International No Diet Day, 6 May 2016, is an annual celebration of body acceptance that promotes healthy lifestyles with a focus on health at any size and raising awareness of the potential dangers of dieting and the unlikelihood of sustainable success.
A representative of Eating Disorders Victoria, an organization that provides a comprehensive support and information service on all aspects of eating disorders, sat down (virtually) with CrowdInk to talk a bit about their mission and a few myths surrounding eating disorders.
CrowdInk: How are eating disorders diagnosed?
Eating Disorders Victoria: Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses that occur when eating, exercise and body weight or shape become an unhealthy preoccupation of someone’s life. Many people don’t realise just how prevalent they are, and in fact eating disorders affect approximately 9% of the Australian population, with only one in six getting treatment.
Eating disorders are diagnosed by a health professional such as a GP or psychologist who examines the thoughts, attitudes and behaviours that a person might be experiencing. These thoughts, attitudes, and behaviours might relate to food, their body image, exercise, or broader issues such as their general mood and wellbeing.
There are four main diagnoses for eating disorders – Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, and Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders. Many people who don’t quite meet the diagnostic criteria for these eating disorders still benefit from support from a qualified health professional.
CI: What does Eating Disorders Victoria do?
EDV: Eating Disorders Victoria (EDV) provides services to anyone in Victoria affected by an eating disorder, such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder. We provide a whole range of options for people affected by eating disorders and their families – including a telephone, email, and drop in Helpline, support groups around the state, a comprehensive website, and a range of education and group programs. We also have in house psychologists who provide one on one counselling and who work exclusively with people with eating disorders and their families.
CI: Can men have eating disorders?
EDV: Men certainly can and do get eating disorders. Although eating disorders are more common among young women than men, research indicates that 1 in 4 people experiencing an eating disorder are male, with the rates of men and women with Binge Eating Disorder being nearly equal. Unfortunately, many men go undiagnosed due to stigma, lack of awareness (including from health practitioners), and their own reluctance to seek help.
CI: How do diets fit into disordered eating behavior and/or contribute to the formation of an eating disorder?
EDV: Not only is dieting a really ineffective way to manage weight, it is also a major risk factor in developing an eating disorder. Research shows that teenage girls who diet even only moderately are five times more likely to develop an eating disorder and women who diet frequently are much more likely to experience depression, binge eating, and a whole range of other physical concerns.
Disordered eating includes things like binge eating, repeated dieting, skipping meals regularly, counting calories obsessively, and having anxiety about particular foods. Having a balanced and healthy approach to eating is a great way to protect against the development of an eating disorder.
CI: What is the #1 thing someone can do to help/support a friend or family member they believe may be eating disordered?
EDV: Encouraging someone to contact the Eating Disorders Victoria Helpline on 1300 550 236 or firstname.lastname@example.org is the best starting point to help them access more specialised and tailored support. Trained Helpline volunteers can talk through the options for treatment and explain the different services available, as well as provide a listening ear and confidential support. Our trained Helpline volunteers frequently take calls from people who are worried about a friend or family member and would like to talk through how to approach them.
If someone does need ongoing help, the first point of contact for a full assessment and referral to a treatment team for many people will be a GP. A GP can refer on to a psychologist or other allied health professional such as a psychologist or dietitian.
CI: What is the #1 piece of advice you have for an eating disordered person?
EDV: Get help, and get help early. There are a range of different options for support and this includes working with your GP, a dietitian, or a psychologist. Disordered eating puts you at risk of developing an eating disorder, and many of the behaviours we see everyday in our friends and family (such as repeated dieting or overly regimented eating habits) are in fact unhealthy and potentially quite damaging. But by building a healthy relationship with food and your body, you can set yourself up for a much healthier and happier future.