08 Sep Eating disorder Awareness
This September 9th is the start of Body Image and Eating Disorder Awareness Week (BIEDAW) in Australia. Eating disorders and body image concerns present a huge problem for both males and females across Australia. Yet, there continues to be an enormous lack of knowledge and conversation surrounding these issues.
BIEDAW seeks to change all that. The want to celebrate every body (#LoveEveryBody) and help people recognise the impact that body image and eating disorders have on individuals and community.
But in order to raise awareness, we need to first understand what eating disorders are – what causes them, how to recognise them and how we can help when we do.
It’s a lifestyle choice.
There is some commonly held misconceptions about eating disorders. The first is that eating disorders are a lifestyle choice or based on vanity. But they are actually very serious mental illnesses that can be fatal if left untreated. In fact, the mortality rate for people with eating disorders is the highest of all mental illnesses.
It’s a female issue.
Second, eating disorders are also often believed to affect women and girls only. However, studies suggest that up to a quarter of people diagnosed with eating disorders are male. These are illnesses that affect both women and men.
It’s characterised by extreme thinness.
A third misconception is that you can tell just by looking at someone that they have an eating disorder. In fact, they affect people of all shapes and sizes. You can be considered a normal size or even overweight and still be suffering from an eating disorder.
Fad diets are fine.
Fourth, there is an enduring misconception that strict dieting or fad/trend diets are fine. But what appears to just be a strict diet on the surface may be the beginning of an eating disorder. All ‘disordered eating’, characterised by unhealthy behaviours centred around eating or exercise, can have health impacts and be downright dangerous.
What are the most common eating disorders?
So, what are the most common eating disorders?
People who suffer from anorexia nervosa have an intense fear of gaining weight and often see themselves as overweight, even when they are dangerously underweight. They may restrict food intake drastically or exercise excessively or both. Others may binge eat and then purge to rid themselves of the food.
Bulimia differs from anorexia because the sufferer has reoccurring episodes of binge eating followed by extreme behaviour designed to compensate for the overeating and prevent any weight gain. This might be excessive exercise, the use of laxatives or diuretics, diet pill abuse, vomiting or fasting.
Binge eating disorder
With binge eating disorder, a person will also have frequent episodes of excessive eating, which is often accompanied by a feeling that they’ve lost control. It is not followed by purging or any other compensatory behaviour so the individual may often also gain weight.
OSFED stands for Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders and is a diagnosis given when a person has many of the symptoms of other eating disorders but not all of them. People with OSFED will often have extremely disturbed eating habits, distorted body image, an intense fear of gaining weight or be overly critical of their own shape or weight. This is the most common eating disorder diagnosis for adults and adolescents, and it affects both males and females.
What are the warning signs for eating disorders?
There are some common warning signs and symptoms for eating disorders that you can look out for. But it’s important to remember that not all of these symptoms will be present for all eating disorders and that someone with an eating disorder may go to great lengths to hide these signs as well.
- Rapid weight loss or frequent weight changes
- Preoccupation with eating, food, weight and/or body shape
- Avoiding meals with other people
- Changes in food preferences (suddenly disliking food they used to enjoy)
- Obsessive rituals around food preparation or eating
- Loss of menstruation in females and a lowered libido in men
- Fainting or dizziness
- Feeling anxious or irritable around meal times or food generally
- Feeling out of control around food
- Feeling tired but not sleeping well
- Lethargy and low energy
- Compulsive or excessive exercising
- Evidence of binge eating
- Vomiting or use of laxatives, enemas, appetite suppressants or diuretics
- Swelling around the cheeks or jaw, calluses on the knuckles or back of hand and damage to teeth
- Frequent trips to the bathroom during or shortly after meals
- Feeling cold, even when it’s warm
- Using food as a source of comfort or as a punishment (i.e., refusing to eat)
How to help.
You can help loved ones who may be suffering from an eating disorder by simply talking to them. Choose a calm environment, where neither or you are emotional or tired, and not around food.
Let them know that you care about them and that it is safe to talk to you, that you won’t judge them or criticise them (and don’t!). Give them time to express how they feel, don’t rush them or try to get them to open up more quickly than they’d like.
Don’t put the focus on food but talk about how the person is feeling instead. Never punish or threaten or manipulate. It is important to listen and create a space for the other person to talk.
Let them know that help is available.
What help is available?
There are many services that can help with the treatment of an eating disorder. You can always start with your GP who will know exactly where to go, and of course, if the situation is life threatening, call 000 immediately.
You can also speak to wonderful people at the following places:
Author: Di O’Malley – Founder and Managing Director of Young Minds Health and Development Network, and Counselling Psychologist.
Please call us on (07) 3857 0074 to book an appointment with one of our Clinicians; or send us an Appointment Request here via our website and we’ll contact you as soon as possible to book a suitable time for you.