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Ellern Mede Eating Disorders Dietitian, Oliver Street, re-launched our talks for schools programme on 30th October at the International Community School (ICS) in London.

ICS Well being Coordinator, Annalise Taylor, invited Ellern Mede to talk to parents and teachers in the secondary school age group about spotting the signs of an eating disorder in young people at the earliest stages as well as about healthy approaches to nutrition. This is a regular parent-teacher session which covers topics of interest.

Good feedback

“We had really good feedback from the parents and teachers who attended. One of them had personal experience of a child with an eating disorder and found it very helpful. Others were keen to be educated to spot any signs before it could become a more serious problem and to know when they should be concerned, what sort of energy levels are right for a young person. I think most people didn’t realise just how much calorie intake is necessary for a growing teenager.”

Oliver Street outlined some of the aspects of the discussion:

  • a lot of teenagers struggle with body dissatisfaction and disordered eating
  • some people will not just be picky eaters but could be at risk of developing an eating disorder
  • views on what is ‘normal’ eating for teenagers
  • the reasons why teenagers have such high nutritional requirements
  • the importance of encouraging fun food even although there is an increasing number of health warnings around these types of foods
  • how to talk to a teenager who you are worried about
  • the different parenting styles in the Maudsley approach and why the Dolphin and St Bernard approaches are the most recommended. See more on this below.

The Maudsley approach, developed at South London and Maudsley Hospital, is well publicised and a central figure to this work is Dr Janet Treasure.

Maudsley’s Dolphin approach

In published work, Dr Treasure explains: “The ideal caregiver type is The Dolphin. This caregiver offers “gentle guidance,” keeps charges safe, models good coping behaviours, sticks to a non-negotiable bottom line of accepted behaviours, but “goes easier on the rest.” It’s so easy for caregivers to be bullied by the eating disorders, or to martyr oneself for the family, or enabling the disorder by covering up the problem. The key to becoming a gentle Dolphin caregiver is to get the kind of education and skills that good eating disorders programmes teach.

“We want you to aspire to be a St Bernard for warmth and compassion in the face of danger and a Dolphin for its wisdom and hands off form of support.

“The dolphin gives just enough caring and control. Imagine your loved one is at sea. The eating disorder identity is his/ her life vest. She/he is unwilling to give up the safety of this life vest whilst living in the frozen wasteland of the eating disorder. You are the dolphin, nudging her/him to safety, at times swimming ahead, leading the way, showing them new vistas, at other times swimming alongside with encouragement, or even quietly swimming behind, showing trust and confidence.

“The St Bernard offers just enough compassion and consistency. This involves accepting and processing the pain resulting from what is lost through the eating disorder and developing reserves of kindness, gentleness and love. The St Bernard instils hope in your loved one that they can change; that there is a future full of possibility beyond the eating disorder.” To read the full Maudsley paper on animal analogies click here.

ICS is a co-educational international school in Marylebone, London which teaches children up to age 18.

Ellern Mede’s public health talks on eating disorders are a great addition to a school’s mental health or health and well being curriculum and assist teachers who have a dual role as a mental health lead. We are an independent organisation and are willing to arrange talks with any schools in London in the interest of promoting early diagnosis and early intervention in eating disorders. If you are interested in arranging a talk please email [email protected]