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Fear Of Fat Can Be Fatal

Fear Of Fat Can Be Fatal

While not everyone who diets will develop an eating disorder, almost every eating disorder begins with a diet.

That is why Eating Disorders Services (EDS) is staging a No Diet Week, May 3 - 9, to highlight the risks that a fear of fat can engender and to raise funds to continue its service helping people overcome potentially fatal eating disorders.

One out of five people who suffer from an eating disorder such as anorexia (fear of becoming fat) or bulimia (compulsive overeating followed by self induced vomiting) will die from the condition.

Young women are particularly at risk – one percent of New Zealand women are estimated to be affected by anorexia and four percent by bulimia.

There are no simple explanations. Experts suggest influencing factors might include social pressure to be thin, dieting, family patterns, personal stresses and difficulties, unmet emotional needs, values and beliefs.

Eating Disorder Services spokesperson Emma Catalinac says the key message the service wants to get across is that people should celebrate who they are.

“Almost every eating disorder starts with a negative body image. And almost every eating disorder starts with a diet. No Diet Week emphasises that no-one should use their weight as a measure of success or failure.”

She says diseases such as anorexia and bulimia are mental illnesses in which the patient “disconnects with reality”. The thoughts and feelings in the person’s head are distorted.

“Eating disorders are not about weight; they are about people’s perceptions of themselves. They hear their own voice in their head telling them they are fat, ugly and they need to lose weight even when they are skeletally thin,” Ms Catalinac says.

Leading up to No Diet Week, EDS will be launching a media campaign which features a series of dramatic images, highlighting the distortion of reality people with eating disorders experience.

“Some of the images are shocking. But what is even more shocking is that people die because they cannot discriminate between reality and what they see.”

Ms Catalinac says EDS can offer help to people through counselling and therapy, both in a general service which everyone can access or a specialist service for people meeting a diagnosis criteria who may require residential treatment.

The residential programme is the only such treatment offered in Australasia outside of a hospital base.

“If anyone thinks a friend or family member has an eating disorder, it's very important that they talk to them about it and try to get them to talk to a professional. No one is to blame for having an eating disorder but it is unlikely to go away without help from a professional,” Ms Catalinac says.

The good news is that it is possible to recover from an eating disorder.

“It is very hard, and it takes a lot of intervention and help. But the earlier it is diagnosed, and the earlier the treatment starts, the more successful the outcome is likely to be.

“We hope through No Diet Week we will make people more aware of the problem and of the ways in which we are able to help,” Ms Catalinac says.

A great deal of information such the different kinds of eating disorders, how to identify them, services provided and how to help is on the Eating Disorder Services website: www.eatingdisorders.org.nz

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