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The Role of Occupational Therapy in Adolescent Eating Disorders

Guest Blogger: Carolyn Rocca, Student Occupational Therapist, 2017

According to Statistics Canada, in 2012 over 130,000 Canadians over the age of 15 years old reported that they have been diagnosed by a health professional as having an eating disorder. Considering these high rates, and the likely underestimation of reported diagnoses, eating disorders remain a form of mental illness that are not openly talked about.

Eating disorder is an umbrella term for several categories of diagnoses, with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and eating disorders not otherwise specified being the most common. Although symptoms vary based on the diagnosis, some overall symptoms experienced with eating disorders include a pre-occupation with body weight, body dissatisfaction, behaviours to prevent weight gain, perfectionism, emotional dysregulation, depressed mood (including suicidality), anxiety, and low self-esteem. Naturally, these symptoms can lead to secondary impacts such as physical adverse effects, social isolation, and a compromise of occupation in the areas of self-care, daily living, leisure, and productivity (NCCMH, 2004).

The treatment and recovery of adolescents with eating disorders involves the collective work of many healthcare professionals including physicians, dietitians, nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, teachers, child and youth counselors, and, yes, occupational therapists (Norris et al., 2013). Each of these team members works collaboratively to deliver the best practice approaches of pharmacotherapy, nutritional rehabilitation, and psychosocial interventions, including cognitive behavioural, dialectical behavioural, interpersonal, and family based therapies, among others (APA, 2006; NCCMH, 2004). Several of the healthcare professionals working with adolescents with eating disorders can deliver these therapies, including occupational therapists.

This means that occupational therapists work effectively with several disciplines to deliver best practice approaches, while also integrating their unique focus on occupational functioning to the team. Occupational therapists’ unique contribution is their ability to holistically address the physical, cognitive, behavioural, and psychosocial aspects of adolescent eating disorders through occupation-based approaches to improve adolescents’ self-worth and self-esteem (Kloczko & Ikiugu, 2006). As mentioned previously, eating disorders commonly have a substantial impact on adolescents’ function in the areas of leisure, self-care, daily living, and productivity (NCCMH, 2004), meaning many youth have difficulty balancing their family and social lives, education, employment, extra-curricular participation, ability to regulate their own activities, and thus overall health.

Occupational therapists have the expertise to work closely with adolescents and their family to help them with their goals around succeeding in school, work, leisure, and overall re-engagement in meaningful activities. In fact, Occupational Therapists are skilled at using meaningful activities as a vessel to get to the underlying problem of the eating disorder.  Sessions don’t focus on eating, food or binging behavior, but on being productive, enjoying life, and accomplishing things that matter.  The indirect influence is better choices in other areas (including diet) and recognizing the link between mental and physical health, quality of life and wellness.

If you know a teen (or adult for that matter) that may be dealing with an eating disorder, encourage them get help.  There is a team of professionals, including occupational therapy, that are skilled at assisting teens to recover from these, and other mental health issues.

 

References & Resources:

American Psychiatric Association (APA). (2006). Practice guideline for the treatment of patients with eating disorders (3rd ed). Retrieved from https://www.guideline.gov/summaries/summary/9318/practice-guideline-for-the-treatment-of-patients-with-eating-disorders

Kloczko, E., & Ikiugu, M. N. (2006). The role of occupational therapy in the treatment of adolescents with eating disorders as perceived by mental health therapists. Occupational Therapy in Mental Health, 22(1), 63-83. doi:10.1300/J004v22n01_05

National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (NCCMH). (2004). Eating disorders: Core interventions in the treatment and management of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and related eating disorders. Retrieved from https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg9/evidence

Norris, M., Strike, M., Pinhas, L., Gomez, R., Elliott, A., Ferguson, P., & Gusella, J. (2013). The Canadian eating disorder program survey–exploring intensive treatment programs for youth with eating disorders. Journal of the Canadian Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 22(4), 310.

Statistics Canada: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/82-619-m/2012004/sections/sectiond-eng.htm

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Don’t Dismiss the Basics– Handwriting is Still Important

Though we live in a digital age we should not simply dismiss the things that generations before us used to communicate:  such as face to face conversation, pen and paper, and handwriting.  Handwriting, though taught less frequently across the globe, has many benefits beyond the simple development of motor skills.  Take a look at the following from The New York Times that discusses why handwriting is still an essential part of learning, growth and development.

The New York Times:  Why Handwriting Is Still Essential in the Keyboard Age

Additionally learn how Occupational Therapists provide solutions for printing and handwriting success in the following OT-V episode.

 

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This Year’s Healthiest Play List

It’s Canada’s 150th Birthday and Participaction is celebrating by encouraging Canadians to get healthy by taking part in the 150 Play List.   The 150 Play List is comprised of 150 fun and truly Canadian activities you are encouraged to try this year.  Visit the Participaction website to sign-up, track your activities, earn rewards and more.

Participaction 150 Play List

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Recognizing Mental Illness in Children

According to The Canadian Mental Health Association “it is estimated that 10-20% of Canadian youth are affected by a mental illness or disorder – the single most disabling group of disorders worldwide.”  Parents can often easily identify and seek help for physical problems in their children, but mental illness can be harder to recognize.  The following from Psychology Today provides changes and signs to watch for, and advice on how to seek help for a child.

Psychology Today:  13 Concerning Signs of Mental Illness in a Child

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Selfies and Your Self-Esteem

Selifies are everywhere!  In fact, they are now even in the Oxford Dictionary which defines the term ‘selfie’ as: “ a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media.

Why are selfies so popular?  Why do we post them?  Some find them narcissistic, others simply a means of creative expression.  Many, especially young millennials, find them fun to do.  With their dominance on social media people are starting to wonder what motivates people to take a selfie and what impact posting one has on self-esteem?

The following from CNN discusses conflicting studies on whether posting selfies is good or harmful to your self-esteem.  Check it out here and let us know what you think– To selfie or not to selfie?

CNN:  Selfies hurt self-esteem. No, they help. Scientists can’t make up their minds

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Active Kids of All Abilities

During the winter months kids, and adults, tend to be less active as we are often kept inside sheltered from the cold and harsh weather.  Keeping active is necessary for your body and mind and can help to ward off Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and the winter blues.  Though many activities do exist, it can often be difficult to find suitable activities for children with disabilities.  The Canadian Paralympic Committee has launched a site to help families, educators and medical professionals locate activity plans and providers in their area for children with disabilities.  Check it out today!

Canadian Paralympic Committee:  Find An Activity

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Patience, not Pressure Help A Picky Eater

Occupational therapists often help to address the common issue of picky eating.  An important strategy used to help expand a child’s food repertoire and make mealtime more enjoyable is to remove the pressure!   All meal time experiences should be kept positive to allow for the development of a positive association with food. Keep meal time playful and fun with no coercion or pressure to consume anything and this positive meal time environment will create the necessary foundation for food exploration.

The following article written by Casey Seidenberg, a Mother and Nutrition Counsellor, discusses how lifting the pressure worked for her family.  Check it out here and learn more of her secrets to success!

Independent:  Why you shouldn’t lecture your children about healthy eating

Learn more about resolving the picky eating problem in our informative OT-V Video:  Solutions For Picky Eaters.

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Parents Call For a Change in Public Opinion

A recent survey suggests that 45% of Canadians believe children with disabilities lead less fulfilling lives.  However, this is certainly not the case.  While there may be increased struggles, families with disabled children are asking the public to change their views.  Learn more in the following article from CTV News.

CTV News:  Canadians urged to rethink their view of kids with disabilities