Eating Disorders: What you need to know

Eating Disorders: What you need to know

Eating Disorders can be a scary topic, but it’s a very important conversation that we need to have.  At the end of 2012, it was estimated that eating disorders affected nearly 1 million Australians. That’s roughly 1 in 20 people struggling with a form of eating disorder.

Girls and guys are affected by this, varying across ages. Most eating disorders have their roots in the puberty years, as this is crucial development times for young people, where we begin to compare ourselves to images we see that represent femininity or masculinity.  

When we talk about eating disorders, we need to understand it is a real issue. A person battling an eating disorder is not ‘making it up’ or ‘making a lifestyle choice.’ They are very unwell, and need support and help.

Firstly let’s look at the different types of eating disorders as laid out by The Butterfly Foundation.

Anorexia Nervosa - is a psychological illness with devastating physical consequences. Anorexia Nervosa is characterised by low body weight and body image distortion with an obsessive fear of gaining weight, manifesting itself through depriving the body of food. It often coincides with increased levels of exercise.” 

Bulimia Nervosa - is characterised by repeated episodes of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviours. These could be vomiting, fasting or excessive exercising. Many people with Bulimia Nervosa experience weight fluctuations and do not lose weight; they can remain in the normal weight range, be slightly underweight, or may even gain weight, making it hard to recognise.

Binge Eating Disorder - involves two key features: • Eating a very large amount of food within a relatively short period of time (e.g. within two hours) • Feeling a sense of loss of control while eating (e.g. feeling unable to stop yourself from eating) 

Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) - may present with many of the symptoms of other eating disorders such as Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa, but will not meet the full criteria for diagnosis of these disorders. 

Disordered Eating - Disordered eating is when a person regularly engages in unhealthy and destructive eating behaviours such as restrictive dieting, compulsive eating or skipping meals.

Although there are large differences between the different types of eating disorders, all of them have a common thread of a lack of self-esteem, or unhealthy views of their body image. There are many factors that can contribute to the development of an eating disorder, a huge one being environmental influence.

Our family, social groups, teachers and the media all impact how we view ourselves. School can be a harsh place where young people are trying to fit in, with what the perceived idea of physical appearance is. How we speak and communicate non-verbally plays a huge role in helping others to accept themselves. The images that the media presents are unrealistic, yet often we are presented these images without the explanation they aren’t true. Other factors include age, gender, weight, bullying or having friends who diet and exercise regularly.


How to help yourself and others

It’s important to realise there are things about our bodies we can’t change, but rather than focusing on what we see as negative, we can change our beauty ideals and improve the way we see ourselves.  

·      Focus on your positive qualities, skills and talents
This can help you learn to accept and appreciate your whole self. We are so much more than just our bodies! Your worth is not determined by your clothing size. Write down some things in a journal that you like about your personality, mind or the way you relate to people.

·      Avoid nasty self talk
Print some motivational quotes and stick them on the mirror, fridge and scales. Do what you need to remind yourself of how great you are.

·      Change your thinking from ‘skinny’ to ‘healthy’
Our bodies need to last us our whole lives, so we need to treat them well.

·      Stop comparing your individual and unique self to others- There’s nothing wrong with admiring the beauty we see in others but not at the expense of your own self esteem.

·      Think about what you’re thinking about
Remember, most of the media’s images are unrealistic and represent a small group of the population. Most magazines photos have been digitally altered to portray certain images.  

Lastly, look out for each other. If you or your friend is struggling with an eating disorder, don’t ignore it- it won’t go away on it’s own. Find help and talk to someone; visit Beyond Blue for free web counselling and some great resources.  

This blog was put together using information from The Butterfly Foundation.