Monday, December 7, 2009

Feeling the Love at Christmas

To me, Christmas is about embracing the festive season and making it magical. Sharing this wonderful occasion with family and friends, connecting with people, being grateful for all that is wonderful in our lives and celebrating the gift of giving.

Part of Christmas is also amazing food which ranges from the traditional ham and roast turkey with all the trimmings, to seafood, cold meat platters and salads. And who could go past plum pudding, Christmas cake, chocolates, summer fruits and whatever else the table is laden with? Food is a big part of the festive season. Magazines that hit the stands in January typically feature post festive season dieting tips. And leading up to Christmas, there is plenty of information doing the rounds about party food no-no’s if you want to maintain your figure.

I’d like to take this one step further – or perhaps a step sideways – and say that how much you weigh is not an indication of self worth. Whether you are engaging with people you care about, celebrating at the end of the year Christmas party with colleagues, or dining out with friends, pay attention to how you feel on the inside. Self love is important because positive body image comes when we love ourselves from the inside out.

Take a moment to look into your heart and really feel the love that is there. And as you do, let your mind wander back over the year to some of the amazing moments you’ve experienced; triumphs; joyous moments when life has surprised you; friendships and relationships that have become important to you; places you’ve travelled; unexpected encounters; special events; and on. And recognise that these moments have profoundly shaped your year and lead to where you are now. And as the year comes to a close, and we enjoy the company of those we love and cherish, and sit down together to share a beautiful meal, trade stories, laugh and connect, if you feel love and contentment on the inside, then that is a wonderful gift.

Christmas doesn’t have to be about dwelling on what may be lacking in our lives. If we take the time to look at all the wonderful things we have now, in this moment, we naturally feel a sense of contentment. It could be simple pleasures like feeling the sunshine warm our skin, the smell of freshly cut grass, a hug from someone you love, to having a roof over our heads, special people in our lives and the promise of the endless possibilities that lay before us in the year ahead.

So, as you indulge in Christmas fare, forget about calories and make the practise of sharing a wonderful meal about feeling joyful in the moment.

I’d like to take this opportunity to say Merry Christmas to you all, and may your festive season be filled with wondrous moments, meaningful connections, love, laughter and happiness.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Fostering Positive Body Image

With summer upon us, and the beach beckoning, this can be a challenging time for those of us susceptible to negative body image.

It's easy to get swept up in the things that bring us down and that is when self doubt can creep in. Sometimes we need to allow ourselves to let go and make way for our inner child to emerge by being playful, having fun and engaging in the moment.

Being outdoors and getting active can boost our confidence, and therefore our self esteem. And nothing beats living with joy and laughter and sharing these moments with the people you love.

In my book Why Can't I Look the Way I Want, there is a section titled 'How Do I Stay Positive?' It talks about inner wisdom; the voice that speaks from your heart. This voice represents your untapped potential to trust in your own uniqueness, your ability to strive for and realise your dreams. Only you have the power to change your life; catch negative thoughts as and when they occur and turn your thinking around, transforming your thoughts into strong, positive ideals.

Here are some tips if you start experiencing negative thoughts:

1. Ask yourself ‘where is this coming from’? Can you back track your thoughts until you find what triggered the initial negative thought? Ask yourself why this thought upset you and decide what action you can take to resolve it.
2. Acknowledge that it’s okay to feel down sometimes. Everyone has bad days. Then do something to lift your mood. Read your favourite passage from a book, go for a walk in the sunshine or dance to an awesome song.
3. Create a collection of affirmations that inspire you and say them to yourself often, including when you’re in a great mood. My favourite is: “I am honest, caring and a true reflection of happiness. I am creating a wonderful life”.
4. A fun thing to do is create Affirmation Cards. Get your friends together with some index cards. On the top of each card write a person's name. Pass these around, have everyone write down one thing they love about each person and then take turns reading them aloud. Keep your affirmation card with you and look at it often.
5. Record your thoughts and feelings in a journal. How do you feel today? Why do you think you feel that way? Then choose the best moment of the day and write that down. Why was it so great? Think of ways you can create more of these moments in each day.
6. Practice gratitude. What are some of the amazing things in your life that make you smile? Great friends, sunshine, summer parties, walks on the beach … focus on these instead of thinking about what might be missing in your life.
7. If you can’t seem to escape the negative thoughts, talk, talk, talk to your trusted friends. Talk it all out. Vent until you feel better. Offloading will help you to let it go.

Remember that positive body image stems from self-love; how you feel about yourself on the inside. Keep your life focused on believing in yourself and all that you are capable of. As Tyra Banks famously said "Never dull your shine for somebody else". Words to live by.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Skinny on Kate Moss

Kate Moss has caused outrage after revealing that one of her mottos is the phrase "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels".

Health experts branded her comments to fashion website WWD "absolutely appalling".

Dr Carol Cooper told Sky News Online: "I was horrified when I heard it. We know she's a role model for a lot of girls and young women...and they will be adversely influenced by this."

Mary George, from UK eating disorder charity Beat, told Sky Moss' remarks "make life difficult for those struggling to beat eating disorders". She added "It's very unfortunate that comments like this are made and put on pro-anorexic websites. I'm sure she regrets making them."

A spokesperson for Storm, Moss's model agency, said: "This was part of a longer answer Kate gave during a wider-ranging interview - which has unfortunately been taken out of context and completely misrepresented. For the record - Kate does not support this as a lifestyle choice."

Despite the official comment from Moss's agency, the damage has been done.

It would be interesting to know in what context Kate Moss made such a statement, for that kind of statement can really only be construed one way. At a time where eating disorders amongst young people are on the rise more care needs to be taken by high profile role models in terms of the messages they are putting out there.

In contrast, the other day I was in my local Gloria Jeans ordering a takeaway coffee when a lady tapped me on the arm and said "I read about you in (the Sunday Telegraph's) Body & Soul a few weeks ago" and produced a copy of my book Why Can't I Look the Way I Want from her bag. I was amazed to notice the array of crooked post-it notes protruding from the pages. She went on to tell me how her niece had suffered anorexia for three years and the family were devastated because nothing seemed to be working. She said the section in my book 'Helping Someone You Love' had given the family some much needed guidance in terms of what to say - and importantly, what not to say, and the stories about people who had suffered through the turbulent and lonely existence of an eating disorder and then gone on to create happy and successful lives was also inspiring.

"I am going to visit my niece this afternoon and show her your book," she said. I picked up my latte, smiled and wished her well. As I watched her walk away tears filled my eyes. The process of writing my book was intensely emotional as it was rewarding - and random encounters like these warm my heart because it's proof that my book is out there helping people.

If Kate Moss had looked into this woman's eyes when she spoke of her niece and seen the pain and helplessness, perhaps she would have a different take on what "skinny" tastes like.

Now more than ever, we need to empower our young people to love themselves from the inside out, because self-love inspires confidence which inspires positive body image.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Computer Program to track Self Harm Risk

A recent study found that two thirds of young people who self harm don't tell anyone 1. I have spoken with many people who have shared with me the absolute anguish and desperation that led to cutting or burning themselves, and yet despite the momentary 'relief', their emotional pain continued.

25% of people with eating disorders engage in self harming behaviour 2. I was so alarmed by this statistic that I included a chapter titled 'Scarred and Scared' in my book Why Can't I Look the Way I Want; Overcoming Eating Issues to help people understand and overcome self harm.

Now there is a computer program being researched by two Victoria University of Wellington researchers. Dr Tiong-Thye Goh and student assistant Yen-Pei Huang have created a system to scan social networking websites and identify key words posted by people aged between 18 and 24.

"Social networking sites have in recent years become an increasingly popular avenue for young people to express and to share their thoughts, views and emotions," Goh said. "When young people are emotionally distressed for instance, instead of the traditional channel of consulting friends, parents or specialists, social networking blogs may provide a channel to share and release their emotions and intentions."

The researchers developed technology that picked up key words and phrases such as "depressed" or "I don't want to live any more". The option of needing help would link to an appropriate website that provides useful information and links.

While this is a fantastic initiative, it is important to note that if you are feeling alone and isolated, there are strategies that will help avert the need to self harm. Creating a similar physical sensation can dissipate overwhelming feelings and emotions. Try squeezing ice cubes in your hand, thrusting your arm into a bucket of cold water, plunging your fingers into some ice-cream or snapping an elastic band against your wrist. Because these intense emotions are fleeting, creating a similar physical sensation will allow the feelings to pass - without leaving scars.

Coming to terms with the underlying causes of self harm is an important part of understanding what motivates this behaviour. Being honest about thoughts, feelings and behaviours with a therapist and establishing motivation is the first step to working through them and an important part of the recovery process.

For more information go Here

1 Children, Youth and Women's Health (2009)
2 Sansone, R.A., Levitt, J.L. and Sansone, R.A. (2003), 'Eating disorders and self-harm behaviour: A chaotic intersection', Eating Disorders Review, vol. 14, pp.1-3

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Canberra Hosts Conference to Tackle Eating Disorders

The first meeting to establish a national framework for combating eating disorders was held on Saturday in Canberra. This is a positive step forward in raising the awareness that eating issues and disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder are not lifestyle choices; they are serious mental illnesses that require professional treatment.

In an article on the ABC website, National Eating Disorders Collaboration director Christine Morgan said it is important to consider what is needed on a national basis to halt the growing problem.

"One in four people in Australia will know someone with an eating disorder, but I should stress it is not just an illness that effects women, it does effect men," she said. "Whilst it presents in most instances in adolescence, we're also seeing some quite young children coming through with eating disorders and it can also present in later life."

As someone who is passionate about reducing the incidence of eating disorders in our community, I was present at the meeting in Canberra and overwhelmed by the amount of people who attended. We all share the same desire - to spread the word to the broader community about early warning signs, early intervention for a positive outcome and how to help families foster positive body image so that confidence and self esteem are instilled in children from as young as preschool age.

I was involved in the "Promotion & Prevention" group during the conference and although I believe that prevention is possible through greater awareness of the dangers of dieting, I am also painfully aware of the many people out there currently suffering an eating issue, and as much as they want recovery, do not know how to break free.

In my book Why Can't I Look the Way I Want; Overcoming Eating Issues, there is a section about what to do if you are struggling with the concept of recovery. Key insights from people I interviewed who have recovered include: "I couldn't have recovered without the support and understanding of my parents"; "Finding someone you trust and who you feel comfortable talking to is so important"; "I used to worry what other people thought of me but now I know it doesn't matter what others think of you, it is enough to respect yourself and value yourself as a person"; "Counselling helped me address issues from my past and forgive people who had hurt me - including myself"; "I learnt that in order to get better, I had to make a decision and wrestle back the control"; "Identify what you are passionate about and let this be the driving force for your recovery".

It is important to not lose hope. Recovery is possible and with the development and implementation of the national framework, there will be a greater focus on helping individuals, families, schools and communities prevent and combat these devastating illnesses.

Information about Saturday's conference will be posted on the Eating Disorders Australian National Network website in the coming weeks.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Is Food Intolerance an Eating Disorder in Disguise?

Australian Consolidated Press launched one-off health magazine Your Body this week. The magazine aims to help women live a healthy, balanced life and covers everything from nutrition, stress management, relationships and emotional wellbeing to health and fitness.

An article in Your Body titled 'Allergy or Anxiety; the rise of the 30-something eating disorder' explores food intolerance as a judgement free way of restricting food intake. This article is a must read for anyone who knows someone suffering food intolerance as while many women suffer from genuine conditions, others use this as a convenient excuse to avoid certain types of food.

With orthorexia, sufferers are obsessed with pure and organic food and will only put that which they deem 'healthy' into their mouths, sometimes resulting in cutting out entire food groups such as dairy and meats & protein. However, their motivation is to feel pure and healthy.

With anorexia, the underlying motivation is to lose weight by restricting food. So claiming to suffer from a food intolerance provides the perfect excuse to eliminate certain elements from a meal, thus aiding the anorexic behaviour.

It can be a powerful disguise. When I struggled with anorexia, the first thing I did was announce I had turned vegetarian because of cruelty to animals. Of course the real reason was to avoid eating meat. Then I discovered the new health buzz word was IBS and claimed to suffer from this condition. I refused to eat anything that had a skerrick of butter or sauce, vehemently insisting it would unsettle my stomach and cause cramps and bloating.

A recent US study found that only one in four people who believed they had a food allergy or intolerance actually had one. Further evidence is provided by the UK's Allergy Foundation which estimates that two to three percent of people have a true allergic disorder. While not everyone with a food allergy or intolerance is suffering from an eating disorder, I know from personal experience that when you do have an eating disorder, you will use any excuse to avoid food.

With yet another way to mask disordered eating, it can be even more difficult to recognise in someone you love.

In my book Why Cant' I Look the Way I Want; Overcoming Eating Issues there is a chapter that explains the early warning signs - one of which is going on an unusually strict diet. Others include avoiding eating in front of people or with the family, making excuses such as 'I ate lunch at my friend's house' or 'I'll grab something on the way to work'. Also a sudden obsession in the preparation of food. There are also changes in disposition; the person may become suddenly hostile if questioned about their aversion towards food.

If you suspect someone might be using food allergies or intolerance as a way of hiding an eating disorder, unfortunately most of these warning signs apply. However, the change in disposition is key. Hostility is often a sign of emotional imbalance and if you see this in someone you love coupled with food avoidance, sit them down and let them know you care about them and are concerned about their behaviour. One of the best ways you can help someone you love is to let them know you are there for them, even if you don't understand. Unconditional love, as simple as it sounds, is most effective.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Fasion Magazine goes Model Free

Birgitte, one of Germany's most popular glossy women's magazines, announced yesterday that it will no longer use models in photo spreads in response to changing ideas about beauty.

Instead, the Hamburg-based title plans to choose from readers who register online and staff members based on their meaningful qualities rather than their dress size.

“Attractiveness has many faces,” editor Brigitte Huber said in a statement. “Whether they are actresses, musicians, first ladies or women on the streets of big cities – they all affect fashion and beauty styles.”

The new concept will start next year and is a response to two different trends, co-editor Andreas Lebert said in the statement. “Behind the career of a model lies the idea of not showing women themselves, but instead a place holder – a model of a certain size. Now many women find this outdated, especially the beauty ideals, also moulded by the fashion industry, that are highly controversial,” he said.

Dr. Lisa Pecho, a Munich-based psychotherapist and spokesperson for the BFE national professional association for eating disorder treatment experts, said “I think it’s fantastic what they’re doing. It will serve as a big example. This magazine has a huge influence in Germany. There are many factors that create eating disorders, but the media is certainly a big one.”

This follows reports a few weeks ago that French politicians wish to stamp a 'health warning' on photographs of models that are altered as part of a campaign against eating disorders. The proposed law is designed to fight what they see as a warped image of women's bodies in the media.

And in March this year in Australia, a code of conduct for the fashion industry was set in motion through a Federal Government initiative which saw the creation of a new body image advisory group. Headed up by fashion, health and media experts, including Sarah Murdoch, Mia Freedman and teen magazine editor Sarah Cornish, the aim is to develop national strategies that promote healthy body image.

It appears the rest of the world is starting to follow suit, which is a much needed step forward in the fight against eating disorders. Promoting a realistic body image to our younger generations will empower confidence and self-esteem, which in turn, will serve to eliminate damaging trends.

To read the article go Here

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Steriod Abuse Rife amongst Body Conscious Boys

A recent article exposed a shocking fact cited by child health experts: boys as young as 13 are taking steroids to get the ''six-pack'' physique of their sporting heroes.

Clinical psychologist Rita Princi says that body image has become so important that teenage boys are prepared to risk their health by taking steroids if it helps to make them appear more attractive.

''Boys are wanting that buff, manly body and believe that one way to obtain it is to take steroids,'' Ms Princi said. ''They are getting too focused on what they look like rather than who they are.''

University of Sydney child health researcher Jenny O'Dea said she conducted a 2002 study that found teenage boys had started using steroids or were buying pills from a gym or drug dealer to ''bulk up''. "In many ways boys are under more pressure than girls because the girls' task is to be slim but the boys' task is to be slim and then build up muscle,'' Dr O'Dea said.

My book Why Can't I Look the Way I Want; Overcoming Eating Issues exposes a disturbing trend amongst guys being the belief they do not have big enough muscles. A person suffering anorexia thinks 'no matter how much I restrict food, exercise or purge I'm not thin enough', whereas a person suffering muscle dysmorphia thinks 'no matter how much I work out, or how many steroids or muscle-enhancing supplements I take, I can't build enough muscle mass'. As a result, males can develop an obsession with lifting weights in their quest to obtain a muscular physique.

According to Dr Murray Drummond of the University of South Australia, muscle dysmorphia is associated with the drive for muscularity. "Because muscles are created by physical effort, if males want to attain the desired physique, they have to consciously go out and try to achieve it," he says.

Because it is socially and culturally acceptable for guys to undertake a lot of physical activity, body dissatisfaction can often go unnoticed by family and friends. Worse, the behaviours could be encouraged. Working out at the gym is 'healthy'; however working out to mask feelings of inadequacy is not.

Melbourne doctor Rick Kausman, who specialises in weight and eating issues, said he was not surprised teenage boys were using steroids. ''What I am seeing is more boys in distress around their body image,'' Dr Kausman said. ''There's a shift towards doing gym to make my body look better compared to doing gym to be fit for footy.''

Misuse of anabolic steroids can cause cardiac, liver and renal problems and lead to severe mood swings.

As always, we need to be vigilant and watch for warning signs to help the males we love who may be suffering low self esteem and a negative body image. Warning signs include an overaggressive approach to fitness, following dietary programs to the extreme, an increased interest in fitness magazines and a change in eating habits. This can be triggered by childhood bullying, difficulties dealing with being gay, low self esteem due to issues during childhood such as emotional or sexual abuse and parental strictness, especially from a father.

To read the article go Here

Monday, September 21, 2009

'Health Warning' a positive move for body image

The news this morning reported that French politicians want to stamp a 'health warning' on photographs of models that are altered as part of a campaign against eating disorders.

French parliamentarian Valerie Boyer, a member of President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party, and some 50 other politicians have proposed the law to fight what they see as a warped image of women's bodies in the media.

"These images can make people believe in a reality that often does not exist," Ms Boyer said in a statement, adding that the law should apply to press photographs, political campaigns, art photography and images on packaging as well as advertisements.

Under the proposed law, all enhanced photos would be accompanied by a line saying: "Photograph retouched to modify the physical appearance of a person."

Luxury brands and fashion magazines have also been accused of digitally enhancing models so that they appear thinner, with white teeth, lengthened legs and fewer wrinkles.

Ms Boyer says being confronted with unrealistic standards of female beauty could lead to various kinds of psychological problems, in particular eating disorders.

During the research phase for my book Why Can't I Look the Way I Want; Overcoming Eating Issues coupled with years of devoted work to helping those suffering from eating disorders, I know firsthand that low self esteem and feelings of worthlessness can potentially be exacerbated by unrealistic images of thinness - and this can perpetuate a cycle of self destruction which can lead to the onset of an eating disorder.

I wholeheartedly agree with the proposed 'health warning' and hope this paves the way for other countries to follow suit.

To read the news article go Here

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Recognising Disordered Eating in Children

In a recent media interview, I was asked whether it is my personal belief that negative body image in teenagers is perpetuated by images portrayed in the media. I believe that young people are susceptible to triggers if they are suffering low self esteem, and a common trigger is images of extreme thinness.

The average child in the UK, US and Australia sees between 20,000 and 40,000 television advertisements per year. They are bombarded with images about how they should look and what they should own. Children struggle to keep up, suffering from anxiety, stress and lower satisfaction in themselves. 1

Societal pressure is taking its toll on our young people. More than two thirds of 15 year old girls are on a diet and a quarter of children diagnosed with anorexia nervosa are boys.

Now more than ever, it is important that parents become aware of the early warning signs so they can gauge if their child is developing an eating disorder.

Jessica Burde, who writes for Helium, has this advice:

1. Eating with your child several times a week will allow you to get a feel for their eating habits. Watch for changes in those habits; a one night change shouldn't worry you, but a severe change that lasts for several weeks is a concern.

2. Watch for sudden weight change i.e. a noticeable change in weight within a short period of time.

3. Listen for 'fat' talk. When your child stops celebrating weight loss, and is not happy no matter how many kilos they've lost, it is a red flag.

4. Watch for bones. Some young people are good at hiding their eating habits so if you start seeing your child's collar bones and wrist bones sticking out, take them to a doctor.

5. Obsessive Eating; an inability to stop eating, especially in times of stress. Some clues to watch for:

a) Are they enjoying food? An obsessive eater generally doesn't enjoy what she or he eats, they just eat. Be worried if your child is eating large amounts of food constantly, but doesn't realise how much they are eating, and/or isn't enjoying it.

b) Watch for cravings - obsessive eaters have them all the time. They go around with food constantly in their hand, and can get irrationally upset if they can't find something to quiet the craving. These cravings will typically worsen when under stress.

In my book Why Can't I Look the Way I Want; Overcoming Eating Issues, there is a chapter dedicated to early warning signs. These signs are often subtle and can be passed off as 'normal' behaviour - unless you know what to look for. Some common ones are avoiding eating with others, obsession with food preparation and a change in attitude towards food e.g. becoming vegan or cutting out entire food groups under the guise of wanting to be 'healthy'.

Another lesser known warning sign is ritualistic behaviour when eating, such as cutting food into tiny pieces, insisting that meals are eaten at a particular time each day or obsessive use of the same crockery and cutlery.

Whilst images in the media can heighten our children's anxiety when it comes to self image and body image, if we become vigilant about the early warning signs and therefore understand what constitutes disordered eating, we have a very real chance of catching the behaviour early and reducing the alarming incidence of eating disorders.

1 Williams, Z 2006, The Commercialisation of Children, Compass, London

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Body Image A Huge Concern for Teens

A survey of almost 2,000 Australian teens has revealed that the vast majority have anxiety over their own body image and the unhealthy images being promoted, with only 27% of Australian teens claiming they are happy when they look in the mirror. A significant 33% of teens have had an eating disorder, or have known someone with an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia.

Habbo released the findings yesterday as part of an online survey of 1,957 Australians aged 12 to 18 (Generation Z). An even number of males and females participated in the survey, with respondents from each state and territory.

The following channels were voted as responsible for promoting unhealthy body images:
  1. Media – 43%
  2. Models – 27%
  3. Friends – 7%
  4. Schools – 6%
  5. Parents – 5%
  6. Body builders - 5%
Australian teens (32%) believe that using healthy sized models and ambassadors across all media is the best way to increase awareness about healthy body image. 31% suggested further education in schools, followed by television programs promoting a healthy outlook (13%).

Ngaire Stevens, Business Development Manager, Sulake & Habbo, explains “The results from the Habbo Body Image Survey suggest that teens in Generation Z are wary of the pressures around them to have a certain type of body image ... the concerning thing is that they are still dieting, are not happy with their own body images and feel pressure to adhere to what’s being promoted in the media and other channels of influence. Generation Z is an extremely aware generation and they are calling for healthier body images to be promoted ... the initiatives currently in place are clearly not having a significant enough impact. We would like to see action taken by the media industry, health departments and the Federal Government to address body image issues for Australian teenagers.”

Last night I took part in an online forum for Reach Out discussing body image and it is clear there is still much that needs to be done to make young people aware of the dangers of dieting and the serious consequences of eating disorders. We also need to educate young people about the best ways to help and support someone they love.

With that in mind, this survey clearly establishes the need for the media industry in particular to actively promote health and wellbeing in direct relation to positive body image to protect and foster the body confidence and self esteem of this next generation of Australian teens.

For details of the survey go Here

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Celebrate Body Image & Eating Disorders Awareness Week

Today marks the start of National Body Image & Eating Disorders Awareness Week, an annual event held in the first week of September. This morning I was in Martin Place, Sydney, supporting the Butterfly Foundation in raising awareness of positive body image and eating disorders. There is so much that needs to be done to let people know how devastating these illnesses are - and how widespread they are becoming.

Just over two thirds of teen girls are on a diet1. Anorexia is the third most chronic illness for adolescent girls in Australia (after obesity and asthma) 2. The incidence of binge eating disorder in males and females is almost equal3. With statistics such as these, it is so important that we do as much as possible to raise awareness of the dangers of dieting.

In my book Why Can't I Look the Way I Want, I highlight what to do if someone you love is suffering from an eating disorder. Sometimes it's not easy to know what to say - or exactly how to say it. Comments such as "you look great in that", "you're looking so much better", "you haven't put on that much weight" make the person feel as though they look fat. Similarly, if you know someone who is struggling with anorexia, don't 'reassure' them that they are thin. You cannot win by placing value - positive or negative - on someone's weight.

Helpful comments are ones which praise the person for traits not associated with physicality, and let them know you love them. For example "we're here even if we don't understand", "you seem so much happier", "aren't you clever, figuring that out". Unconditional love from family and friends is also important. A hug, kiss or a rub on the arm will show the person that you care.

My personal belief is that you can never give too much love. People with eating disorders despise themselves and need to know you love them no matter what. Although nothing you say is going to be right, if you can be there and love the person for who they are no matter what they do, this will give them evidence against everything the eating disorder is telling them. The more you prove the eating disorder wrong, the more likely they are to question what it tells them, which will help them fight it.

There are many events and opportunities happening throughout Australia to mark National Body Image & Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Visit The Butterfly Foundation for more information.

1 Patton, G.C., Selzer, R., Coffey, C.,Carlin J.B. and Wolfe, R. (1999), 'Onset of adolescent eating disorders: population based cohort study over 3 years', British Medical Journal, vol. 318, pp. 765-8

2 Hsu, L.K.G. (1996), Epidemiology of the eating disorders', Psychiatric Clinics of North America, vol. 19, 99. 681-700

3 Paxton, S. (1998) 'Do men get eating disorders?', Everybody - Newsletter of Body Image and Health Inc., vol. 2, August.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Recession fuels 'Manorexia'

Sky News UK reports that financial fears and the recession are contributing to the rise of anorexia in males.

Professor Hubert Lacey, who runs the eating disorder unit at St George's Hospital in London, has seen the number of male referrals double in the past few years.

"These are just my observations and because the numbers are so small, statistics can be misleading but I think there has been a cultural change," he said."The recession is a factor because when jobs are under threat, people think more about how they present themselves."

In my book Why Can't I Look the Way I Want, I have dedicated a chapter to males and eating disorders, because of the alarming statistics: one in ten young adults and one in four children diagnosed with anorexia are male1 . As Prof Lacey points out, this figure could be even higher given that traditionally males are less likely to seek help because the common belief is that anorexia and bulimia are female conditions, which threatens their masculinity.

Equally disturbing is the emerging trend in guys who believe they do not have big enough muscles and as a result, develop an obsession with lifting weights in their quest to attain a muscular physique. This is referred to as muscle dysmorphia, or bigorexia, and drives guys to exercise obsessively every day because they experience feelings of acute shame about their bodies. It is estimated that 17% of males are on some form of diet and that steroid abuse and exercise disorders are increasing in the young male population2. This shows how drastically males are suffering from low self esteem and body image issues.

The onset of an eating disorder in males is usually due to a specific trigger or set of triggers, such as childhood bullying, emotional abuse, difficulties dealing with being gay and parental strictness especially from a father.

One of the males interviewed by Sky News, Aaron aged 31, says "My job contributed to a sense of purposelessness in life. Losing weight was a way of regaining the sense of self worth, improvement and achievement."

Rob aged 15, says " my case, the sense of rampant, desperate competition and definition of self worth through attainment... served to push me farther down a path to self destruction. "

Mitchell Doyle was bullied and developed anorexia as a teenager, and his remarkable story of recovery is profiled in Why Can't I Look the Way I Want. He says "the voice in your head is strong, but you are stronger. The eating disorder will divide you as a person, but the best feeling is being able to wake up and be happy with who you are. My last word to you is to keep holding on, even when dignity fails. Aim high, aim to win, aim to live.

Words that I hope, with a greater awareness of bigorexia and manorexia, males will choose to live by.,_Say_Doctors

1 Paxton, S. (1998) 'Do men get eating disorders?', Everybody - Newsletter of Body Image and Health Inc., Vol 2, August, p.41

2 Weekend Australian, April 1999

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Self-Love the Key to Positive Body Image

It is my personal belief that a positive body image is the result of how you feel about yourself on the inside; that fostering self-love creates inner peace and happiness, and the need to conform to societal and peer pressures diminishes. A negative body image can be a result of self loathing; the need to please others; feelings of hopelessness. But how much of it also has to do with society's focus on external and physical perfection?

Media influence is ever-present. Thin, flawless people are continually showcased to the point where the common belief begins to reflect this ideal as 'normal'. Young people are constantly exposed to these images in the media however, parents can aid their child's interpretation of these images and educate them about positive body image. Parents can also increase their child's sense of self worth by focusing on other qualities unrelated to size or appearance.

It is a known fact that dieting is one of the leading indicators of a future eating disorder. And the age of dieting onset is getting younger. According to the Children's Hopsital at Westmead, children as young as 5 are being diagnosed with early onset eating disorder.

With this in mind, and as someone who suffered anorexia as a teenager, I am very aware of the messages I send to my almost 5 year old son about food and body image. I praise my son in areas unrelated to physicality, such as his ability to draw or write his name. I also involve him in cooking where possible. He loves to stir scrambled eggs, even if they do slop over the side! I also make sure we eat together so our mealtimes become about enjoying food and each other's company. Most importantly, my son knows he is loved. I believe the need to feel love and approval from parent/s is at the core of every child's inner being.

There is much we can do to foster self-love in our children. But it starts with ourselves first and foremost. Our children look to us as role models so we need to lead by example.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Fun Fearless Females Making a Difference

In this month's Cosmopolitan magazine, which hit the stands today, there is a 50 page 'Body Love' special packed full of information from what your body wishes you'd eat to cramp advice, body myths, workout tips and high profile women openly discussing their past issues with their bodies and how they overcame them.

Among these women is Erica Bartle, editor of, who admits to having suffered from an eating disorder. "I lost my physical, emotional and mental equilibrium along with my curves, self respect and friends. I'm lucky not to have lost my life," she says.

What struck me about Erica's story is how she describes the healing process on three levels - "mind, body and spirit" - and that she sought the support of a spiritual healing group to promote faith and peace of mind on her journey back to full health.

In my experience, recovery can become a complicated process if you don't want it for yourself first and foremost. Only you can love yourself and trust yourself enough to let go of the eating disorder and have faith that letting go will ultimately bring you happiness and peace. Once that self-love is firmly established, support from family and friends, as well as those qualified to help, is of the utmost important. Additional ingredients including spiritual healing, kinesiology, acupuncture, meditation and yoga, also promote self-love and are increasingly being included as part of the recovery journey, depending on what works best for the individual.

On another note, I'm honoured to be named as a Finalist in Cosmopolitan magazine's "Fun Fearless Female" awards in the category Inspirational Role Model, alongside Erica Bartle in the Blogger category (with Sam Brett, Mia Freedman and Helen Lee). I am also happy to share the honour with Danni Watts, project officer for the Butterfly Foundation, an organisation I avidly support, who is named in the Outstanding Contribution category.

It is wonderful that women are being recognised for contributing to the community and to making a positive impact as role models and leaders, because spreading love and healing is how we will ultimately make a difference for the greater good.

To vote go here

Monday, July 27, 2009

'Mirrors' Artwork Submissions Invited

Mirrors Art Exhibition is an annual event founded by fashion entrepreneur Rhiannon Bulley. It aims to raise awareness of eating disorders through the display of abstract and contemporary pieces, and is currently seeking submissions.

"The aim is to
show that the reflection of a mirror is not always one of clarity," says Ms Bulley.

The idea is that a mirror can be blurred or altered by outside motives and the objective is to provide clarity that beauty is not an image but a feeling.

The theme 'Mirrors' is an open embodiment of hope; hope that one day people will comprehend the challenge and complexity of overcoming an eating disorder and the feeling of futility that envelopes the sufferer and their loved ones. Above all it is the hope that through expression, individuals can be prevented from developing or continuing to live with negative body image and low self esteem that often fuels these life threatening illnesses.

Profits from the sale of art will go towards supporting the Butterfly Foundation, an organisation that helps families and individuals whose lives are adversely affected by eating disorders

Mirrors Art Exhibition will be open from 14-26 October at Mori Gallery, Darling Harbour. For further information click on the link and then 'Artwork Submissions':

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Anorexic Teen's Tragic Death

An article in yesterday's Sun Herald highlighted the need to raise awareness of the devastating consequences of anorexia after the tragic death of 19 year old Jessica Macmillan.

Jessica had been battling anorexia nervosa for seven years and took her own life on 13 June. Her family have organised a walkathon to raise money and awareness for the Butterfly Foundation, an organisation of which I am an avid supporter.

The Butterfly Foundation actively helps and supports families and individuals suffering from eating disorders and tirelessly works to promote the dangers of dieting.

Jessica's death is proof that there is so much more that needs to be done to give hope to those struggling with eating issues and help them feel less alone.

Several of the young people I interviewed for my book Why Can't I Look the Way I Want; Overcoming Eating Issues struggled with suicidal thoughts and spoke of the hopelessness and desperation they felt. One said "I thought that by ending my life, I'd finally find peace and I'd never have to feel like this again". Another girl wrote to me in an email "I'm so tired of the struggle and feel as though I've lost hope. Please help me because I want so much to get better". I dedicated a chapter to answering this question because it means everything to have hope. As Christopher Reeve famously said "once you choose hope, anything is possible".

The only way forward is to raise awareness of these devastating illnesses and give people hope by showing how recovery is possible.

'Walk for Jess' will be at Parramatta Park on Saturday from 10.30am.

To read the article go here:

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Pregnancy and Relapse Linked

An article in yesterday's Sun Herald highlighted the fact that there is little research available for former anorexics embarking on pregnancy, but it is known that they are at a much greater risk of relapsing.

My weight hadn't fluctuated in years, I was happy, eating healthily, working out three times a week. Then, after being recovered for many years, I fell pregnant and this brought to the surface a myriad of insecurities and fears; I knew that my body was going to change, and there was nothing I could do about it.

I spent time reflecting on where my fears were coming from and there was a lot of introspection before I could let it all go. Once my son was born, I then had to cope with a different kind of pressure because I was confronted with celebrities in magazines displaying their slim post-pregnancy bodies. I had to work hard not to succumb to the pressure to lose the weight as quickly as possible.

"Pregnancy is a very vulnerable time in a woman's life but if [midwives] are aware of previous eating disorders they can put a lot of supports in place," said Hannah Dahlen, of the Australian College of Midwives.

Although my GP was aware of my history related to anorexia, it was brushed aside by my obstetrician because I had obviously made a complete recovery. I wasn't prepared for the triggers once my body started to change, nor the extent of anxiety I experienced related to my body image, especially during my second trimester.

I believe there needs to be a greater level of support for women who have battled eating disorders and are pregnant, to help them cope with weight gain, and ensure they maintain a healthy diet and exercise program once the baby is born to prevent slipping back into the destructive pattern of an eating disorder.

To read the article, go here:

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Is Orthorexia the next Eating Disorder?

Holistic physician Steven Bratman coined the term 'orthorexia nervosa' in an October 1997 issue of Yoga Journal. In an article titled Health Food Junkie, he wrote "Orthorexia begins innocently enough as a desire to overcome chronic illness or to improve general health. But because it requires considerable willpower to adopt a diet that differs radically from the food habits of childhood and the surrounding culture, few accomplish the change gracefully. Most must resort to an iron self-discipline bolstered by a hefty dose of superiority over those who eat junk food. Over time, what to eat, how much, and the consequences of dietary indiscretion come to occupy a greater and greater proportion of the orthorexic's day".

In our current social and cultural environment, spiritual practices and the art of mindfulness have become increasingly popular. With books such as Rhonda Byrne's The Secret, Deepak Chopra's SynchroDestiny, Echkart Tolle's A New Earth and Paul Coelho's The Alchemist (all of which I highly recommend), we are encouraged to look at the connection between thought, feeling and behaviour, and learn to alter our thought processes to create a greater sense of joy, optimism and inner peace.

However, applying these principles to a strict dietary regime where the drive for nutritional purity is the motivator, can have devastating effects on physical and emotional wellbeing.

There is some cynicism around the term 'orthorexia'. Kelly Brownell, PhD, codirector of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders says "we've never had anybody come to our clinic with orthorexia and I've been working in this field for at least 20 years."

Joshua Rosenthal, founder and director of the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City, counsels individuals to look at the impact eating the 'right' food can have on their life. "This condition can impede other important elements of life, including relationships, creativity ... I call these elements of life primary food - the parts that fill our soul and satisfy our hunger for living."

Similarly, in my book Why Can't I Look the Way I Want; Overcoming Eating Issues, there is a section that shows the steps to take to create a life that is rich and fulfilling, and how to introduce those life elements such as a rewarding job, a creative passion and the joy of healthy relationships, that ultimately eclipse the eating disorder.

In this new age era, orthorexia may well be the next eating disorder. However, the search for meaning is universal and if we can show sufferers how to channel that unyielding willpower into the things that bring them joy, instead of self destructive behaviours, this will go a long way in promoting recovery.

More information:

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Disturbing New Trend: Pregorexia

There's now a term to describe the trend of pregnant women with eating disorders - pregorexia.

'Pregorexics' go to such extremes in their quest to remain trim that they put their baby's health in jeopardy.

This week, the New York Times featured a pregorexic woman whose secret obsession caused her child to be born premature and suffer seizures and attention deficit problems.

Dr Tan Hak Koon, a senior consultant with Singapore General Hospital's department of obstetrics & gynaecology, said severe dieting during pregnancy has dangerous consequences for both mother and child.

The baby could be premature, suffer from IUGR, have low blood oxygen levels, hypoglycemia, and may suffer foetal anomalies. In severe cases, it may develop brain and spine defects like spinal bifida.

The mother may suffer dehydration, hypotension, fainting spells, electrolyte imbalances, and anaemia, all of which impact foetal development.

Dr Tan added that malnourished mums are less able to stand the stressful process of labour and loss of blood. They may even suffer hypotension and heart failure during labour.

Those with underlying eating disorders, particularly anorexia nervosa, are most at risk. These are women who have recovered from anorexia, and regained their fertility, but continue to struggle with weight and body-image issues.

A King's College London study last year involving more than 12,000 British women who recently suffered an eating disorder showed that a significant proportion continued to diet, use laxatives, exercise excessively and practise self-induced vomiting throughout pregnancy, with more than a quarter of women admitting to making themselves throw up during the first trimester.

This is a disturbing trend and one which needs greater awareness. Gynaecologists and obstetricians need to be vigilant with regards to how their patients are coping with weight gain, especially if they have previously suffered eating issues. If in doubt about the mental health of their patient, early intervention is the only way to preserve the health and wellbeing of both mother and child.

To read the article:

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Anorexia's Lifelong Legacy

An article in the Sydney Morning Herald, written by Thea O'Connor, highlights the fact that eating disorders, particularly among boys, are difficult to diagnose and treat.

All too often, a child can display the signs of an eating disorder, however, not be taken seriously until the situation becomes life-threatening.

Significant gaps in community awareness and the health-care system, coupled with a generic diagnostic tool, means many cases are not diagnosed until the illness has taken hold - with disastrous consequences.

A study published in the Medical Journal Of Australia this year found that boys suffering an eating disorder were more likely than girls to remain undiagnosed until they experienced potentially life-threatening medical complications.

Dr Sloane Madden, child psychiatrist at the Children's Hospital at Westmead, says "Doctors are not expecting to see boys with eating disorders, so they are picked up later." Dr Madden is quoted extensively in my recently published book Why Can't I Look the Way I Want; Overcoming Eating Issues, and highlights that serious complications can be prevented if the illness is picked up early. "If children get the right treatment early, 70 to 80 per cent get well in 12 months and 90 per cent are better in five years. This is much better than in adults where the recovery rate at five years is less than 50 per cent," says Madden, an advocate of The Maudsley Model of family-oriented treatment.

Why Can't I Look the Way I Want; Overcoming Eating Issues provides a detailed account of The Maudsley Model, the current treatment of choice for children. It involves the family working together over a year to overcome the anorexia their child is experiencing.

Despite appearances, eating disorders are not about food. "If you look behind the dieting behaviour, you'll find high levels of stress and anxiety," Dr Michael Kohn, a pediatrician at the Children's Hospital at Westmead, says. "I suspect that the increased stress levels I'm seeing in young children are making them more vulnerable to picking up on dieting strategies and media messages about weight and appearance."

To read the article go here:

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Males Falling Prey to Eating Disorders Increasing

One in ten young adults and approximately 25 percent of children diagnosed with anorexia nervosa are male (1).

This figure could be even higher given that traditionally guys are less likely to seek help, especially because the common belief is that anorexia and bulimia are female conditions.

Dr John Morgan, a consultant psychiatrist and director of the Yorkshire Centre for Eating Disorders in Leeds, has confirmed this fact. He told the Annual Meeting of the Royal College of Psychiatrists in Liverpool that growing numbers of young men are increasingly dissatisfied with their bodies and that the number of young heterosexual men falling prey to anorexia and bulimia is increasing. In addition, the gap in the numbers of gay and straight men with eating disorders is closing. Males are also more likely to be misdiagnosed with depression or schizophrenia, and less likely to be given treatment.

Dr Morgan said: "By the time they go for treatment, the disorder is much further down the line ... it's not just their reluctance - it's the system putting up barriers."

Images of skeletal models or men with 'six-packs', as well as a multitude of choices now open to men, is at the root of body dissatisfaction, Dr Morgan said.

"To be a young man is our society is a difficult thing. What you do and who you are is less straightforward. Women were challenged decades ago to consider which of the many different social roles they adopted. Now men are having to respond to the choices that society gives them."

In my recently published book, 'Why Can't I Look the Way I Want; Overcoming Eating Issues' there is an entire chapter dedicated to males and eating disorders because of the alarming increase in not only anorexia and bulimia amongst males, but bigorexia and muscle dysmorphia. 17 per cent of males are on some form of diet and steriod abuse and exercise disorders are increasing in the young male population (2).

This illustrates how drastically guys too are suffering from low self esteem and body image issues.

I've expressed in previous posts, the need to increase the awareness of the dangers of dieting as well as strategies to triumph over these devastating illnesses. Now more than ever we need to help our young adults realise that a positive body image starts on the inside - how they perceive themselves amidst parental, societal and peer pressure - and encourage them to honour their individuality and uniqueness. We need to let them know that they are loved and importantly, that they are enough.

To read the article, go here:

(1) Paxton, S. (1998) 'Do men get eating disorders?', Everybody - Newsletter of Body Image and Health Inc., vol. 2, August, p.41
(2) Weekend Australian, April 1999

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

"Why Can't I Look the Way I Want" Officially Launched

Yesterday I celebrated the launch of my third book 'Why Can't I Look the Way I Want; Overcoming Eating Issues'. The book was launched by Jacinta Tynan at Sydney Girls High, and a panel of speakers included Tara Moss, Rachael Oakes-Ash and Chris Gibson who each provided insights related to their own experiences with body image. It was a wonderful and inspirational event.

My hope is that the book will bring healing to those suffering, and help those who love someone, by providing a degree of crystal ball, in terms of what to do about where you are at with your eating issue, how recovery is possible, and how to create a wonderful and fulfilling life that is true to your heart, beyond recovery.

For more information:

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Generation Next Explodes Myths

Last night I attended the "Generation Next" seminar in Sydney, hosted by Sunrise's Melissa Doyle, and wasn't surprised to see a room packed full of 800 concerned parents eager to learn more about the current issues affecting our teenagers.

With 1 in 4 young people diagnosed with mental illness, including eating disorders, there is a need to raise awareness of how parents can help and support their children, and the important role a GP can play in their child's development.

Around 160,000 young people aged 16-24 years live with depression(1) which is known to destroy the basis for rational thought. Dr Michael Carr-Gregg, official Ambassador for the National Depression Initiative - Beyondblue - stated that depression can be triggered by alcohol and other drug use, and this week launched the "Youth Beyond Blue" campaign to help young people find their way back from anxiety and depression.

Wendy Protheroe from Kids Helpline said that the majority of callers to the Helpline were from teenagers who felt that their parents didn't listen to them. Kids Helpline receives calls from 300,000 children per year which shows how great the need is for our young people to feel as though they have a voice.

Other issues raised include cyberbullying, alcohol and drug use as well as sex education and the emerging trend "sexting", which disturbingly, has already resulted in a teenager up on child pornography charges for posting lewd a picture of themself on the internet.

Generation Next founder Dr Ramesh Manocha said that our teenagers lack the cognitive and emotional maturity, as well as life experience, to deal with the images they come across on the internet, and that it is up to parents to regulate and supervise internet usage.

He also said that signs your child may have depression, and you should see a GP are:

  • any time your child appears to be unhappy withdtrawn, or
  • over emotional, or
  • sleeping poorly for more than two weeks at a time.
The four hour seminar explores a myriad of issues and goes a long way in helping the older generations devise strategies to improve communication and better support our young people.

For more information on the Generation Next seminars taking place around the country, go here:

Other Resources:

Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800

(1) Australian Bureau of Statistics (2008). 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results (4326.0). Canberra: ABS

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Anorexic Male Says 'Men Need More Help'

Nineteen-year-old Chris Hardy said controlling what he ate had given him a sense of achievement.

"A lot of stuff happened at 11 or 12 that was quite traumatic. My parents divorced, I moved school, moved house. And then you also start to become more aware of body image at that age anyway."

When he started medicine at university, his food intake dropped dramatically."I would count out the exact number of pieces of cereal to eat to have each morning, have a cracker lunchtime, and then maybe a few bits of pasta in the evening ... even that seemed too much and I would work on reducing it the next day. That was how I got a sense of achievement."

When he could no longer concentrate in lectures, Chris sought help and was treated for seven months at a specialist hospital.

According to national support charity B-eat, more than 11,000 male patients are receiving treatment nationally. But this may represent only a small proportion of those who have the condition and are keeping it hidden.

'Men Get Eating Disorders Too' is a new website for men who are affected by anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, compulsive eating and bigorexia. The site is designed to provide male sufferers with essential information and advice on eating disorders including warning signs, treatment options and support services.

Website founder Sam Thomas wrote on his Facebook "I'm currently trying to end the stigma associated with male eating disorders through my web and publicity campaign 'Men Get Eating Disorders Too.' Too often eating disorders are assumed to be female only conditions, however this is NOT the case. Recent statistics released by the NHS Info Centre say that a quarter of diagnosed cases of eds are men (approx 700,000 men) - no doubt there are many more cases that are undiagnosed."

Men speaking out about their eating disorders is a huge leap forward in cutting through the stigma associated with males and eating issues. Hopefully this will encourage more males to come forward and seek help.

For more information:

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Raising an Eating Disorder-Free Child

In a recent study published in the Medical Journal of Australia, 101 children aged 5-13 who had been diagnosed with eating disorders were studied. 78% were so severely ill they had to be admitted to hospital. About half required nasogastric tube feeding and one third were given psychotropic medications such as anti-depressants. Only 27% met the diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa while half did not meet the weight criteria (which requires the patient to be less than 85% of their ideal weight for their height). 61% had potentially life-threatening complications such as malnutrition.

The study has shown that the criteria for diagnosing eating disorders in adults should not be applied to young children because they are not being recognised as having eating disorders until they are extremely ill.

The study also found that a quarter of the sufferers were boys.

With the incidence of eating disorders on the rise amongst children as young as primary school age, there is a need for greater awareness of the early warning signs amongst parents.

Dr Stacey Rosenfeld, a New York City based psychologist and eating disorder specialist, says that being a psychologically savvy parent can help significantly decrease the chances that your child will develop a clinical eating disorder. "Kids are very smart and they pick up on their parents' relationship with their own bodies and with food," she says. "What is most important is that parents need to recognise the signs and trust their instincts. Oftentimes, parents ignore early signs because they feel that this problem would be a bad reflection of their parenting and love for their child. If parents witness the signs and jump in early, they can get their child off a dangerous path."

Dr Rosenfeld advises parents to talk about foods in the context of how they nourish their child's body, encourage physical activity for the sake of health (instead of weight control) and focus on their child's strengths outside of their body.

When I'm on the speaker's circuit, one thing I always advise parents to do is this: compliment your child on their strengths unrelated to the way they look. For example "you are so caring, looking after your sister like that", "I love how you've done your hair, it looks really pretty" and "aren't you clever, figuring that out". Praise your child and give them positive reinforcement, especially in the areas where their talents lie. Honour your child's magnificence and their confidence will soar. Confidence fosters self esteem which creates a positive self image, including body image.

To read more about Dr Rosenfeld's advice for parents visit:

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Eating Disorders on the Rise Among Elderly

Recent research from the US reports eating disorders in elderly women have increased and the majority of deaths from anorexia nervosa occur in people over age 65.

"Eating disorder origins among the elderly are surprisingly similar to those identified for young women, but with a unique stage-of-life dimension," said Edward Cumella, Ph.D., executive director at Remuda Ranch (

For elderly people living alone, limited food intake can be an esteem-preserving response to not having the money to buy groceries. Refusing food may also be a protest aimed at loved ones, expressing that the person is quite distressed about activity restrictions or limited family visits. Even more serious, refusing food may be a passive effort to commit suicide arising from hopelessness, despair and depression.

This is clearly disturbing, given much of our focus leans towards educating young people about the dangers of dieting and the potentially destructive path of an eating disorder. Perhaps an awareness program needs to be implemented in nursing homes to provide information about the dangers of restricting food intake and the consequences health-wise. It would also be beneficial to educate staff as well as families visiting their relatives, about the warning signs of early onset eating disorder, to further reduce the incidence of these devastating illnesses among the elderly.

To read more go here:

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Miss Universe Pageant Under Fire

I have been reading with interest the controversy surrounding Australian Miss Universe contestant Stephanie Naumoska.

The 19-year-old is five foot eleven and weighs 105 pounds. This puts her BMI (body mass index) at 15.1. Medical experts say the healthy BMI range is 20-25, therefore this would suggest that Ms Naumoska is grossly underweight.

Australian Medical Association president Dr Rosanna Capolingua, says "The most unhealthy part about it ... is the image it is showing other young women who may view this as normal, when clearly it is not."

I agree that this portrays a dangerous message to young girls, especially those aspiring to a modelling career, and share the view that pageant officials need to adopt a new condition of entry, and introduce a minimum BMI.,21985,25372447-662,00.html

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Children with Eating Disorders: as young as 5 years old

Today I read a newspaper article about children as young as 5 who are suffering from an eating disorder to the extent that hospital intervention is required.

These new findings are clearly disturbing.

According to Dr Sloane Madden from The Children's Hospital at Westmead in Sydney, there is currently a 50% increase in the demand for beds amongst adolescents with eating disorders - and the condition is now increasingly prevalent amongst girls and boys aged 10-12 and even younger.

Dr Madden, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing for my third book 'Why Can't I Look the Way I Want; Overcoming Eating Issues', which will be published by Allen & Unwin in June, fears that the number of cases is expected to rise, unless there is a shift in the media's obsession with fat and weight.

"I think that there needs to be a move away from this focus on weight and numbers and body fat, and a focus on healthy eating and exercise,'' Dr Madden says.

And I vehemently agree. These illnesses are hurting our children - in some cases, killing them. The media needs to take responsibility and start promoting healthy body image instead of sensationalising the number on the scale. As a parent, I take exception to the fact that emaciated models are portrayed as 'healthy'. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It's time to nurture our children and build their self esteem, instead of encouraging self criticism to the extent that it encourages self destructive behaviour resulting in hospitalisation, and debilitating conditions that could lead to death.

This is tragic beyond comprehension.

To read the article, go here:,22049,25354792-5001028,00.html

Monday, April 6, 2009

Website Launched for Males with Eating Disorders

Hot on the heels of my last blog about male anorexia on the increase, a new website offering help, advice and support for men and boys with eating disorders has been launched.

It's Founder, 23 year old Sam Thomas, endured years of bullying at school and developed bulimia. He set up the site after realising the lack of resources available to males who suffer from anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder and bigorexia.

The website is designed to ease feelings of secrecy and isolation amongst male sufferers and offers support through discussion forums, fact sheets, inspirational articles and personal stories. It also offers information on what to look for if you think you or someone you know has an eating disorder, and highlights organisations and support groups.

This is a monumental leap forward in raising the awareness of male eating disorders, and helping our boys and young men feel less alone and know that it's okay to ask for help.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Male Anorexia on the Increase

I recently read disturbing figures that have been released by the Butterfly Foundation in Australia: almost one in three male year 9 students used fasting, skipping meals, diet pills, vomiting after meals, laxatives and smoking cigarettes to keep off weight.

Among adults, one in 10 diagnoses of anorexia is for men, while binge eating disorders have risen among males by up to 5 per cent in the past decade.

Anorexia in males is similar to that in females; restricting food intake and excessive exercise are the two main components. However with boys, there is more emphasis on the exercise factor.

In addition, a new and emerging trend is Bigorexia, or 'Reverse Anorexia', whereby the male becomes obsessed with the idea that they are not muscular enough, and spend countless hours at the gym in an attempt to gain more muscle mass. This constant preoccupation can interfere with school, career and relationships, and in extreme cases, lead to permanent muscle damage.

The onset of an eating disorder in males is usually due to a specific trigger, or set of triggers, including bullying, difficulty dealing with being gay, emotional or sexual abuse and low self esteem brought on by such incidents.

There is a need to increase the awareness of male eating disorders, to reduce the shame inflicted by societal pressure and expectation. We need to encourage young men to reach out for help if they are struggling.

Now more than ever, we need to help young people learn to become psychologically and emotionally resilient to the images portrayed through internet, chat rooms, social networks and the media. We need to help our younger generations preserve their self esteem and believe in who they are.

I am hopeful that the guidelines currently being developed by the national media and industry code of conduct on body image (to be announced in August), will be a solid step towards reducing the incidence of eating disorders.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Can Emotions Predict Eating Disorders?

A new paper analyses emotional characteristics including the way in which negative emotions are dealt with and emotional expression, the main objective being to construct an 'emotional profile' of women at risk from succumbing to eating disorders, as well as those already suffering.

The paper states there is a greater risk of developing an eating disorder when emotions are influenced by low self esteem, anxiety, acting on impulse and when emotions are not expressed.

I personally believe that there is a need to address where these emotions are coming from in the first place - what is driving them? Is there a deeper issue that needs to be addressed?

In addition, could it help us to explore the emotionality of the individual i.e. the observable and physiological components of their emotions. For example, someone who is anxious would experience an elevated heart rate and perspiration, as well as the more obvious signs of talking quickly or stammering. Could this provide more clues as to whether or not an individual is capable of expressing emotion, and if so, could this lead to establishing mechanisms to encourage self expression?

Creative outlets such as writing, drawing or movement through yoga or dance, are a wonderful way to express feelings and emotions, and help expel negativity, in a non confrontational manner.

Perhaps if self expression as a method of dealing with negative emotion, was encouraged from a young age, adolescents would have more confidence asserting themselves if they feel angry or hurt or sad, and the incidence of self destructive behaviours such as anorexia and bulimia, would diminish.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Who Magazine & Positive Body Image

This week's issue of Who magazine profiled a handful of celebrities who shared how they've triumphed over body image issues.

From 25 year old Jennifer Hawkins, who admits to having a 'love-hate' relationship with her body, however, says "if you're healthy and you feel good, then that's all that matters", to Danni Minogue, 37, who says "I hope, for the sake of younger girls, that there will be a time when it's accepted that we're all different shapes".

Kate Ceberano, 42, says that becoming a mother helped the singer to value her shape " I was a hottie when I was in my 20s but I thought I looked disgusting. At that time I was very disappointed that I didn't look the way I wanted to, but now I'm able to focus on the things I do like".

It's refreshing to see a mainstream magazine promoting awareness of positive body image, and celebrities speaking out about overcoming their struggles with the way their bodies looked.

In an age where society tends to sensationalise the "stick thin" concept, and brand celebrities with the dreaded 'F' word if they aren't cutting it as a size zero, this kind of feature goes a long way in helping young adults accept themselves as they are.

I personally feel that we need to nurture teens and young adults, and encourage self acceptance so they feel a sense of confidence that evolves with maturity. This can only be achieved by creating positive role models who in turn have a positive impact on the younger generation.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Crack Team to Lift Teen Esteem

A new national advisory group chaired by former Cosmopolitan editor and Fairfax columnist Mia Freedman has been formed to educate teens about positive body image.

The advisory group also includes the Minister for Youth and Sport, Kate Ellis, and Sarah Murdoch, host of Australia's Next Top Model, who is also a Bonds model. Ms Murdoch is keen to change the 'thin is beautiful' mentality. "This is the perfect time now for us to get involved at a government level, the fashion industry, with researchers … and work out how can we progress this even further and put more positive images out there," Ms Murdoch said in the article that appeared in today's Sydney Morning Herald.

This is a brilliant initiative and one that I, as an author and public speaker on the topic of positive body image and eating disorders, wholeheartedly support

To read the article, go here:

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Yoga - A New Way To Promote Recovery

A 2005 study in the journal 'Psychology of Women Quarterly' found that women who routinely engage in a mind-body practice like yoga were more satisfied with their body and exhibited less eating disorder symptoms, than women who undertook other aerobic-style exercise.

Yoga is about connecting with yourself - mind, body and spirit. It is self exploration at the heart level.

One of the things I actively encourage people who are trying to let go of their eating disorder to do, is listen to the voice that speaks from their heart. This is the voice that honours who we are deep inside, and the voice of self love. The more attention you pay to this voice, the louder it becomes until it drowns out the negative voices that attempt to perpetuate the eating disorder.

Yoga is a wonderful way to connect with your heart whilst falling in love with your body. Yoga’s magical ability to allow us to tune in with our inner self is a powerful shift in how we see ourselves, and an integral part of the journey to recovery.

Read more here:

Saturday, February 21, 2009

New Documentary tackles unhealthy body image

A new documentary titled 'America the Beautiful', explores why Americans are unhappy with their bodies and scrutinizes why that is. Filmmaker Darryl Roberts critizes America's unhealthy obsession with beauty and perpetual quest for physical perfection.

During the early stages of making his film, Roberts asked 200 women from all walks of life if they felt attractive or possessed a healthy attitude about their bodies. Only 2 said yes.

In the US, as many as 10 million females struggle with anorexia or bulimia.

At the core of this documentary lies a simple message, according to Roberts. "Everyone living has something unique and beautiful about them. We have to learn to tap into this personal beauty. We have to learn to love ourselves."

Recent studies conducted by the University of California, Santa Barbara's Health Education Department show that among its students, students with eating disorders have increased from 18.5 percent in 1995 to 21.3 percent in 2002 and 30 percent in 2008. This means that at least one in four UCSB students is battling this problem.

From February 23-27, UCSB is hosting National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (NEDAW). This annual event is tailored to raise awareness about the different kinds of eating disorders and to educate those who are affected. Darryl Roberts will share his world-renowned film as part of NEDAW.

Kudos to Darryl Roberts for bringing this topic into the spotlight. If there were more documentaries that explored society's unhealthy obsession with weight and shape, it would help curtail dangerous dieting behaviour and promote positive body image.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

And that is the question...

Why can't I look the way I want? I have heard this uttered many a time, in school corridors, cafes, bus stops, at sleepovers, in movie theatres over buckets of popcorn, before the trailers conclude and the lights dim. It's a universal theme.

I have come to the conclusion that we as a society, are confronted with so many images of beautiful bods, celebrity make-overs with titles that scream 'half their size' and congratulatory-style articles when a celeb sheds weight post-pregnancy, that body image is part of our conditioning.

But at what point is it okay to intervene in someone's eating behaviours? Do we wait until it becomes dangerous, to the point where they are rail thin, or have gained three dress sizes? Is it okay to say "you're gonna get fat if you eat that". Or will threatening someone with the ugliness of weight gain create eating issues that could potentially become life threatening?

I fear the latter prevails. And I know, because I've been there.

This story about a 20 year old girl who died of anorexia over the weekend, saddened me.

We have a responsibility to our friends, siblings and loved ones, to help and support each other. Threatening someone that they will "get fat" is no way to help them overcome eating issues. There is something deeper going on that needs to be brought to the surface and if this can be can be done with love, the issue can be addressed and a potentially life threatening situation avoided.