Canary In The Coal Mine

Quite fantastic ABC News piece on Eating Disorders.  The piece highlights some of the barriers families face in securing proper early diagnosis and treatment.  The piece also highlights the power of parents as early warning systems.

Parents are the canaries in the coal mines when it comes to early identification. Knowing our children as we do, we are typically the first to notice the early symptoms and presenting features of eating disorders.  We are especially sensitive to changes in mood, temperament and behaviour and we often pick up something is amiss prior to specific weight or food related symptoms surfacing.  Heck, we see it even when we don't know exactly what it is we are seeing and we do what we do naturally:  We smell the methane and we warn.  Canaries.

This is where the early warning system breaks down.  We sound the alarm but, frustratingly, it can feel like we are screaming in the wind.

Here is the thing, Primary Care Physicians who do not have experience with eating disorders:  If we are sitting in your office expressing concern over something food/eating related-  assume something is wrong.  Assume something is very wrong.  Know that, more likely than not, we have been for some time feeling that 'something is not quite right'.  Know that we have, more likely than not, been for some time attributing seemingly unrelated physical and psychological complaints to 'something else'. Know that we have hesitated to even think the term 'eating disorder' until it has become so plain that we can do nothing but.  Know that if we are there it is because later stage behavioural symptoms (likely food and weight related) have surfaced.  Know this and err on the side of pushing the red button.  Thank us for pre-screening (I am not being facetious, really I mean it, thank us for catching it as soon as we did) and get the treatment piece in place.

Lost time is not benign.  We know that early detection and intervention improves prognosis.  We know that left unattended eating disorders can become debilitating and, help us out, listen to us when we are still singing.....not when we are on our backs in the cage.

Two studies on Early Intervention:

Early identification and treatment of eating disorders: prodrome to syndrome

Early intervention in eating disorders: a parent group approach.


  1. Print this post and take it with you to the Doctor's office.

  2. Lisa, well put! We were luck to have a NP in our primary care practice who understood the signs. Many doctors and health care practitioners are still in the dark about EDs, and too many canaries are erroneously turned away. Jennifer, is right: parents should print this post as well some of FEAST's printable brochures and be ready to share with their doctors.

  3. I read a study that indicated that if primary care providers don't know where to turn or don't have the tools for dealing with the illness, they don't or can't or won't do anything. My own GP pretty much told me this as well. This is where we as parent advocates need to step in and show them where to turn and what can be done.


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