Last updated on Jun 23rd, 2021 at 11:52 am

Eating disorders are becoming a big part of modern culture with many people suffering from eating disorders without even knowing it

According to Eating Disorder Hope, international organising offering hope and information to people living with eating disorders, this has a lot to do with the modern diet culture. 

According to Marlene van den Berg, occupational therapist practising at Akeso Montrose Manor psychiatric hospital in Cape Town, says diet culture, body image and ideas of self-worth and invariably linked and also related to a persons vulnerability to eating disorders. 

Eating disorders are among the most common mental health conditions developed by young people. In a world where fad diets and extreme beauty and body standards are the norms, people suffering from eating disorders can go unnoticed and even praised for their dangerous habits.

Is someone you love suffering from an eating disorder?

Eating disorder is an umbrella term that covers unhealthy relationships with food and can include overeating, under-eating, binge eating, purging and other unhealthy food habits.

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Marlene says recognising unhealthy patterns can help you recognise if a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder. 

“This can be difficult to separate from the many popular fitness regimes that individuals subscribe to. However, eating disorders are strongly tied to ‘rules’ in the mind of the sufferer. For example, ‘I can eat that slice of toast because I am going to run 10km’. Or, ‘If I do not run 10km I cannot eat anything at all” she says.

Eating disorders can never be healthy

Although it may be desirable and in the best interest of some suffering from obesity to lose weight. If done using an extreme diet or exercise regimen, the log term effects and metal impact of the weight loss can be damaging. 

Marlene says there is a difference between a person wanting to lose weight and a person with an eating disorder although the difference may not always be obvious. 

“This type of imbalanced view is very different from healthy weight management and exercise plan. An eating disorder is not a lifestyle illness; it is the result of an underlying emotional issue. Persons who have reached extreme stages of eating disorders usually require specialised inpatient care at a treatment facility for the best chance of recovery,” she explains.

Is it a diet or eating disorder?

Helping a loved one get treatment for mental illness, especially when they are unaware of the condition, can be difficult.

Natascha Stallkamp, a registered clinical psychologist practising at Akeso Montrose Manor, says sufferers are often unaware they are developing an eating disorder, they can be the first to pick up warning signs that something is not right. “It is important to check in with yourself if you feel like your eating habits might be problematic. Consider whether you can function normally or if your functioning is impaired by your weight loss,” she says.

How to help

Recognising how this could be a difficult conversation to have with a loved one, especially if they are convinced their habits are in their best interest, Natascha advises parents and those concerned to mind their tone and choose their words carefully when raising concerns about eating disorders.

 “If you speak calmly and with compassion, using phrases like ‘I’m concerned about your health, I’ll support you through this, let’s get help together’ you are more likely to get a positive response than if you speak with panic and say things such as ‘It’s scary how thin you are, you look bad, you need to stop this!’, which may push that person away,” she advises. 

If you suspect a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder or if you are concerned about your own relationship with food, contact a doctor for advice and treatment. 

About the Akeso Group

Akeso is a group of private in-patient mental health facilities and is part of the Netcare Group. Akeso provides individual, integrated and family-oriented treatment in specialised in-patient treatment facilities, for a range of psychiatric, psychological and substance use conditions. Please visit www.akeso.co.za, or email info@akeso.co.za for further information. In the event of a psychological crisis, please call 0861 435 787 for assistance.

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