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.

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