Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Advice for Grandparents

What should you do if you notice a change in your grandchild’s eating habits?

The first thing to do is to talk to your child (the parent) about your concerns so that you can share ideas to help your grandchild and collaborate on a course of action.

If your child, who is now the parent, experienced eating issues, chances are they will already be vigilant when it comes to their own child and may be taking steps to address the problem.

It has been proven that early intervention can lead to a more positive outcome so it helps to be familiar with the early warning signs:

• Going on an unusually strict diet
• Making excuses to avoid mealtimes
• Avoiding eating in front of others
• An aversion to certain foods previously enjoyed
• A sudden interest in the calorific content of food
• Excessive exercise
• Wearing baggy clothing to hide weight loss
• Change in disposition; hostility

Helping someone you love help their child

• Seek guidance from The Butterfly Foundation, an organisation dedicated to helping individuals and families deal with eating issues.
• Ensure you have a plan of action in terms of working together in the grandchild’s best interests, so that if your child needs a break and you are taking care of your grandchild, the rules apply in both households. This will help prevent your grandchild playing you off against each other.
• The most important thing to remember is to not lose hope.
• Don’t wait for your grandchild to ask for help but don’t push them either. Unconditional love, as simple as it sounds, is most effective

Do not:

• Try to catch them out. People with eating issues dislike themselves enough already and when people are unsympathetic they have even more reason to keep it hidden.
• Watch them eat. It draws attention to the problem and makes the person feel like they can’t eat because that’s what’s expected.
• Pretend nothing is wrong – this only serves to feed the eating disorder.
• Give up on them. You never know what is around the corner that will help them make the shift towards recovery. If you give up it sends the message that they should too.

Come from a place of love and compassion and try to stay open so that if your grandchild chooses to open up to you, you can be there for them.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Value of Positive Self Talk

We all know what negative self-talk sounds like:

"You're worthless" ... "everybody hates you" ... "you're a hopeless failure"

It's so easy to beat ourselves up. Worse, when someone reaches a place of hopelessness, they pay more attention to the negative self-talk and even begin to trust it because it validates their feelings of insecurity and self-doubt. And when you are suffering self doubt, you feel you can't trust anyone, so the natural thing to do is trust yourself - negative self-talk included.

Negative self talk latches on to lack of confidence and erodes it further with incessant negative chatter. And the more you listen to it, the more power you give it.

To break this pattern, acknowledge the reel of negative dialogue and then take action to transform it into positive ideals. Tune in to the the voice in the background, the quieter voice, the voice of self-love - I call this the "voice that speaks from your heart". Think about the things in your life that you are grateful for. Ground yourself in the moment - go outside and feel the sun or the rain touch your skin; take a deep breath and notice the wondrous smell in the air; look at the sky and whether it's sunny or grey, be grateful for the beauty around you. Think about what a loving, caring and wonderful person you are. Think about the people in your life who love you. The things that bring you joy. Activities that excite you.

When you start to change your thoughts, the way the world feels will start to change too.

I love this quote from Norman Vincent Peale "If you want things to be different, perhaps the answer is to become different yourself".

We all have the power to change the things we say about ourselves to ourselves. Positive self-talk can lead us to amazing experiences because it inspires the belief that we are worthwhile. And it also leads to self-love. It is my personal belief that positive body image is inspired by self-love; the way you feel about yourself on the inside, and this reflects the way you choose to 'be'.

Let the love in your heart be the inspiration for who you are ♥

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Private Mentor Program Launched to Help Achieve Recovery

As an author and speaker who is passionate about helping people recover from eating disorders, I have decided to make myself available to conduct private mentoring sessions for people in recovery.

The statistics are shocking and show that eating issues are extremely prevalent:
  • Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any psychological illness
  • 68% of 15 year old females are on a diet
  • Early onset eating disorder is being diagnosed in children as young as 5
I personally feel that more needs to be done to reduce the incidence of eating disorders, especially amongst teenagers – so I have designed a program that aims to compliment or enhance the work an individual is doing or has already done with a therapist, counselor or psychologist.

I will use my personal experience recovering from anorexia and rebuilding my life, and what I have learned over the past 10 years talking to people about what helped them recover, to mentor others through the process.

My program aims to:
  • Transform negative self-talk into strong positive ideals and beliefs
  • Show that who you will be without the eating disorder is so much more powerful than the eating disorder itself
  • Alleviate the fear of the unknown
  • Empower you, or someone you love, to let go of their current situation
  • Inspire the belief that yes, you can recover - and show you how
  • Help you tune into the voice that speaks from your heart
  • Demonstrate how believing in yourself can and will bring you everything your heart desires
  • Help you find the confidence to let the eating disorder go forever
  • Show you how to rebuild your life with absolute conviction and move forward to create a wonderful future
The prospect of abandoning your eating disorder can be terrifying – but having lost my teenage years to anorexia and turning my life around, I am passionate about mentoring others through the process.

My mentoring program will help individuals discover how to move forward with courage, confidence and conviction.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

'Beginner At Life' returns to Australia

Following its acclaimed Australian premiere at the Tap Gallery in 2008, New York City playwrite Alana Ruben Free is bringing Beginner At Life back for two performances at Newtown Theatre and one at the Bondi Pavilion during April and May 2010.

This is a wonderful and inspiring event that I highly recommend. I attended three performances of Beginner At Life in 2008 and had the pleasure of spending time with Alana in Sydney, as well as New York when I visited there in 2009. Alana is a truly inspirational woman. She brings to the fore truth, authenticity and the quest for inner wisdom in her deeply moving and powerful one-woman-play that tackles eating disorders, self-image and growth.

Following the New York and Canadian seasons that starred the playwright, the Australian production will again be performed by accomplished Australian stage & screen actress Donna Brooks. Alana Ruben Free will be visiting Sydney for the performances and leading discussion sessions with expert panelists after each show. I am honoured to be asked to take part as an expert panelist after the shows on Monday 26 April and 3 May and look forward to helping expand upon the compelling insight into the heart, mind and body of a woman who has suffered from anorexia.

As Alana Ruben Free’s play unfolds, one cannot help but be drawn into the heartache, anguish and despair of anorexia, only to bask in the exhilaration and ultimate freedom of recovery through finding connection with your heart and true self. Beginner At Life is a riveting and poignant account of one woman’s tumultuous journey that will resonate with the desire that lies in all of us for truth, love, connection and purpose.

Beginner At Life
Monday 26 April and Monday 3 May at Newtown Theatre, Cnr King and Brays Streets
Sunday 9 May, Bondi Pavilion Theatre, Queen Street, Bondi Beach
Tickets $20. Bookings MCA Ticketing 1300 306 776 or online

For more information visit www.beginneratlife.com

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Pregnancy a Potential Trigger for Eating Disorders

An article in yesterday’s Courier Mail brought awareness to the issue that women in their 30s and 40s are increasingly seeking help to battle eating disorders because of pressure to be “yummy mummies”.

The Butterfly Foundation’s Julie Parker said the eating disorder support service was increasingly being contacted by older women – or their husbands and partners – for help.

She said: "Any time a person's body experiences significant physical change, such as a pregnancy or menopause, it increases the potential of them experiencing body image, self-esteem and weight-related concerns."

A recent survey conducted by Tommy’s, the baby charity, and Johnson’s Baby company, showed the number of mums-to-be more concerned about fitting into their skinny jeans than their baby’s health is rising. The survey also found one in 50 British women develops an eating disorder during pregnancy.

Having suffered from anorexia as a teenager and recovered by my early twenties, I can vouch first hand that falling pregnant was a very challenging time. Of course, it should have been a celebration of one of life’s gifts. But instead, I felt terrified because I knew that my body was going to change and there was nothing I could do about it.

The day I couldn’t fit into my favourite pair of jeans was the most confronting. I felt paralysed by fear. I tried to focus on the life growing inside me and how amazing that was. After hours of soul searching, I decided to be pragmatic about the situation and visit a maternity shop.

I felt excited about my new pregnancy clothes … until someone said to me ‘look how fat you are’. I wanted to say ‘I’m not fat I’m pregnant’ but that confidence evaded me. The second I was alone, I cried hysterically. ‘You’re fat’ is the worst thing anyone can say to someone who once suffered anorexia.

That one comment was enough to trigger a barrage of negative thoughts and emotions, and although outwardly I appeared happy and together, inside I felt terrified about gaining weight and what my body would look like after the baby was born. I had trouble looking at myself in the mirror. When I ran my hands over my swollen belly to try to connect with the growing being inside, I felt sick with fear.

I decided to revisit the reasons I ditched anorexia all those years ago. I thought about how happy I’d been when I recovered, how much joy I’d derived from life. And again, I had a choice – to embrace my pregnancy and trust that my body would do what it had to do to produce a healthy baby. Or fight it and risk the health and wellbeing of myself and my unborn child.

So I made the decision to look deeply, turn my fear and uncertainty around, and trust the process.

One of the things that helped me was a magnet that came with an item of maternity wear. It simply said: “Yes you look beautiful”. I looked at this often, reminding myself that my body was beautiful, and that I too was beautiful on the inside. I developed affirmations associated with loving and nurturing myself so that my baby would be healthy. I reminded myself of the importance of listening to the voice that speaks from my heart. I made sure I exercised in moderation to foster a positive body image. I chose to focus on the wonder of my body growing a human being, instead of incessantly worrying about the way I looked. I shifted my focus to the things that brought me joy, planning for the baby, decorating the nursery, reading pregnancy books and combing through baby names on the internet.

Years of therapy during recovery from anorexia taught me that only I had the power to change the way I thought, and it was up to me to create the experience I wanted.

I had to trust myself, trust my body and draw on my inner strength.

I became vigilant about monitoring my thoughts and feelings that were connected with my body and weight gain. I gave myself permission to just ‘be’ during the first six weeks after the baby was born, and promised myself that after the six week check up, I’d develop a routine that included time for exercise.

Allowing myself this six week sabbatical took so much pressure away. I planned to lose the weight in moderation and without a self-imposed deadline. I decided to try on my favourite pair of jeans the same time every week, knowing that one day I would fit into them again.

That day happened five months after my son was born. I felt proud of myself for not succumbing to the pressure to lose my pregnancy weight as quickly as possible. Being honest with myself and identifying my triggers throughout pregnancy and beyond, and turning them around, enriched the experience so that it became profound and positive.

I encourage any woman suffering anxieties about pregnancy weight gain to revisit the amazing process of creating a life, and listen to the voice that speaks from their heart. Remember that pregnancy is a profound experience and you are playing a leading role in the miracle of life. That is to be celebrated.

For help contact The Butterfly Foundation

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Body Image Still An Issue

This week's issue of Who Magazine is "The Body Issue". The fold-out cover showcases high profile Australians including Jodi Gordon, Tom Williams, Catriona Rowntree, Pat Rafter and Lisa Curry to name a few, in tasteful black body wear.

"The Body Issue" discusses body bullying, negative body image at school and male body image and shows how these Aussie icons embraced their bodies as they matured.

A candid interview with Vanessa Amorosi reveals the singer was body-bullied as a teen. She says "there's a lot of pressure that goes on in schools. It seems important when you're younger but with age you realise it's really not. It's about whether you're fit and happy, and doing what makes your soul content, rather than thinking "Should I eat that next piece of cake?"

Many of the people I interviewed for Why Can't I Look the Way I Want agreed that there is a great deal of pressure at school and in the peer group. Individuals with a high level of body image disturbance may be at an increased risk of developing eating disorders, with dieting the greatest risk factor. A study of adolescent girls found that 68% of 15 year-old girls are on a diet and of those, 8% are on a severe diet.

Tom Williams says "at school and growing up as a young lad, I didn't look like the other boys. They had muscle, I was just lanky and lean ... I always used to beat myself up about it".

Pat Rafter says he exercises for wellbeing and "some days you wake up and you have a bit of a fat day. I like to stay in shape and feel good about myself, but I don't go to an extreme where it goes beyond that".

Unfortunately, some guys do. 17% of males are on some form of diet and recently a Men's Forum in the UK revealed that a study of male US college students found that when guys were asked to pick their ideal body type, they chose a picture showing a man with approximate 12 kilograms more muscle than they had on their own bodies.

Body image dissatisfaction in males can directly affect self-esteem and as a result, trigger a determination to alter the body through excessive exercise. Because it is socially and culturally acceptably for guys to undertake a lot of physical activity, the dissatisfaction can often go unnoticed by family and friends.

Male eating disorders can be triggered by a psychological vulnerabiltiy caused by low self esteem, feelings of loss of control, emotional vulnerability and an effort to get the 'perfect' body that is idealised by society. Warning signs include an overaggressive approach to fitness, following dietary programs to the extreme, using dietary and protein supplements, an increased interest in fitness magazines and a sudden change in eating habits.

When it comes to females Christine Anu's interview in Who Magazine gets my vote. She says "I was always unhappy as a skinny girl ... I'm really quite physically confident now. I find myself a sexy woman and I'm able to really personify that for me. You are sexy in how you feel, the confidence comes from how you carry it".

I often talk about the importance of self-love because it is my belief that positive body image stems from how you feel about yourself on the inside. Christine Anu sums this up beautifully, as does Who's statement "true confidence comes from banishing image battles and learning to love what you've got". Amen.

For more information on male eating issues go to: 9AM with David & Kim.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Children at Risk of Eating Disorders

It has been revealed by the Sun in the UK that half of Britain's six-year-old girls want to be thinner with many convinced it would make them more popular. The shock figure emerged in a study by Cambridge University experts which found most girls consider themselves too fat by age 12.

Chillingly, half the six-year-olds who were asked to pick their ideal shape went for a digitally altered image of themselves three sizes smaller - the most stick-thin they could choose.

The mother of Saffron Davies, the girl who chose the thinnest image of herself as the best, blamed the cult of airbrushed Size Zero models. “Saffron looks through my magazines and says her legs are fat. There is a worrying culture of girls thinking they're overweight from a very young age,” she said.

The experiment was performed for a programme that will air in the UK next week about extreme parental guidance.

Cambridge's Dr Terri Apter said girls linked thinness with being popular and said “it’s distressing”.

The Sun also reported how sports-mad Lucy Davis, five, was branded unhealthily fat by NHS experts in Poole, Dorset - for being one per cent over her ideal Body Mass Index.

It is disturbing that girls as young as five and six are developing a negative awareness about weight and size. Is there a link between this and the article I posted on 1 February stating that record numbers of school-age girls are being treated in hospital for eating disorders in England?

The Sydney Morning Herald reported last June findings from a study published in the Medical Journal Of Australia in 2009. The study found that between July 2002 and June 2005, 101 five- to 13-year-old children were newly diagnosed with an eating disorder. About two-thirds were affected by anorexia nervosa. The rest were experiencing "food avoidant emotional disorder" - a condition unique to children which involves extreme weight loss driven by high anxiety levels, rather than wanting to be thin.

By the time these children received treatment most were experiencing life-threatening complications such as low body temperature, low blood pressure and slowed heart rate.

This trend rings alarm bells with eating-disorder specialists who know the shocking consequences of an eating disorder left unchecked in children. These include the effects of starvation and electrolyte imbalances which can cause cardiac arrest. Sufferers can also experience impaired fertility, stunted growth and thinning of the bones, in some cases to the point of osteoporosis.

"When kids are starved, their brains shrink, they're more likely to get depressed and anxious, their thinking slows down and memory falters,” said Dr Sloane Madden, child psychiatrist at the Children's Hospital at Westmead. “This affects their relationships with their friends. The effects can be reversed with re-feeding, but not always."

These serious complications can be prevented if children at risk are 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," Madden says.

The Maudsley Model of family-oriented treatment is the current treatment of choice for children and new training programs for pediatricians and primary-care health workers are being developed. Meanwhile, although eating disorders in children are still rare, hospital admission rates are increasing. Professor Susan Sawyer, director of the Centre for Adolescent Health at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, says that over the last five years she has seen a dramatic increase in the number of young people presenting with eating disorders, especially among the 10- to 13-year age group.

After intensive research 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 perpetuate a cycle of self destruction which can lead to the onset of an eating disorder.

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 pressure diminishes. A negative body image can be a result of self loathing; the need to please others; feelings of hopelessness. And this is not helped by size zero images reflected in the media.

Although media influence is ever-present, 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 qualities unrelated to size or appearance. If however, a child begins to display an aversion towards food and changes in their eating patterns, seek medical advice as soon as possible so that the child gets the right treatment early. See Treatment Options on page 201 of Why Can’t I Look the Way I Want; Overcoming Eating Issues

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Link Between Autism and Eating Disorders?

The Times in the UK has reported that autism and related conditions are being underdiagnosed in women and teenage girls, with many cases being confused with eating disorders or other problems.

Janet Treasure, an expert on eating disorders at the Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College London, said that women or girls on the autistic spectrum often focused on diet or calorie control, which became their obsession. About one in five women with an eating disorder is thought to be on the autistic spectrum.

A study led by Professor Treasure on 150 women with acute anorexia or bulimia suggests that up to 60 per cent also develop the psychological signs of autism. “Those who are severely underweight and unwell, with serious disruption of eating patterns, share a lot of the cognitive and emotional styles common to autism,” she said. “Their poor nutrition means that they can’t see the bigger picture, they focus on detail and have a rigid way of thinking, finding it hard to adapt.”

These psychological symptoms were lessened when most of the women gained weight. But “girls with autism are at high risk of getting into a pattern of behaviour that can cause a vicious cycle of problems”, said Professor Treasure. “It is important that people notice and try to stop it.”

Mark Lever, the chief executive of the National Autistic Society, said: “We are extremely concerned that many women with autism may be going undiagnosed. So many tell us that trying to get a diagnosis feels like an insurmountable hurdle and they have to fight tremendous battles to get the help, support and services they desperately need.

In April 2009, News Scientist reported that Simon Baron-Cohen of the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge, UK, is also measuring whether adolescents with anorexia score higher on autistic traits than healthy people, as he suspects that some may actually have undiagnosed Asperger's syndrome. "We have always known that Asperger's syndrome was diagnosed more often in males," he says. "The new question is whether it takes a different form in females, and can account for at least a subgroup of those who are diagnosed with anorexia."

If it does, this could have important implications for the way that anorexia is treated. "As well as treating the 'eating disorder' the clinician and the patient might [also] focus on social skills," says Baron-Cohen, although he adds that weight gain would remain a key target.

An article in Time in June 2009 reported that London researchers have been studying the commonalities between these two conditions for several years. On the surface, they appear entirely different — in autism, patients have difficulty connecting with people in the outside world, while in anorexia, sufferers seem consumed by other people's perceptions — but Maudsley researchers point out that the salient characteristics of each illness are similar.

For example, both anorexic and autistic patients have a tendency to behave obsessively and suffer from rigid ways of thinking. Tic disorders, which commonly affect people with autism, are found in 27% of people with severe anorexia. And in both conditions, patients have difficulty with "set-shifting," or changing course mentally.

The same article states that according to Dr. Eric Hollander, an attending psychiatrist at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City and an expert on autism, there is evidence that the "repetitive thoughts and behaviors, rigid routines and rituals and perfectionism" that characterise both autism and anorexia may be traced to the same regions in the brain.

If this is in fact the case, it would be beneficial to conduct further research into the link between anorexia and autism. Simon Baron-Cohen makes a valid point about using this information to reassess the way anorexia could potentially be treated.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Exposing the Early Warning Signs

A London website states that record numbers of school-age girls are being treated in hospital for eating disorders.

The Mirror reports that under-18s were admitted to NHS hospitals with problems such as anorexia and bulimia 794 times last year in England. That is a massive 55 per cent rise on 2004/05, which saw 512 cases.

Girls of 15 were the most likely to need treatment for their condition, with 194 admissions in the age group last year. But eating disorders have been found in girls as young as eight.

And the new figures reveal the rise in eating disorders among girls shows no signs of abating.

Susan Ringwood of eating disorder charity Beat, said: "Starving the body of food can cause heart and kidney failure, irregular heart beat, low pulse, low blood pressure and low body temperature. It takes 500 calories just to get the brain to work and without enough calories the body starts to shut down. What we need is for doctors to pick up eating disorders quicker so girls don't end up in hospital."

In my book Why Can't I Look the Way I Want; Overcoming Eating Issues, there is a section about early warning signs. As people suffering from eating issues are secretive these signs can be subtle and cited as 'normal' behaviour - unless you are aware of what to look for.

Common warning signs include going on an unusually strict diet, becoming ‘vegetarian’ or ‘vegan’ i.e. cutting out entire food groups under the guise of wanting to be 'healthy', making excuses to avoid eating such as “I ate dinner at my friend’s house”, wearing baggy clothing to hide weight loss, obsession with food preparation, ritualistic behaviour when eating such as cutting food into little pieces, obsession with preparing food, insisting that meals are eaten at a certain time each day or obsessive use of the same plates and utensils.

I also believe there are warning signs before the warning signs and there is a section on my website bodycage.com dedicated to raising awareness of subtle changes in disposition prior to the development and onset of the eating disorder. To read about the warning signs before the warning signs go Here

This disturbing report from London shows there is a pressing need to raise awareness of the seriousness of eating issues especially amongst children and adolescents, as well as the early warning signs. Watch the ones you love closely - if you sense that they are having trouble coping with life or struggling from day to day, reach out and do what you can to get to the heart of the matter. Anxiety almost always stems from an emotional need and if this need is addressed, the destructive path of an eating issue can potentially be avoided.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Let's Get Positive about Body Image

Now that the dust has – seemingly – settled on the ‘is Jennifer Hawkins a role model for positive body image’ debate, I am going to take this whole body image topic off on another tangent.

Posing nude is a form of self expression. Self expression is about self confidence, self respect and having the courage to put yourself out there regardless of public opinion. Hawkins and Dye both showed enormous courage posing nude for mainstream women’s magazines because it left them wide open to both commendation and criticism.

These amazing and confident women have shown self love, inner beauty and importantly, authenticity.

Isn’t this a tangible area of focus that puts a positive spin on the whole body image debate?

The issue about ‘real’ women also comes to light in Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, which is a brilliant initiative designed to help women value themselves for who they are, flaws and all, and a link that I have posted frequently on Twitter.

I believe we need to help people see that self expression doesn’t have to be about how you look, what you weigh or the size of your clothing. It is how you feel about yourself on the inside and this is what comes to the fore.

Self expression is also a powerful tool in exploring thoughts and feelings. In my book Why Can’t I Look the Way I Want; Overcoming Eating Issues, this is highlighted in the chapter titled Express Yourself. The freedom to express yourself creatively can help access experiences at a subconscious and sensory level, which can offer fresh insights and different ways of looking at things. Creative writing is a popular form of self expression and having a dedicated diary or journal to record thoughts and feelings can lead to a greater awareness of self. Painting, sculpting with clay, tracing images in the sand and dancing also allows the act of creating a safe space to explore feelings in a creative way.

If we take the focus off ‘size’ and instead channel it into inner beauty and self love through self expression and exploration of thoughts and feelings, we can better help people feel good about themselves and therefore encourage positive body image.