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