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Trendy diets ‘cause eating disorders’, says expert

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TRENDY diets are being blamed for eating disorders, with Queensland’s specialist service dealing with a wave of “paleo casualties”.

Speaking out today on World Eating Disorder Day, Associate Professor Warren Ward said the only people who recommended getting rid of entire food groups were those with no qualifications.

“We have had a lot of casualties from fad diets, including the paleo diet,” he said.

“Any fad diet associated with cutting out a major food group or inadequate nutrition can trigger anorexia and other eating disorders.

“There is a significant risk of causing an eating disorder if people cut out major food groups such as carbs, or fats, or sugar or dairy or protein.”

Restrictive eating could lead to bingeing and purging – the rates of which had doubled over the past 10 years.

“We have all these misconceptions that eating disorders affect people who are excessively vain or mentally weak, but eating disorders can affect anyone,” he said.

Prof Ward said the Queensland Eating Disorder Service at RBWH had experienced an increase in demand for its services and had received calls about patients aged from 10 to 70.

The surge in demand could be attributed to the prevalence in the community, increasingly aided by social media, better community awareness and better services, he said.

“Sudden weight loss from any cause, including dieting, can trigger changes in the brain including rigid, obsessive thinking about food and weight, and strong urges to binge,” he said.

“This is how dieting causes eating disorders.”

Initial treatment for all eating disorders is a form of psychological therapy.

About 10 per cent of the population is believed to suffer from an eating disorder, according to research from another leading academic on the issue, Dr Phillipa Hay.

“When we think of eating disorders, we tend to think of the more recognised conditions such as anorexia nervosa and bulimia,” Dr Hay said.

“However, binge eating disorder is actually the most common condition, affecting over 356,000 Australians.”

The Eating Issues Centre is funded by Queensland Health to provide information and support for people with eating issues throughout the state.

One of the centre’s mentors and speakers Lexi Crouch, 30, said sharing her experience of recovering from an eating disorder was her way to give back.

“I am still exactly the same person today that I was in the midst of the eating disorder … it’s easy to get mixed messages from society and think you’re ineffective,” she said.

“Although society was saying to me ‘you’ve got this illness,’ I learnt to say ‘no, I’ve got drive and determination. I just need to know how to direct it better.”

For help contact The Butterfly Foundation support line 1800 33 4673 or the Eating Issues Centre on 3844 6055.

Dr Phillipa Hay: Seven symptoms of eating disorders

1. Great concern about body weight and shape: Most people are conscious of their physical appearance. However, those suffering from an eating disorder have high levels of body dissatisfaction and often feel ashamed or embarrassed about their bodies.

2. Preoccupation with food intake, such as skipping meals: While we may occasionally skip dinner because we’ve had a big lunch, eating disorder sufferers regularly use excuses to avoid meal time.

3. Rules about calorie intake and expenditure: Counting kilojoules is common, but not when it is obsessive.

4. Compulsive or excessive exercise: The pleasure of physical activity is often lost on eating disorder sufferers who can be overtaken by a compulsion to exercise even in bad weather, when they are ill or injured, or when it interferes with social engagements or work.

5. Binge-eating episodes: While people often associate eating disorders with eating less, binge eating is the most common symptom. Unlike overeating, binge eating is recurrent and is often followed by feelings of guilt and shame.

6. Loss of control over eating: Most people have had the experience of feeling painfully full after overeating, but it becomes an issue when they lose control of the amount they are eating and cannot stop, which is often far more than a large meal.

7. Diet pill and laxative use: Misusing diet pills and laxatives in order to lose weight is common in people with anorexia or bulimia. However, what may appear to be weight loss from laxatives is actually just dehydration and water loss.

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