When eating turns sour

Hayley Goddard, SOUND TELEGRAPHSound Telegraph

In an effort to reduce the cost and effects of eating disorders in Australia, the Butterfly Foundation is encouraging people to celebrate their bodies during Love Your Body Week.

There are many reasons why people might develop eating disorders, but from September 7 to 13 the foundation wants Australians to acknowledge there is no ideal body shape and that a person's worth is not defined by their body shape.

In a study commissioned by Butterfly in 2012, Deloitte Access Economics estimated there were more than 913,000 Australians with an eating disorder, at a total socio-economic cost of $67.9 billion.

The study estimated that 25,753 people were anorexic, 107,915 were bulimic and 428,833 were binge eaters, of which women accounted for 70, 72 and 61 per cent respectively.

Clinical psychologist at 360 Health + Community, Damian West, said people needed to eat healthily to regulate their emotions, which was particularly important for teenagers, whose hormones had an effect on emotions.

"The longer people deprive their brain of the opportunity to regulate their emotions, the harder it can be," he said.

According to Mission Australia's 2014 Youth Survey, body image was one of the top three personal concerns for Australians aged 15 to 19.

Mr West said teenagers might turn to eating disorders because of family dynamics and wanting control over their own decisions, demeaning behaviour from a family member or peers, or mixed messages in the media.

He warned parents and friends to look out for signs such as drastic changes to appetite or weight, increased interest in dieting and flirting with the idea of how much they eat or what happens if they stop eating.

Mr West said medical signs included refusing to maintain a body weight more than 85 per cent of their expected body mass index, a fear of gaining weight or getting fat even though they are underweight, denial of the seriousness of their body weight and, in girls, the absence of three consecutive menstrual cycles.

"Treating eating disorders is complicated; physical sickness is validated but mental is not, commonly the mentality is 'suck it up'," he said.

He said bulimia signs included episodes of binge eating and then vomiting, laxative abuse or over-exercising.

Mr West recommended talking to the individual first.

"When you're working with mental health, trust is a massive part of the treatment," he said.

"Ask 'are you OK?' and develop a rapport with them - there is nothing wrong with being objective and non-judgmental because it gives the opportunity for them to see someone is aware and concerned and therefore available to talk with.

"In treatment, we work on learning new coping mechanisms, remembering to use them, (and) mindfulness."

Mr West said the same techniques applied to binge and overeaters.

"Over-eating floods the body with hormones, which are not necessarily responsible for happy emotion but that's the chemical response," he said.

"There are behavioural patterns of eating when stressed or unhappy - it's an addiction in a way because the body expects food and release of endorphins."

Anorexia and bulimia symptoms *

Malnutrition is a common issue with people dealing with anorexia or bulimia, which can lead to brittle bones, slow heart rate and poor circulation, according to 360 Health + Community dietician Savina Rego.

Ms Rego said a person may experience some or all of the following symptoms, which tended to become more severe the longer the disorder remained untreated.

·Poor circulation resulting in pins and needles and/or purple extremities.

·Endocrine disorder leading to cessation of periods in women (amenorrhoea).

·Decreased libido and impotence in males.

·Abnormally slow heart rate.

·Hypotension.

·Anaemia (iron deficiency).

·Stunting of height and growth.

·Abnormality of mineral and electrolyte levels.

·Thinning of the hair.

·Lanugo, the growth of a fine hair layer all over the body to promote warmth.

·Zinc deficiency.

·Reduced immune system function.

·Osteoporosis as a result of reduction of bone density.

·Tooth decay.

Ms Rego said effects of bulimia nervosa were similar to anorexia nervosa, but also included:

·Stomach and intestinal ulcers.

·Inflammation and rupture of the oesophagus.

·Erosion of dental enamel from vomiting.

·The possibility of a ruptured stomach.

·Chronic sore throat and gullet.

·Indigestion, heartburn and reflux.

·Electrolyte imbalance resulting in cardiac arrhythmia, muscle fatigue and cramps.

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