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We are taught subliminally from a very young age that being thin is good.  Advertising, the media, celebrities and society place huge importance on physical appearance and the drive for perfection. So it’s not surprising to hear that eating disorders affect 9% of Australian population and 15% of women. That is 2 million people across the nation experiencing an eating disorder (Eating Disorders Victoria, September 2012).

The statistic we don’t know is what percentage of Australian’s will seek medical help to resolve the eating disorder. Speaking to a Psychologist or Doctor about your eating disorder can significantly improve your quality of life but the first step is recognising that you have a problem.

Clinical eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia are very serious with life threatening health risks, they often require intervention from a family member and many years of medical help. However, more recently clinicians have found that there is a much wider spectrum of non-clinical eating disorders that derive from body image distortion and a drive for thinness. A ‘drive for thinness’ or in some cases overeating a ‘drive for self protection’ are often primary issues or impediments to recovery for a person with an eating disorder. The person with an eating disorder often experiences significant alterations in their ability to rationally appraise their bodies. They actually feel and see a very different shape to what exists. Their feelings and thoughts about their bodies are nearly always extremely negative and critical.

Commonly the person with an eating disorder initially finds some benefit in their restrictive eating, overeating or compensatory behaviours that may include purging, exercise, laxative and diuretic abuse.  Ironically they may experience a noticeable decrease in other mental health issues including symptoms of anxiety, depression or low self-esteem. Fuelled by an overwhelming drive to achieve very specific goals usually relating to eating, weight, sport, academic or vocational achievements the person may experience a sort of artificial euphoria associated with chemical changes and reduced circulation in the brain and body.  This affect is caused by “Starvation Syndrome.”

The first step to recovery is recognising that you have a problem, whether it is big or small. The next is asking for help and this is one of the most difficult steps for a person with an eating disorder. Often awareness of the disorder can be very delayed for both the individual affected and their family and friends.  Health practitioners will often struggle to identify and/or achieve the patient’s agreement that there is a problem. Patients have often said to myself and other health professionals “I thought it was all ok, I would stop when I was ready.  It was only when I couldn’t stop that I realised that it was a problem.”

Reversing starvation or poor nutrition alone does not ‘cure’ an eating disorder. The emotional relationship and psychological factors that contributed to the condition need to be addressed. Shifting awareness and developing insight into the traps created by an eating disorder and/or severe body image distortion can be extraordinarily difficult for a person with eating disorder symptoms and their carers- but it can be achieved.

Establishing a network of support that may include an experienced psychologist, general practitioner, dietitian and psychiatrist is a critical factor in achieving wellness. Carers and family members also play a very significant role in the recovery of a loved one with an eating disorder. Family Based Therapy involving the whole family in the recovery process is the primary evidence-based approach to intervention for children and teenagers. It can also be very important for parents, partners and carers supporting a loved one with an eating disorder of any age to access their own support.  Regular appointments with an experienced psychologist who is aware of the complexities of eating disorders can be very beneficial.

For many persons with eating disorders meeting others with similar illnesses and joining in with the activities provided by community organisations can be an important step in reconciliation and recovery.
Some of the support services available here in Brisbane include:

The Butterfly Foundation. This is Australia’s only national charity for the support of people with eating disorders and their families and carers.  The Butterfly foundation is dedicated to bring about change to the culture, policy and practice in the prevention, treatment and support of those affected by eating disorders and negative body image.

The Eating Disorders Association Inc (Qld) is a non-profit organisation funded by Queensland Health, to provide information, support, referrals and support group services for all people affected by eating disorders in the state of Queensland, Australia.  The EDA also provides tailored workshops for positive body image and eating disorders to schools, universities, health professionals and the community.
Isis – The Eating Issues Centre Inc.  Isis works therapeutically with women and men of all ages from 17 years onwards. 
As the majority of those with eating issues are women, Isis offers more women-focused time at the centre:

Eating Disorders Outreach Service and North Brisbane Outpatients Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Program. EDOS is a publicly funded state-wide health service that plays a significant leadership role and service development in Queensland including a state-wide specialist consultation liaison service which facilitates patient access to local general medical and psychiatric facilities, and a specialist outpatient clinic for patients residing north of the Brisbane
Additional information is available:
F.E.A.S.T. – Families Empowered And Supporting Treatment of Eating Disorders is an international organisation of and for parents and caregivers to help loved ones recover from eating disorders by providing information and mutual support, promoting evidence-based treatment, and advocating for research and education to reduce the suffering associated with eating disorders.
Australian and New Zealand Academy of Eating Disorders (ANZAED) is a the peak body for eating disorder professionals committed to leadership and collaboration in research, prevention, treatment and advocacy.
If you are experiencing body image distortion or think you may have an eating disorder, Psychology Consultants can help you overcome what can be an all consuming, negative force in your life.
To see our full team of Psychologists here.