Eating Disorders

Today’s teenagers and young adults have grown up in a world bombarded with social media reinforcing youth, beauty and ‘physical perfection’. Pop-stars, celebrities and athletes all model cultural standards of bodily aesthetics, and youngsters are taught to believe that you can only find love, friendship, wealth and fame through the attainment of  an extremely lean, medically unhealthy body weight. This has a particularly negative impact during the teenage years, which are usually quite emotionally turbulent, with many body image issues arising.
Clinical psychologist and head of psychological services at Tara Hospital’s Eating Disorders Unit, Jasmine Kooverjee says: “Eating disorders typically develop in adolescence to early adulthood.” Females are more likely than males to develop an eating disorder. However, international professionals have started to see a growing trend among men, specifically those in their teens and 20s.

The main types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, where people see themselves as overweight, even though they are dangerously thin, and they use extreme measures to control their weight; and bulimia nervosa, characterised by binge-eating episodes followed by compensatory behaviour like vomiting, fasting or excessive exercise. Binge-eating is also highlighted and involves frequent episodes of out-of-control eating not followed by behaviours aimed at purging the body of excess calories.

Shannon became bulimic at the age of 16: “Some people try to buy happiness… I tried to eat it – repeatedly and in copious amounts. Then, I’d vomit it out, trying to rid myself of the profound pain this addictive cycle never managed tor relieve. Food had become my ‘drug of choice’ – bulimia allowed me to temporarily escape from my feelings of hurt, rejection and devastation.”

Eating disorders are not due to a failure of will or behaviour – they are real, treatable medical illnesses. Kooverjee says: “At Tara we have an inpatient programme that uses the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) approach, which focuses on the factors that maintain an eating disorder rather than on its causes. Research suggests this is an extremely effective form of treatment for eating disorders. Additional treatments include group therapy, psychodynamic therapy and medication.”

People with eating disorders often do not recognise or admit that they’re ill. As a result, they may strongly resist getting and staying in treatment. Family members or other trusted individuals can be helpful in ensuring that the person receives care and rehabilitation.

Signs of an Eating Disorder

  • Constant dieting or fasting
  • Skipping meals
  • Making excuses for not eating
  • Frequently looking in the mirror at ‘flaws’
  • Wearing baggy clothing
  • Eating in secret/Not eating in public
  • Going to the toilet during meals
  • Having an intense fear of gaining weight
  • Exercising excessively
  • Having a distorted, negative body image
  • Withdrawing from social activities
  • Feeling disgusted over the amount of food eaten
  • Inducing vomiting

( A direct transcript from “Facebook Fridays” )