There is no sure way to prevent anorexia. While we know some of the causes of anorexia which those who develop the condition seem to share, there are too many variables to predict anorexia before the behavior actually emerges. What you can’t predict, you can’t prevent.
With that in mind, understanding the disorder does give us some broad ways to lessen the risk. And even more important, when eating disorders do develop, early treatment is thought to be more effective in changing the habit.
General prevention tips
Since anorexia (and other eating disorders) is defined by an abnormal relationship with food and fears about weight gain, vulnerable populations (adolescent females topping the list) are well-served by learning healthy eating habits early on.
Healthy in this sense doesn’t mean anything spectacular, just regular meals based on the food pyramid with normal portions. One of the dangers is that focusing too much on food makes it a target for the victim to also focus on. The balance is to be aware of meals without being meticulous or rigid about it.
Avoid adopting cultural norms about being thin. Unfortunately, young women often want to emulate those who are seen as successful, attractive and who are often presented as very thin.
Sometimes it’s part of the job description for an actress or model to be extremely thin – the camera really does add 20 pounds. Young women especially need to be made aware that magazine photos are airbrushed and Photoshopped to create false images of perfection that not only aren’t true, but if they were, would be unhealthy and even dangerous.
A drive toward perfection is a sign of compulsive disorders generally, and when the compulsion is linked to some “ideal” body image, anorexia or another eating disorder can result.
Educate by talking about anorexia and extreme weight loss. Remember, those who adopt the behavior think it’s an admirable thing – they work hard to achieve the goal they have in mind. Only by reshaping anorexia as a disease and something foul can it be shifted from the “something I want” to “something I want to avoid.”
Some of the best examples come from celebrities who have suffered from the disease. Pictures of the skeletal, wasted appearance resulting from anorexia are truly horrific. This is the natural end point for the anorectic, so confronting this might keep someone from adopting the behavior.
The bottom line is this: If you suspect someone is starting down the path toward an eating disorder, don’t wait – get professional advice.