The reduction of nutrition to the point of skipping meals or on the contrary compulsive binges, obsessive counting of calories, and then weight, fear of the mirror, uncontrolled physical activity combined with mood change and isolation: these are just some of the main alarm bells that manifest those suffering from eating disorders (DCA) such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder (BED), a social epidemic, often silent, on the rise.

The numbers

Eating disorders affect more and earlier, especially girls, with early onset between 12 and 17 years.

DCAs afflict over 55 million people in the world and over 3 million in Italy, equal to about 5% of the population, recalls a Sinpia note. 8-10% of girls and 0.5-1% of boys suffer from anorexia or bulimia (data from the Aba and Istat Observatory). According to a research carried out by the Higher Institute of Health on the specialized centers of the National Health Service, out of over 8 thousand users, 90% are female; 59% are aged between 13 and 25, 6% under 12.

Anorexia nervosa accounts for 42.3% of cases, bulimia nervosa 18.2%, binge eating 14.6%.

To tell the phenomenon is Laura Dalla Ragione, psychiatrist, psychotherapist and director of the center for eating disorders of the USL 1 of Umbria 1.

The pandemic and new diagnoses

"Due to the pandemic and social isolation, the incidence of this type of disorders has increased by 30% and the peak is above all among the very young, affected up to 4 times more than in the pre-Covid period due to forced stay at home, school closures, lack of social interactions, dad and cancellation of social involvement initiatives (Ministry of Health data) which have led to a great fear of the future," explains the psychiatrist.

How to intercept the disease of the soul that consumes the body

"The diagnosis and early detection of these disorders makes a big difference," warns the psychotherapist. It is crucial that parents who experience the first alarm bells in their children – reduced food, intense physical activity, going to the bathroom often after meals as well as a change in character – insist on taking their daughter or son to a specialist centre as soon as possible. It is a psychiatric illness, boys and girls who previously showed themselves sunny, cheerful and bright, suddenly become sad, closed, nervous, depressed" and continues "they are disorders that affect the soul, the body is the most visible aspect. These are disorders related to a deep discomfort, a difficulty in finding an inner harmony mind / body and a great deficit of self-esteem. Girls suffering from these disorders always have a great fear of not being adequate: to life, to study, to affections".

Taking care of body and mind: the importance of an integrated approach

The approach is multidisciplinary, it concerns not the treatment of the single symptom but the person as a whole.

"If you intercept a DCA at the beginning, even an outpatient but specialized treatment may be sufficient," says the expert. "Other cases require the need for semi-residential treatment, while in 30% of cases residential treatment is needed. In the centers of Todi, the first public centers, established in 2003, there is a multidisciplinary approach, we work on the body, but also on the mind, in a holistic way, a global approach to the person. When a girl gets sick, the whole family also gets sick - explains Dalla Ragione.- In the center work doctors, nutritionists, psychologists, nurses, educators, philosophers, all the professional figures that are needed to build this multidisciplinary approach.

A full immersion that lasts from three to five months with intensive work on the mind and body". This is the mission of Palazzo Francisci, a structure located inside an ancient palace in Todi surrounded by greenery, where Dalla Ragione's project was born from the desire to build a care space different from that of the hospital.

ISS: 126 Eating Disorders Centers in Italy, half in the North

There are 126 centers dedicated to the treatment of nutrition and eating disorders, facilities scattered throughout the national territory, of which 112 public and 14 private accredited and half, or 63, is located in the north. To publish the territorial mapping of the centers, in view of the day of the Lilac Bow, is the National Center for Addiction and Doping of the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS)

The expert: "Intervene quickly, because you can heal"

"The chances of recovery are very high, especially in anorexia nervosa, even in bulimia, but you have to get there very soon - urges Dalla Ragione-. You can heal, but you have to get treatment early."