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: http://www.emagazine.com/view/?4734

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: http://static.divaasia.com/article/3900

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: