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Anti-obesity message contributing to rise in eating disorders, Butterfly Foundation says.

By Joanna Crother

The number of people with eating disorders is rising and anti-obesity messages are contributing, the Butterfly Foundation says.

Butterfly Foundation board member and clinician Dr Richard Newtown said children as young as six were being affected.

“More and more young children are experiencing anxiety and stress and finding it very difficult to cope,” he said.

“At the same time we have a society that is putting an increasing emphasis on avoiding obesity, controlling weight and shape through dieting.”

Dr Newton said young people were still overexposed to unrealistic body shapes.

“We still have a very intense exposure to idealised and really unattainable body shapes and perfectionism,” he said.

“That I think, for people who are stressed and struggling with anxiety, then can act as a trigger to diet and then go on to develop an eating disorder.”

Dr Peter O’Keefe, a psychiatrist from the Geelong Clinic, agreed there had been a backlash from the anti-obesity message.

“The message is if you’re thin you’re good, if you’re not, you’re bad” he said.

He said it seemed younger people were being affected and dieting behaviours could trigger an eating disorder.

Demand for those needing inpatient beds in the public system is strained, with only 37 beds available across the country.

But Dr O’Keefe said hospital treatment should be a last resort.

“The main treatment in young people is family-based therapy,” he said.

“Parents are coached in how to look after their children. The goal is to avoid hospital.”

Patient ‘left with mental scars’ after anorexia treatment

Madeline Baker was hospitalised with anorexia nervosa 13 times in two years.

Now recovered, she said her experience as an inpatient at a private clinic was boot camp-like, and regimented.

She often had a nasogastric tube down her throat for weeks and had all her possessions taken away.

“We had meals six times a day and post each meal there was a supervision period so we were not able to leave the dining room for an hour and a half after meals,” Ms Baker said.

“Then in the meantime we would have relaxation sessions, group sessions, but they were forced, they were quite unappealing. A lot of people would just sleep in them.”

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She said she was left alone a lot during the day which caused her anxiety.

“I’ve never hated myself so much as I did when I was in hospital and I believe that things would be different – I wouldn’t have the anxiety I have now, I would be a bit different – if the treatment was different,” Ms Baker said.

“It was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. And in the process I’ve been left with mental scarring.”

Ms Baker said while the clinical treatment was absolutely necessary, inpatient programs needed to be humanised.

“Some friends of mine still haven’t come out,” she said.

Mentor program aims to help patients through process

Ms Baker entered a Geelong competition called the Upstart Challenge with two friends to try and make a difference, and they won.

Upstart is an entrepreneurial competition allowing high school students to develop start-up ideas and work with mentors to build a business case.

The group set up Nurture for Hope for those going through treatment for an eating disorder.

“It’s a peer-to-peer visiting program where the patients can have someone visit them and do social activities and then team up with someone like a mentor after they leave hospital to avoid relapse” Ms Baker said.

Ali Binedell said the group wanted their not-for-profit organisation to have an office in every state.

“I’ve learnt so much about not only what I can do, but how a business works. I’m on the phone now, 24/7. We’d want to work with the government after a while,” she said.

Dr O’Keefe said the idea was a good one, but volunteers would need to be properly trained and carefully supervised.

He agreed the inpatient program was difficult to go through, but stressed the focus was on the medical treatment because patients were often extremely physically unwell by the time they arrived.

“I’m sure it’s not a pleasant experience and it would be great to put more resources towards making it less traumatic” he said.

Those who need help can contact the Butterfly Foundation’s national support line: 1800 33 4673

This story originally appeared on ABC News.

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