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