Eating problems affect up to 10% of Australians at any time and differ from person to person. They are typically more common in women, but rates have risen in men over the past decade. Eating disorders can affect people of all ages and are potentially life threatening and serious mental illnesses; they are not a ‘fad’ ‘lifestyle choice’ or something the person can just ‘get over’, nor is having an eating disorder the desire to look or be like someone famous.
Eating disorders have a high rates of overlap with depression and anxiety. An eating disorder is identified when a person has an unhealthy relationship or obsession with food, and has body image problems.
Signs and symptoms that a person may have disordered eating includes skipping meals, rapid loss weight or gain, thinking that he or she is fat when they are not, vomiting, use of laxatives or excessive exercise to lose weight. Often, family members are the last to know that that there is an eating problem present, because the person struggling with the illness feels enormous guilt and shame and often become very good at hiding the problem or covering up eating disordered behaviours.
Treatment modalities for eating disorders differ, depending on the age of the person and the pattern and type of eating problem that they display. There are a number of helpful websites that provide fact sheets, as well as organisations, such as the Butterfly foundation, which actively seek to provide support and increase the awareness of Australians about the dangers and difficulties of eating disorders.
If you have concerns that you or someone you care about may have an eating problem, please see one of these links and contact a medical professional to seek advice.