seeks to promote freedom from the advertising sales tactics which can needle away at our self esteem.

But it is a tough job to resist the impulses about how we should look and behave that are drip-fed into our lives. Awareness and education are crucial along with government funding for schemes that can make a genuine difference which is why awareness days, weeks and months do have a legitimate place on the calendar.

Eating Disorders Week, organised by beat, the UK’s eating disorders charity, presented some profound research and inspiring testimony that has given hope to many. It put a range of conditions in the spotlight and helped dispel stereotypes, demonstrating clearly that disorders do not discriminate and that swift, focussed support can lead to transformative results.

Its aims were not just a commercial jack-up – like the intention of the pie and cereals worlds. They are part of strategy to have a genuine, positive impact on peoples’ lives. Its commitment continues across the other 51 weeks.

And it is needed. While advertising runs virtually unchecked, some clinics and hospitals in the UK are still turning people away because they are not ‘thin enough’, virtually incentivising anorexia.

Campaigner Hope Virgo’s (@HopeVirgo) drive to stop this iniquitous health issue is gathering pace with her effective DumpTheScales petition. Her bravery and relentless effort to help others exemplifies the massive changes needed to give everyone a fighting chance of combatting mental health conditions stoked by advertising and marketing billions.

Sign the petition here so these issues are debated fully and people are not turned away from treatment they desperately need.



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