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.”