Imagine your worst fear…

It might seem silly to some, but food can represent a terrifying feat to others…

Eating Disorders are extremely serious and require eating disorder treatment, complex patterns of behaviour that are often viewed with stigma and superficial understanding.

 

Eating Disorders have the highest rates of mortality amongst the mental health disorders and affect 1 in 20 Australians.

 

Eating Disorders do not discriminate between age, gender, culture, class, race or religion. They are not merely attention seeking behaviour nor a ‘lifestyle choice’ or for ‘superficial people’, they are pervasive patterns of behaviour driven by extreme fear, anxiety and guilt.

Each person with an Eating Disorder has their own experience and differences. There are no known specific causes that can be used to predict whether an Eating Disorder will occur or not (e.g. just because a parent was focused on shape/weight or was highly critical does not determine the presence of an Eating Disorder). Once again, a mixture of genetics, environment, society, culture and life experiences will play a role to varying degrees in each individual.

The common theme amongst Eating Disorders revolves around low self-esteem and a strong focus on shape and weight as means to achieve self-satisfaction. The three main Eating Disorders are: Anorexia Nervosa (being considered ‘underweight’, having distorted body image and a strong fear of gaining weight); Bulimia Nervosa (patterns of binge eating and compensation for binge eating e.g. vomiting, exercise or laxative use as well as an excessive focus on shape/weight to achieve self-satisfaction); Binge Eating Disorder (frequent episodes of binge eating without compensatory behaviours and poor relationships with self-identity and food).

Eating Disorders usually erupt in adolescence and rarely present before puberty. Some red flags to look out for in your teenager are:

  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Mood changes- irritability and persistent low mood
  • Concern expressed around body shape and weight
  • Becoming more avoidant, secretive, irritable or anxious in the context of food e.g. difficulty at the family meal or going out for meals
  • Comparisons to other individuals and their shape/weight
  • Distorted body image
  • Weight loss
  • Tiredness
  • Menstruation changes/absence in women
  • Obsessive exercise
  • Evidence of binge eating (hoarding and disappearance of food)
  • Change of clothing style (e.g. baggier)
  • Leaving the table promptly after dinner
  • Dieting or skipping meals, refusing to eat or making excuses not to eat
  • Cutting

 

 

Sometimes warning signs may not be so obvious, especially because Eating Disorders can be well hidden. Keeping tuned in with your teenager’s day and moods, as well as looking for clusters of warning signs and patterns in behaviour is important in determining whether or not something is abnormal.

If you think that a loved one may be experiencing an Eating Disorder, here are some tips about what you can do in the short term:

  • Be honest with what you have seen and noticed. It is important to make sure to do this in a non-blaming, non-judgemental, gentle way. Eating Disorders are often associated with shame, guilt and secretiveness so do not expect to be met with acceptance or a readiness to change.
  • Listen non-judgementally to the young person, respect their ideas and thoughts. Sometimes highlighting the negatives to not making change can be helpful. Emphasise that shape and weight are NOT the entirety of a person’s value, emphasise other aspects of self-worth (e.g. being a good friend, family member, having positive character qualities). Help to point out the young person’s strengths.
  • Try to avoid comments about a person’s shape or weight (e.g. “you look really slim and gorgeous”, “try this diet”, “don’t eat that or you will get fat”). Focus on health which means a balanced diet, eating nutritious food, being positive and compassionate toward oneself.
  • If the young person acknowledges that they have an issue, seek psychological treatment as soon as you can.  Regardless of whether or not a young person accepts help, a trip to the General Practitioner is necessary in the short term. Particularly for Anorexia Nervosa it is extremely important to get medical consultation as soon as possible given the dangers associated with being underweight.
  • It can be very difficult to assist a person to start to make changes, however having a good relationship with your teenager, spending quality one on one time together, listening openly and non-judgementally can be good buffers to prevent self-harm or worsening of symptoms.
  • Seek your own psychological support.
  • Engage in your own self-care.
  • Be patient, Eating Disorders often take a long time to resolve.
  • Do your own research- some great support and research can be found on The Butterfly Foundation website.

Danica has a special interest in working with people with eating disorders. She consults out of our Loganholme Practice so if you would like to book a session with Danica, please call our Practice on 07 3801 1772 for availability.