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National Eating Disorder Awareness Week Encourages Education, Empathy

National Eating Disorder Awareness week is February 26- March 3, reminding us that as many as 10 million Americans continue to suffer from eating disorders every day. Often, the first line of defense lies with physicians and healthcare workers

PRLog - Feb. 23, 2012 - NEW YORK (Feb. 24, 2012) –  National Eating Disorder Awareness week, running February 26- March 3, reminds us that as many as 10 million Americans continue to suffer from eating disorders every day. It is not uncommon for family and friends to feel powerless when their loved ones are afflicted. But many times, the first line of defense lies with physicians and healthcare workers.

Dr. Judy Scheel, Ph.D., the founder and executive director of CEDAR Associates, a private outpatient practice specializing in the treatment of eating disorders and other self-harming behaviors, and author of When Food is Family: A Loving Approach to Heal Eating Disorders, notes the important roles doctors take in diagnosing those with eating disorders and encouraging them to seek treatment.

“The causes of eating disorders are complex and unique, and seeking help is generally fraught with conflict and ambivalence,” said Dr. Scheel. “Physicians have numerous medical issues to contend with when faced with a patient with an eating disorder and the patients are labor intensive, due to the complexity in diagnosing, making appropriate interventions and the need for frequent follow-up care.”  

According to Scheel, eating disorders are a way to express behaviorally what cannot be expressed emotionally and verbally. Therefore, medical practitioners are often at loss about how to speak to and relate to eating disorder patients.

“Even the most well informed, clinically astute physician often does not know how to engage with eating disorder patients, especially if they are medically compromised yet still are determined to thwart all treatment efforts,” added Scheel. “The need for medical practitioners to react to patients in a thoughtful, non-punishing and clinically astute manner is sometimes hampered by an inability to fully understand the psychological complexities of eating disorders.”

In response, Dr. Scheel offers the following tips to help physicians have a successful engagement with patients:
•   Check your emotions before, during and after meeting with the patient. Negative reactions, such as anger or frustration, can hinder the patient’s ability to trust a physician. Measured, controlled or sometimes concealed responses are most helpful for the patient.
•   Remember that eating disorders are not the patient’s fault and that the patient most likely has deep-seated trust issues and very low self-esteem. Furthermore, recovery is a parallel process of symptom reduction and meaningful psychological change. Trusting physicians is central to creating an environment for recovery.
•   Physicians can facilitate safety and trust by letting patients know what they are thinking, what their concerns are and why they are making specific recommendations. This helps the patient to feel more like an ally in the recovery process and reduces the chance that a patient feels patronized, manipulated or coerced.
•   Physicians who are uncomfortable providing treatment can refer to a specialist who treats eating disorders. Often, the patient can be treated by the specialist and then returned to the primary physician when all parties concur that the eating disorder symptoms have been eliminated.

A member of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), Academy for Eating Disorders (AED), and the Eating Disorders Coalition, Dr. Scheel emphasizes the importance of mutual respect, empathy, trust and the need to live authentically in eating-disorder treatment approaches. Dr. Scheel has been treating eating disorders for more than 20 years and is a contributing blogger on http://PsychologyToday.com.

About Cedar Associates
CEDAR Associates is a multi-disciplinary private group practice for the treatment of a full range of mental health issues for individuals and their family. CEDAR Associates specializes in the prevention and treatment of eating disorders and the problems that often accompany them including depression, self-harm, anxiety, relational issues, sexual and physical trauma and body image issues.

About When Food is Family
When Food is Family, published by Idyll Arbor, details how early childhood relationships play a role in the development of an eating disorder. This book is based on the framework of Attachment Theory – that emotional support, understanding, empathy, and acceptance during a child’s development set the foundation for self-esteem and self-worth throughout life.

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