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  • Renuka Barlingay

From Awareness to Action: The 'Learning Through Dialogue' Initiative by Freed

Updated: Nov 27, 2023

We inaugurated the first ever “National Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention Day” on 24th September 2023 through our annual round table conference, “Learning through Dialogue” from 18th to 22nd September 2023. Eating disorders can be complex, but with the right resources, awareness, advocacy, and interventions, they can be addressed within the Indian context. To shape and evolve the narratives around eating disorders in India, we have decided that starting this year, the third week of every September will be dedicated to discussing Eating Disorders.

Eating disorders in India are often surrounded by misconceptions & stigmas. This is exactly why they needed a platform for open conversation. The aim of "Learning Through Dialogue" is precisely the same. This three-day conference provided us with numerous insights into Eating Disorders, thanks to a diverse panel of nutritionists, therapists, and caregivers of those with ED, who addressed ED concerns in India.

Day 1: Understanding EDs

Panelist Kavya Ashok says “Your path to self-acceptance and recovery from an ED isn't always straight. Embrace the twists and turns—it's all part of the journey. And always remember that your Journey is unique to YOU”. Panelist Neha Aggarwal says “Cultural pressures and societal norms can shape how we see ourselves and may lead to body image issues”

On Day 1, we explored the present-day scenario of EDs, DE, and body image, particularly focusing on India. We spoke about various nuances of EDs in India. We understood that these issues are complex and influenced by societal, psychological, and cultural factors. EDs represent a severe spectrum of mental health challenges. We also understood that addressing this requires a multi-dimensional approach, including early detection, inclusive media representation, and broad educational and policy reforms in India.

Day 2: Treatment in Focus

Panellist Nirupama Malhotra says, As a mom and caregiver, I worked closely with a team of diverse healthcare professionals, from GPs to psychologists to nutritionists to psychiatrists. It proved how vital a multi-disciplinary approach is for ED treatment”.

Panellist Sammy Plezia says, “Research indicates several growing concerns in India, two of which are the lack of specialists in eating disorders and increasing insecurities among young men about their facial hair”.

On day 2, we touched upon holistic approaches and practices for ED treatment and understood that supporting those with EDs is the initial most important step, and a multidisciplinary team involving a general physician, psychologist, psychiatrist, and nutritionist is essential. Although it might initially seem difficult, starting with a trusted psychologist can be an essential step in reaching out to other healthcare professionals. With ED concerns rising in India, especially among young men, there's a need to increase awareness, involve families in therapy, tackle cultural biases, and expand treatment options, learning from practices in countries like the USA.

Day 3: Collaborative Strategies

Panellist Vaibhav says, “Taking EDs to the policy level is the first step. Why? Because it's not just about health; it's a matter of human rights and societal acceptance”.

Panellist Wilona says, “Embracing diversity in body shapes, sizes, and textures is the way forward. Celebrate you, just as you are, for a healthier body image narrative”

On day 3, we discussed addressing EDs as a collaborative approach and understood the involvement of a multidisciplinary clinical team, family support, and early intervention. Raising awareness, reducing stigma, and flexible treatment options are essential. Social organizations in emerging areas should prioritize collaboration, intersectionality, evidence-based research, and advocacy. The media and education systems should promote mental health, portray body image diversity, and provide a platform for sharing stories of lived experiences.

Day 4: Sharing circle & the launch of Freed Pledge Wall!!

On our final day, five courageous Friends of Freed stepped forward to share their journeys with ED. We had an inspirational sharing circle, after which, we celebrated National Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention Day by unveiling our “pledge wall”. As an organization, we, along with our team members and participants, all took the pledge as a commitment to increase awareness and take actionable steps to combat EDs.

We would like to thank every participant, panelist, and supporter for making this event successful. As we move forward, our goals and mission are clearer and stronger. Every year with continued dedication and teamwork, we are committed to promoting open dialogue, encouraging education, and developing actionable strategies - all in line with Freed’s core objectives.

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