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Eating Disorders

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

It's Eating disorder Awareness Week.

8 million women in the world have an eating disorder, do you think you may know one of them?

Up to 2% of secondary school girls have an eating disorder.

BodyWhys are releasing a CD Rom with information about support for young people with eating disorders.

There was a study done in June 09 by the government that found that young people were concerned about being judged on appearance and have unrealistic beauty ideals.

Who Is The Guest?

. Prof Fiona McNichols - St. John of Gods
. Ruth Ni Eidhin- Bodywhys spokesperson
. Anne Marie Martin - Case Study, suffered from an eating disorder in her early twenties.

Prof Fiona McNichols:

What is an eating disorder?

Anorexia - refusal to maintain body weight on or above BMI
Bulimia - Binge eating, self induced vomiting
Binge Eating - Eating large amounts of food when you are not hungry

When does a diet lead to anorexia?

Anorexia: Refusal to maintain body weight at or minimally above the recommended BMI, Intense fear of gaining weight, denial of weight loss, body dysmorphia, loss of 3 menstrual cycles.

What are warning signs that someone has an eating disorder?

. Denying that you are on a diet
. Denial of hunger
. Claiming that you need less food than others
. Change in food rules - vegetarian, not eating after 6
. Hiding Weight Loss
. No interest in food/cooking
. Unusual eating behaviours (eating slowly, chopping food into tiny segments)
. Eating alone
. Post meal bathroom trips
. Ritualized behaviours
. Socially isolation, low mood
. Increased exercise.

Physical Symptoms of anorexia:

. Dry Skin
. Yellowing of the skin
. Dehydration
. Abdominal Pain
. Lethargy/Fatigue
. Dizziness
. Intolerance to cold


. Social Withdrawal
. Irritability
. Moodiness
. Depression
Poor Concentration

Dangers of anorexia

Sensitive to cold, Sleep disturbances, Poor circulation, Weak bladder, Excess hair growth, Thin bones and low bone marrow, Periods stopping, Shrinking stomach, Water retention, High blood pressure, Delayed puberty and stunted growth

Bulimia: What is it?

. Recurrent episodes of binge eating
. Self induced vomiting
. Secretive vomiting
. Excessive exercise
. Inappropriate use of laxatives
. Peculiar eating habits,
. Preoccupation with food, weight and body shape

Physical Symptoms of Bulimia

. Normal, under or over weight
. Irregular menstruation
. Searing on the backs of the fingers

Everyone has different reasons for having a disorder, but can we identify reasons why they are developed?

Note: There is no single cause for an eating disorder. They arise from a variety of physical, emotional, social and familial issues.

For example:

Family/Genetics - up to 11% - 12% - This can also be linked to a history of mental health issues
Neurobiology - Cognitive abnormalities (can be caused by weight loss)
Pyschological - Personality traits such as perfectionists, obsessional and high achievers
- Family dynamics
- Sense of ineffectiveness and low self esteem
Career choice - Models, athletes, dancers


. We won't prevent eating disorders by only being aware of the symptoms and warning signs.

What can parent's do to encourage healthy attitudes to food and self image?

. Examine their own attitudes to food, image and physical appearance.
. Don't talk/behave as though you are constantly on a diet
. Don't criticize your own shape on a regular basis
. Don't act as though you can't enjoy life because of how you look.

Ruth Ni Eidhin -

Bodywhys receive a minimum of 55 calls to their helpline per month, 37% of whom are calling on their own behalf, whereas 30% would be parents. The rest are healthcare professionals and teachers.

Numbers looking for treatment:

The only figures available are Health Research Board figures for 2008 which would only refer to inpatient treatment - the very critical end of things which would apply to the minoritiy of cases.

Those figures showed that there were a total of 231 inpatient admissions with a primary diagnosis of an eating disorder. More worryingly of the 406 child & adolescent (under 18) admissions in 2008, 18% were with a diagnosis of an eating disorder - this is the second largest diagnostic category after depressive disorders.

What do teens feel about self image?

According to a report carried out by the Office of Minister for children, this was what teenagers expressed anxiety over regarding self image.
. Concern around being judged on appearance
. Issue of unrealistic beauty ideals raised
. Influence of friends, and influence of media

Are eating disorders common amongst young men and women?

Professor Fiona Mc Nicholas has conducted specific research on how common eating disorders are amongst young Irish men and women.

Rates are approximately 1% and 2% for anorexia and bulimia respectively for Irish girls of secondary school age.

Other data suggests that the rate increases from the age of 16 up, with the majority of cases occurring in women aged 15-25.

Men are estimated to make up 10-25% of cases.

The HRB survey of inpatient psychiatric care for 2008 showed that amongst child & adolescent admissions, eating disorders was the second largest diagnostic category (18%).

Why do you think this is?

It is important to emphasise that each person develops an eating disorder because of their own set of circumstances so there is no one reason for it.

During the teenage years, a combination of common contributory factors may come together such as
. Changes in the body
. Issues with school, possibly around changing school but also issues like bullying may arise
. Changing relationships
. Increased influence of peer group - pressure around image and appearance

What sort of support do young people need to encourage them not to turn to eating disorders?

. To be encouraged to have a sense of self that is not based on physical attributes
. For society to Celebrate the diversity and unique nature of each person
. Education around media awareness and understanding more about the images they are seeing
. Encouragement to talk about mental health issues

Bodywhys produced a CD-ROM resource for schools in 2006 called 'iFigure' which addresses some of these issues and has proven hugely popular with teachers and students.

Are there any factors in modern society that lead to young people being more aware of their self image?

The prevalence of images in the modern world is certainly a factor - and one which young people have themselves identified.

Advertising and media is now a constant, and the move towards the internet, the fact that young people now spend a huge amount of time online means there is a new media source with a lot of the same imagery which for the most part suggests a very narrow definition of 'beauty'.

What is bodywhy's advice that you would give to someone who is worried about a friend?

1. The first piece of advice we would give anyone who is worried about a friend would be to get as much information as possible about eating disorders. This might mean looking at the Bodywhys website or calling our helpline, or in the case of parents it might mean speaking with your family doctor - particularly if there are physical symptoms that you are concerned about.

2. Understanding that an eating disorder is not about food, and is being used as a coping mechanism, will help inform the next steps.

3. Letting the person know that you are available to them to talk things through is important. In the case of eating disorders it is common for the person to be in denial or to simply feel they are not ready to let go of their coping mechanism.

4. For friends, especially in the case of younger people it is important to recognise that there may be a point at which you need to tell someone like a parent or teacher if they are not willing to speak about it themselves. This can be difficult, but it's important that the seriousness of an eating disorder be recognised here.

5. For parents, it is important to seek support for yourself - the eating disorder may have a significant impact on home life for everyone, so making sure you are supported will help you to help your child.

. Get Information
. Be Available
. Seek Support

Eating disorders and men

This is an issue that is emerging more and more in recent years.

An eating disorder can be experienced somewhat differently for a man - one example would be that there can be more of a focus on over-exercising as opposed to restricting food intake in the case of anorexia. The focus tends to be on the development of a muscular physique as opposed to a very slim one.

A lot of the same contributory factors can apply to men, and again in terms of media impact you can look at the rise of magazines that would publicise a very specific, narrow idea of 'how a man's body should look'

From anecdotal evidence here and abroad the rate of male eating disorders does seem to be on the increase - the estimate was 10% of cases for a long time but that seems to be being corrected upwards in recent years.

Male stigma

The one comment I would add to that is the issue of how cases are being counted - there is an additional stigma attached to male eating disorders because of the misconception that they are a "women's issue" - so men are perhaps less likely to seek the support and treatment they may need. As this idea is challenged, it becomes easier for men of any age to address the issue so this may be having an impact on perceived frequency of cases.

Celebrities who have overcome eating disorders

Geri Halliwell
Singer Geri Halliwell (former Ginger Spice from the Spice Girls) publicly admitted suffering from bulimia and binge eating for several years. "I realised I couldn't control this monster anymore. I needed to find help." Her piece of advice for those who are struggling - "I can honestly tell you from personal experience, that worrying about an eating disorder really can get you down. There's nothing to be ashamed about. You'll be amazed at the difference it'll make to your whole life if you tell someone you trust. There are lots of people who want to help and you really CAN'T fight this one on your own. It might be a hard decision to make, to tell people and to seek help but, trust me it's nowhere as hard as trying to deal with it on your own."

Russell Brand
Russell Brand battled with an eating disorder bulimia, saying he suffered from the illness for three years "I was a fat little kid. I wanted to lose weight, and I would make myself sick on a daily basis. I remember my stepdad asking me to stop puking up in the sink because it was blocking the drain. I stopped by the time I was 17 as by then I was a drug addict so I had other self-destructive behaviour to be getting on with."

Trousers - size 4 (size 0)
9 year old's trousers

Additional / Misc' Info:

Be Body Positive - Campaign Brief

Be Body Positive is a new youth-focussed campaign being launched by Bodywhys during Eating Disorders Awareness Week 2010 .

The aim of the campaign is to address issues around body image and eating disorders with young Irish people who have themselves identified these as areas of concern for them.

The campaign begins with the launch of the Be Body Positive leaflet and poster which will be distributed in schools. The poster contains blank spaces where each person will be able to personalise it with their own body positive messages.

Be Body Positive Youth Panel

A major focus of the campaign will be the involvement of young people in a national debate around promoting a positive body image.
With this in mind, Bodywhys will launch the Be Body Positive Youth Panel which aims to engage with young people aged 13-20 around the issue of body image and eating disorders, to ensure that their voice is being heard.
The role of this youth panel will be to
. Meet with the Bodywhys Youth Development Officer on a regular basis, to represent the views of young people.
. Assist in the development of a range of youth-specific services and materials
. Act as Body Positive ambassadors, promoting positive body image amongst their peer group.
. Young people can get involved via the Bodywhys website,
. Ongoing work with young people
. The Be Body Positive campaign is the next step for Bodywhys in working with and for young people
. Bodywhys iFigure, an interactive CD-ROM resource for schools, has been in use since 2006
. Bodywhys are currently piloting an SPHE resource for use in secondary schools which will address issues like body image, self-esteem and eating disorders.
. Bodywhys have recently recruited a Youth Development Officer with a dedicated focus on youth-related projects.

Bodywhys Services - Expansion

Bodywhys services for under 18s include the LoCall Helpline (1890 200 444), message boards and email support (

During awareness week, Bodywhys will launch the YouthConnect online support group for under 18s. This expansion of the existing online groups to a younger age group will mean engaging with young people in a youth-friendly environment to support their journey towards recovery.

YouthConnect will be launched by the Minister for Equality, Disability and Mental Health, John Moloney T.D., at Buswell's Hotel, Dublin 2 on Tuesday 23rd February at 12:00.

School Talks service - Going Nationwide

From February 2010, Bodywhys will be actively recruiting volunteers to deliver our talks in schools across the country.

As part of the Be Body Positive Campaign, the volunteers will be trained over the summer months with a view to making an expanded school talks service available from September 2010.

Those interested in volunteering should email