It is estimated that approximately 4% of Australians (over one million people) are currently experiencing an eating disorder or disordered eating pattern[i]. Eating disorders are a serious, life-threatening mental health condition, with the mortality rate of people experiencing the condition twice that of the general population[ii]. Further, 97% of people diagnosed with an eating disorder are also diagnosed with concurrent experiences of anxiety, depression, substance misuse, or personality disorders[iii].
Despite these alarming statistics, eating disorders are still one of the most under-communicated medical conditions in Australia[iv], with a number of eating disorder patients describing their experience as “misunderstood”[v]. Julie Kelly agrees. Julie is a degree-qualified counselor at The Banyans who specializes in eating disorder therapy.
Myth: Disordered eating is the same as an eating disorder.
A common misconception is that disordered eating is the same as an eating disorder. However, Julie explains that although both are issues relating to food, eating disorders are usually more severe, both emotionally and physically. As a result, eating disorders have a much greater impact on a person’s life compared to disordered eating patterns.
Disordered eating patterns reflect some of the characteristics of eating disorders, but not all. Such patterns of disordered eating include dieting, skipping meals, emotional eating or fasting[vi]. “This focus on food and the altered eating patterns can often be a catalyst for the development of a diagnosable eating disorder,” Julie says.
Myth: People choose to have an eating disorder.
Julie explains that people never choose to have an eating disorder. Instead, disordered eating patterns, such as frequent meal skipping or strict dieting, can prompt the development of more severe eating issues. Similarly, “prolonged starvation can cause changes in cognition, behavior, and interpersonal characteristics[vii]” which can further contribute to the development of more intense food-related concerns. In addition, Julie highlights that eating issues are usually a manifestation of a wide variety of underlying issues, such as complex trauma, abuse or anxiety.
In the instance of Anorexia Nervosa or Other Specified Food Eating Disorder (OSFED), Julie points out that these conditions can often be control related. She suggests that people experiencing these conditions may feel ‘out of control’ in other areas of their life, and thus focus on food to regain a sense of control. However, in reference to Bulimia Nervosa or Binge Eating Disorder, the person often feels they have little or no control over their food consumption.
Julie also asks people to remember that eating disorders are a complex mental illness with a physical manifestation, and similar to other mental health conditions, no one is to blame. She says that this can be especially difficult for a person’s friends and family.
The Butterfly Foundation for Eating Disorders also cites a certain amount of genetic basis for eating concerns, particularly relating to appetite, metabolism, mood and pleasure-reward responses. Although little is known about the biological aspects of food-related conditions, research has shown that a strong amount of genetic predisposition exists[viii],[ix].
Myth: People who have an eating disorder are always too thin.
“You cannot tell simply by looking at someone whether or not they are experiencing eating concerns,” Julie emphasizes. Eating disorders are very complex, and there are a number of expressions. People experiencing eating concerns may be very underweight, they may be within a normal range, or very overweight, depending on their particular circumstance.
Myth: You can recover, but you will struggle with eating concerns your whole life.
Recovery is always possible, Julie encourages. She does acknowledge however, that the longer someone has been experiencing eating concerns, the more difficult it can be to break the cycle.
If you are worried about a loved one, Julie suggests you address any concerns you have in a non-judgmental and compassionate way. It is important that you have a discrete discussion with the person, as many people feel ashamed of their experience, and go to great lengths to hide it.
As eating issues are such a complex psychological and physical illness, the importance of a comprehensive biopsychosocial approach to therapy is crucial for successful recovery. This team may involve doctors, psychologists, counselors, dieticians or nutritionists and a solid, reliable network of friends and family. It is important to be aware that treatment for eating disorders may require hospitalization, depending on personal circumstances and the severity of the condition.
The Banyans is able to provide an immensely individualized program for individuals experiencing eating concerns. The highly experienced team and comprehensive interdisciplinary approach to treatment is an incredibly unique method of restoration and recovery. The Banyans Health and Wellness approach addresses both the psychological and physical components of eating concerns, encouraging long lasting recovery and rehabilitation. If you or someone you love would benefit from a stay at The Banyans Health and Wellness residence, please call +61 1300 BANYAN (1300 226 926) for a non-obligatory, confidential discussion.
There are four main diagnosable eating disorders.
Anorexia Nervosa is characterised by an extreme restriction of food intake, coupled with a fear of gaining weight and a highly disturbed body image[x]. There are a variety of symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa, including rapid weight loss, a preoccupation and obsession with food and/or exercise, low self-esteem, and secrecy surrounding eating.
Binge Eating Disorder is an eating disorder that manifests itself in regular episodes of excessive food consumption, or ‘binge eating’. The person often feels like they cannot control the amount of food they eat during an episode. Most commonly, behavioral symptoms of binge eating disorder are the most prevalent, and can include evading questions about eating habits and weight, erratic behavior to obtain food, and hoarding.
Bulimia Nervosa is similar to binge eating disorder, however episodes of binging are followed by compensatory behaviors, such as vomiting. Expressions of this disorder include frequent changes in weight, sensitivity to comments relating to food and eating, and frequent prolonged absences after meal times.
Approximately 30% of people who seek help for eating disorders are diagnosed with Other Specified Food Eating Disorder (OSFED). A person may show signs of Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder, however does not meet the necessary symptomology for a single condition. It should be emphasized that this form of eating disorder is just as serious and life threatening than the other diagnoses.
[i] The Butterfly Foundation for Eating Disorders (2018). Understanding eating disorders & body image issues. [online] Available at: https://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/understand-eating-disorders/ [Accessed 11 Jan. 2018].
[ii] Arcelus, J. M., Mitchell, A., Wales, J., Nielsen, S. (2011). Mortality rates in patients with anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders: A meta-analysis of 36 studies. Arch RCH Gen Psychiatry 68(7), 724-731.
[iii] The National Eating Disorders Collaboration. (2012b). Eating disorders in Australia. Sydney: NEDC
[iv] National Eating Disorder Collaboration (2018). Common Myths About Eating Disorders. [online] Available at: http://www.nedc.com.au/myths [Accessed 11 Jan. 2018].
[v] Schuster, S. (2016). 40 Things People With Eating Disorders Wish Others Understood. [online] The Mighty. Available at: https://themighty.com/2015/11/what-eating-disorder-feels-like/ [Accessed 11 Jan. 2018].
[vi] The Butterfly Foundation for Eating Disorders (2018).
[vii] As above.
[viii] Bidwell, A. (2013). Researchers Find Genes Linked to High Risk of Eating Disorders. [online] United States News. Available at: https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2013/10/08/researchers-find-genes-linked-to-high-risk-of-eating-disorders [Accessed 15 Jan. 2018].
[ix] National Eating Disorder Collaboration (2018).
[x] As above.