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What are the effects of Eating Disorders in Australia?

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More number of women and lots of men look in the mirror daily and hate what they see. Unluckily this is also happening with a growing number of children and in particular teenagers.

Eating disorders afflicts lakhs of people, thousands of which will die from them yearly. There is good news though; eating disorders can be successfully treated. You do not have to be a prisoner to this anymore, help is available.

What are Eating Disorders?

Boys, girls, men and women from all types of background and ethnic groups can suffer from eating disorders. Eating disorders are a way of coping with feelings that are making you unhappy or depressed.

It may be difficult to face up to and talk about, feelings like anger, sadness, guilt, loss or fear. An eating disorder is a sign that you need help in coping with life, and sorting personal problems. In short, eating disorders are another form of addictive illness. With proper treatment, people can recover. Recovery takes a lot of time and hard work, but in the end it is all worth it. The first step is to acknowledge one has a problem and seek help immediately.

The definition of Eating Disorders or Food Addiction is: “the pathological relationship with food and/or eating behavior that continues despite life damaging consequences”.

The 4 main forms of eating disorders are Bulimia, Anorexia Nervosa, Compulsive Overeating, and Binge Eating Disorder.

Bulmia is characterized by a cycle of binge eating followed by purging to try and rid the body of unwanted calories. A binge is different for all individuals. For one person a binge may range from 1000 to 10000 calories, for another, one cookie may be considered a binge. Purging methods usually involve vomiting and laxative abuse. Other forms of purging can involve excessive exercise, fasting, use of diuretics, diet pills and enemas.

Bulimics are usually people that do not feel secure about their own self worth. They usually strive for the approval of others. They tend to do whatever they can to please others, while hiding their own feelings. Food becomes their only source of comfort. Bulimia also serves as a function for blocking or letting out feelings, in particular feelings of shame. Unlike anorexics, bulimics do realize they have a problem and are more likely to seek help.

Signs and Symptoms

Binge eating, secretive eating (food missing), bathroom visits after eating, vomiting, laxative, diet pill or diuretic abuse, weight fluctuations (usually with 20-30kgs range), swollen glands, broken blood vessels, harsh exercise regimes, fasting, mood swings, depression, severe self-criticism, self-worth determined by weight, fear of not being able to stop eating voluntarily, self-deprecating thoughts following eating, fatigue, muscle weakness, tooth decay, irregular heartbeats, avoidance of restaurants planned meals or social events, complains of sore throat, need for approval from others.

Anorexia Nervosa is characterized by a significant weight loss resulting from excessive dieting. Most women and an increasing number of men are motivated by the strong desire to be thin and a fear of becoming obese. Anorexics consider themselves to be fat, no matter what their actual weight is. Often anorexics do not recognize they are underweight and may still "feel fat" at 80 lbs. Anorexics close to death will show you on their bodies where they feel they need to lose weight. In their attempts to become even thinner, the anorexic will avoid food and taking in calories at all costs, which can result in death. An estimated 10 to 20% will eventually die from complications related to it.

Signs and Symptoms

Noticeable weight loss, becoming withdrawn, excessive exercise, fatigue, always being cold, muscle weakness, obsession with food, calories, recipes, excuses for not eating meals (i.e. ate earlier, not feeling well), unusual eating habits (i.e. cutting food into tiny pieces, picking at food), noticeable discomfort around food complaining of being "too fat", even when thin, cooking for others, but not eating themselves, restricting food choices to only diet foods, guilt or shame about eating depression, irritability, mood swings evidence of vomiting, laxative abuse, diet pills or diuretics to control weight irregular, menstruation, amenorrhea(loss of menstruation) wearing baggy clothes to hide weight loss, frequently checking weight on scale, fainting spells and dizziness, difficulty eating in public, very secretive about eating patterns, pale complexion (almost a pasty look) headaches, perfectionist attitude, feelings of self worth determined by what is or is not eaten, no known physical illness that would explain weight loss.

Binge Eating Disorder is characterized by consuming large quantities of food in a very short period of time until the individual is uncomfortably full. Binge eating disorder is much like bulimia except the individuals do not use any form of purging (i.e. vomiting, laxatives, fasting, etc.) following a binge. Individuals usually feel out of control during a binge episode, followed by feelings of guilt and shame. Many individuals who suffer with binge eating disorder use food as a way to cope with or block out feelings and emotions they do not want to feel. Individuals can also use food as a way to numb themselves, to cope with daily life stressors, to provide comfort to themselves or fill a void they feel within.

Signs and Symptoms

weight gain, feeling out of control over eating, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety experiences, fluctuations in weight, loss of sexual desire, hiding food, feelings of guilt and shame, disgusted with self, going on many different diets, belief that life will be better if they lose weight, secretive eating patterns, avoidance of social situations where food will be present, suicidal thoughts.

Compulsive Overeating is characterized by uncontrollable eating and consequent weight gain. Compulsive over eaters use food as a way to cope with stress, emotional conflicts and daily problems. The food can block out feelings and emotions. Compulsive over eaters usually feel out of control and are aware their eating patterns are abnormal. Like bulimics, compulsive over eaters do recognize they have a problem.

Compulsive overeating usually starts in early childhood when eating patterns are formed. Most people who become compulsive eaters are people who never learned the proper way to deal with stressful situations and used food instead as a way of coping. Fat can also serve as a protective function for them, especially in people that have been victims of sexual abuse. They sometimes feel that being overweight will keep others at a distance and make them less attractive. Unlike anorexia and bulimia, there is a high proportion of male over eaters.

Signs and Symptoms

binge eating, fear of not being able to stop eating voluntarily, depression, self-deprecating thoughts, following binges, withdrawing from activities because of embarrassment about weight, going on many different diets, eating little in public, while maintaining a high weight, believing they will be a better person when thin, feelings about self based on weight, social and professional failures attributed to weight, feeling tormented by eating habits, weight is focus of life.

For Women:

Eating disorders continue to be on the increase in today's society and not just among teenage girls. Many people believe that eating disorders affect only teenage girls, but that could not be further from the truth. Women are under just as much pressure to be thin as teenagers are. We are seeing more and more women developing eating disorders in their twenties, thirties, forties, and beyond. The onset on anorexia, bulimia and compulsive eating can occur at any time in a person's life.

Even though the reasons for the development of an eating disorder may vary, the feelings about oneself are usually the same. The women suffer with feelings of self-hate, worthlessness, low self-esteem, and they usually feel that in order to be happy, they must be thin. Some may feel their lives are out of control and they turn to the one area of their lives that they can control, their weight. Others may believe that once they attain the "ideal" body image, then their lives will become perfect.

There are many reasons why eating disorders may develop later in one's life. With the high rate of divorce, many women are finding themselves back in the dating game in their forties and fifties. They many begin to believe that in order to find another man, they must be thin. If they are in a marriage and find out that their husband has been having an affair, they may blame themselves for that. The woman might feel that her husband has strayed because he no longer finds her attractive. She will then focus her attention on her weight and feel that if she had only been thin, her husband would not have been unfaithful. Usually when affairs happen in a marriage, weight is not the problem. There are deeper problems in the marriage that probably caused the affair to happen. Women need to stop blaming themselves for their husband's infidelity. Sometimes blaming themselves and their weight for the affair is easier than dealing with the deeper problems that caused the marriage to crumble.

If you are suffering with an eating disorder or think you are, I would urge you to seek help immediately. There is no shame in having an eating disorder. Older women sometimes find it hard to reach out and ask for help, because eating disorders are still very much associated as being an illness that only affects teenage girls. The fact is, eating disorders can affect any woman or man at anytime in their lives, age has nothing to do with it. Eating disorders can be treated and there is help available. You don't need to continue to live this hell everyday. You can free yourself and you can start living the happy, healthy life that you deserve to live.

For Men:

People might be surprised to find out that older woman and even children suffer, but they would probably be shocked to find out that men also can fall victim to this terrible disorder. Why is that? It is because society is still very much in the dark about what eating disorders really are and why someone may develop one.

Eating disorders are not a vanity issue and people do not do this so that they can fit into a smaller dress size. Many people also find this hard to believe, but eating disorders really have nothing at all to do with food. Whether you are anorexic, bulimic, or a compulsive eater, those are just the symptoms of deeper, emotional issues. Just like some people turn to alcohol or gambling as a way to cope, numb themselves, and block out painful feelings and emotions, food is also used in the same way.

Anorexics can become so obsessed with counting calories and wanting to be thin, that they spend their whole day thinking about it, which leaves them no time to think about the real problems in their lives. For them, it is easier to think about calories, then it is to face the issues that they may not know how to handle. Many bulimics and compulsive eaters will tell you that when they binge, all the negative feelings, whether they are anger, sadness, stress, loneliness, inner pain, etc., will disappear. When bulimics purge, they usually feel relieved. They say it is almost like they are releasing all the negative feelings they have kept inside.

I truly believe that once our society is educated and discovers what eating disorders really are and why someone may develop this addictive disorder, they will have no trouble accepting that men too can suffer from one. If you are a man that is suffering with an eating disorder, I would urge you to seek help. There is no shame in having an eating disorder.

For Children And Teens:

In today's society we are now seeing more children under the age of twelve developing eating disorders. Anorexia nervosa and compulsive eating are the most common among such young children, but there are cases of bulimia being reported. In a recent study it was estimated that 40% of nine year olds have already dieted and we are beginning to see four and five year olds expressing the need to diet. It's a shame that children so young are being robbed of their childhoods. Why is it that so many young children and teenagers are becoming obsessed with dieting and their weight? I feel the family environment has a lot to do with it, along with the fact that children and teenagers are constantly being exposed to the message society gives about the importance of being thin.

Children and teenagers raised in a dysfunctional family are at a higher risk for developing an eating disorder. In a home where physical or sexual abuse is taking place, the child may turn to an eating disorder to gain a sense of control. If they can't control what is happening to their bodies during the abuse, they can control their food intake or their weight. Self imposed starvation may also be their way of trying to disappear so they no longer have to suffer through the abuse.

Children and teenagers may also develop eating disorders as a way of dealing with the many emotions that they feel, especially if they are raised in a home that does not allow feelings to be expressed. Children or teenagers who are compulsive eaters are usually using food to help them deal with feelings of anger, sadness, hurt, loneliness, abandonment, fear and pain. If children are not allowed to express their emotions, they may become emotional eaters. Also, if parents are too involved in their own problems, the child or teenager may turn to food for comfort.

If your child is showing signs of turning to food for comfort, you need to sit down and talk with the child. Find out about their feelings and what is bothering them. You need to deal with the real problems. Criticizing a child about their weight is probably the worst thing that you can do. Parents that push weight loss end up degrading the child, shaming the child and making them feel worthless for being overweight. None of this will encourage the child to lose weight. Instead, it will lead to more feelings of self-hate and cause the child to want to eat more for comfort.

Getting Help:

One of the hardest things to do is admitting and accepting that you have an eating disorder. The next hardest thing to do is reaching out and asking for help. Many of us feel that since this is our problem that we should deal with it on our own. People with eating disorders are very independent and are not used to sharing their feelings with anyone, especially not a therapist. They may feel too ashamed or embarrassed to reveal to someone what they are doing.

Please know that there is no shame in having an eating disorder. This problem is too big to correct on your own and you need the help of qualified individuals.

Recovery is a long road, and you do not have to travel that road alone. It really is important to reach out for help. There is no shame for having an eating disorder and help is available. You do not have to be a prisoner to your eating disorder forever. Not only is it okay to ask for help, it is necessary. Recovery can become reality with help.

If you or a loved one is in the control of an eating disorder, do not hesitate to seek the helpf from Counselling & Treatment Services for an immediate recovery.

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