The facts about eating disorders

Eating Disorders are among some of the most serious and challenging mental illnesses that affect our children and adolescents. Recent research suggeststhat up to 75% of adolescent girls view themselves as overweight or needing to lose weight and around a quarter of our teenagers are experimenting with dangerous dieting behaviour, such as taking laxatives and severely restricting their diets (Hutchings, conference). Australian research suggests that the prevalence of disordered eating behaviours have increased two-fold between 1995 and 2005 (The Paying The Price Report).

Eating disorders are characterised by unhealthy or extreme views of one’s weight and/or shape, which leads the young person to engage in severe, restrictive and dangerous eating and/or exercise behaviours. These behaviours in turn impact on the child’s life in a such a pervasive and significant way that it impacts on their ability to function in their daily lives.

Eating disorders are most common among females and while they can start at any age, teenagers between 13-18 years seem to be most at risk (TPTPR). An important question for parents is then, how do you identify and eating disorder and how to do you go about helping your child?

What are the types eating disorders?

There are several types of eating disorders, with the most recognised being Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa.

Anorexia Nervosa is characterised by significant weight loss with an accompanying intense fear of gaining weight or becoming ‘fat’. People with Anorexia Nervosa see their bodies in a distorted way, typically believing they are fat even when they are extremely underweight.

Bulimia Nervosa is characterised by seemingly uncontrollable episodes of eating to excess, followed by behaviours aimed to rid the body of the calories ingested, such as undertaking excessive exercise, taking laxatives and vomiting.

Even if your child does not quite fulfill the symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa, two significant risk factors for developing a more serious eating disorder are:

● Disordered eating: For example, restrictive dieting, fasting, self-induced vomiting, avoiding food groups, use of diet pills. Australian and New Zealand research indicates that engaging in moderate dieting behaviour puts young people at a six-fold risk of developing an eating disorder. Disordered eating is in fact the most significant indicator that your child could be developing an eating disorder. Continue reading


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