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 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.