You can learn a lesson about early detection of eating disorders from the security measures at Ben Gurion airport.

If you have ever flown out of Ben Gurion, you would know that you don’t have to take off your shoes or your hat or assume a Vitruvian Man pose a la Leonardo da Vinci in front of an imaging machine. While they generally don’t allow you to carry liquids onto the plane, the security personnel are not deathly afraid of a water bottle. Many of the security measures rely primarily on the powers of observation by employees who are highly trained to spot suspicious behavior, no matter how subtle it may be.

As you enter the airport, a guard peers into each car as it passes. As you enter the terminal, there are plain clothes guards at every entrance who secure the outside perimeter and observe each person who enters the building, making sure that no one shows signs of having something to hide.

The next security checkpoint is in line when they ask you questions like “who packed your luggage”, “was your luggage in your sight the whole time since you left your house” and “did anyone give you anything to put in your suitcase”. As they ask you these questions, they look you in the eye and observe your behavior. If they are bothered by something about you, they ask questions of a more personal nature to see how naturally you answer them. They won’t let you go through until they are positive that you are not a potential threat.

If at that point there is even a sneaking suspicion that you may be planning to engage in an act of terror, while everyone else is putting their suitcase inside the x-ray machine, you will be taken out of line and your luggage will be opened and thoroughly searched. You may be taken to a private area and subjected to a more thorough search. You are not going anywhere until all suspicions have been allayed.

There are several factors which make this type of security successful. First of all, the security personnel is properly trained to recognize and evaluate potential threat. They know what to look for; and if they see it, they don’t let go of the threat until it has been neutralized. They fully understand the ramifications of what could happen if they let the threat slip through. Also, there are multiple security perimeters so if a threat slips by one of them, it is picked up by another. And yes, I’ll say it, they do profile. The point of profiling is to be able to identify and target a potential threat within a group.

Imagine what a boost it would be for eating disorder prevention and early detection if parents, educators, athletic coaches, guidance counselors, and doctors, who are all part of the security perimeter, were as well trained to detect eating disorders as Ben Gurion airport security personnel is to detect potential threats. The first step is education; knowing what to be on the lookout for, knowing when an adolescent’s appearance or behavior should be raising radars. It’s not just teenage girls at risk for developing eating disorders. Children as young as eight are being treated for eating disorders as are a rising number of boys. If you work with adolescents, keep checking your perimeter and know that someone’s life may depend on you being educated about eating disorder detection so please, please make sure that you are.

Don’t be afraid to profile. The point of profiling is using it to identify and assess risk. There is a personality profile for anorexia that includes perfectionism, a relentless drive for achievement and success, high self-expectations, and self-criticism/intolerance for making mistakes. Obviously not everyone who fits this profile has an eating disorder, and there are plenty of anorexics who do not fit this profile at all; but if someone who you teach, treat, parent, or coach does fit this profile, do me a personal favor and keep extra tabs on them.

People with eating disorders will not usually readily admit to having one, so confronting them about it is not going to be an effective way of dealing with the situation. The right course of action is to take your suspicion up the line to someone who can facilitate getting professional help for the person who needs it.  Don’t be afraid to raise the alarm even if it’s just a sneaking suspicion or a vague intuition. Don’t adopt a “wait and see” attitude; eating disorders will not go away on their own. They are like cancer– the longer you leave them untreated, the more they will ravage a person and the bleaker the chances are for recovery.

Anorexia in particular should not be making it through so many security perimeters unchecked, but it is.  This means that our security is not tight enough, and I think that we can do better. Those of us manning the checkpoints, parents included, need to be better educated, better trained, more vigilant, more attentive, more reactive, and faster on the draw in detecting eating disorders. If we neutralize every threat, no matter how seemingly insignificant, we can potentially reduce the rampancy of eating disorders in a significant way.