If you have ever encountered a loved one with an eating disorder you'll know it's a heartbreaking reality for that person and those who surround them. Not just reserved for aspiring models and young girls, eating disorders affect people of both sexes and all ages and sadly, are on the rise.
"A lot of people don't realise just how prevalent eating disorders are," Eating Disorders Victoria Psychologist Loren Byford told The Huffington Post Australia.
"Research suggests that eating disorders affect around a million Australians, and 9 percent of Australians will experience an eating disorder in their lifetime. They occur across all age cohorts -- in fact Eating Disorders Victoria has had clients ranging in age from 14 to 74."
Sadly, experts are seeing warning signs in children as young at nine.
"Onset does tend to occur around adolescence, but it's not uncommon at all for people to struggle with their eating disorder on and off into middle age. It's also quite common to see early warning signs at a younger age -- such as children aged nine, 10, or 11 with serious body image issues," Byford said.
Statistics like this have spurred on the launch of a new government funded website, launching on Thursday, to encourage faster diagnosis and management of people with conditions such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder in a society where, increasingly, a love of exercise and a passion for eating well can become obsessive or harmful.
One of the challenges is that many men go undiagnosed because there's a lot of stigma around men with eating disorders, and men tend to have lower rates of help-seeking overall.
And it's not just women who are affected.
"It's a bit of a myth that eating disorders only affect women, and while it's difficult to get accurate figures, it's thought that between a quarter and a third of all people with eating disorders are male. Binge eating disorder in particular affects men and women in almost equal proportions. One of the challenges is that many men go undiagnosed because there's a lot of stigma around men with eating disorders and men tend to have lower rates of help-seeking overall," Byford said.
howfaristoofar.org.au aims to ensure that the public people have access to the right information to support those in need to seek help earlier, or find the answers to begin their own treatment and take the first steps towards recovery.
The site has revealed that warning signs include mood swings, strong attitudes towards food intake and/or body image, obsessive exercise regimes, secretive eating and may also be accompanied by physical signs of poor health.
- Feeling guilty about food intake or missed exercise opportunities.
- Feeling preoccupied by negative or obsessive thoughts and feelings around food, eating, or your body.
- Other people commenting on your body or your behaviours -- either in a positive or a negative way.
- Noticing that your eating habits are very different from those of your friends and family.