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Prevention of Eating Disorders


By Columnist Eleni Psillakis – Eating Disorder Educator: 


Family Shadow
Photo Credit: Family – Eleni Psillakis – 2017



The development of an eating disorder can be prevented! However, no one should feel guilt or blame if these illnesses do develop as they are so complex. I have 3 siblings, all raised in the same household and went to the same school. They did not develop an eating disorder as I did. Individual personalities, circumstances and the way each person deals with emotions and difficulties need consideration.

Understanding the risks and the protective factors, allows us to determine strategies to help those that may be vulnerable to developing these serious and complicated illnesses. They can arise from a variety of physical, emotional, social and family issues and these need to be addressed for prevention to be effective.

Primary and Secondary Prevention

Efforts and protective factors that are designed to prevent eating disorders before they begin are known as primary prevention. Secondary prevention includes programs or efforts that promote early detection of an eating disorder before the behaviours become habits that are difficult to break. The best primary prevention begins in the home as this is where children first learn.

Developing Healthy Self-worth

A common trait of those with any kind of eating disorder is low self-worth and not feeling ‘good enough’. No matter what protective measures are encouraged, the most important one is to encourage self-love. This creates a resilience to critically analyse and bounce back from circumstances that could lead to harmful behaviours in order to feel better about one’s self.

Building up self-esteem that is not based on body shape, size or unrealistic expectations, but on the unconditional love of who someone is, and not what they do or look like is important. Praising inner qualities such as creativity, intelligence, resilience, compassion instead of appearance or comparing them to others is more helpful. We all have these inner strengths but we often overlook or forget about these.

Food and Exercise Attitudes

As a parent, personal trainer, dietitian, nutritionist, sports coach, physical education teacher or anyone that gives advice on diet and exercise, may do well to examine their own beliefs, attitudes and motivations for giving the advice that they do.  Avoid verbal and non-verbal messages which place an overemphasis on body shape. Our own biases of diet and exercise, which may not be healthy can influence someone that is vulnerable. Avoid labelling foods as ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe’, ‘bad’ or ‘good’. Encourage a balanced diet and do not use exercise as a means of punishment for calories eaten.


Family dinner
Photo Credit: Healthy Eating – Eleni Psillakis – 2017


Addressing Gender Roles in Society

Both men and women are at risk of developing eating disorders and can become obsessed with the appearance and feel shame about their body. Our portrayal of gender roles within the family and in society needs to be addressed and discussed so that individuals are confident in who they are and not behaving according to a norm set by society. If we are not confident and love who we are, we may constantly compare ourselves and our lives to others, chasing the wave of the next trend or fad. If this is not attained, then guilt and shame, which are common features of eating disorders could drive our behaviour.

Media Literacy

If our sense of self is strong and healthy and we love who we are, we are less likely to be swayed by the influences of the media. Not bowing to the notion of chasing being ‘perfect’, whether it be looks, lifestyle or accomplishments. No one is perfect. Social media posts tend to portray people at their best. If someone is vulnerable to an eating disorder they will be influenced by the millions of posts relating to body shape, diet and fitness. Fitspo refers to images and words hoping to inspire others to live a fit, active lifestyle and often show meals or promote diet fads and exercise regimes that are unbalanced and inadequate to sustain activity or health.  Educating on what is healthy and unhealthy and to be able to critically analyse these posts is crucial if someone is vulnerable to be influenced by them.

Learning from Failure

Society is also obsessed with success. Success in any area of life can come after so many failures. Not putting each other down when we fall or make mistakes and using these experiences to learn rather than shaming a person, especially a child, is beneficial to building resilience. Shame, guilt, fear of failing and fear of disappointing others can lead to eating disorder behaviour. These attitudes are then aimed at one’s self, where a person feels they have to adhere to rigid rules and if they ‘fail’ they punish themselves either in a cycle of binge-purging, restrictive dieting, excessive exercise, substance abuse or a combination of all of these.

Love of Movement

Being involved in any physical activity is healthy. Activities that emphasise body shape and size such as dance, gymnastics, bodybuilding, and even boxing or horse jockeying, where a certain weight class needs to be attained, could place a person at risk, considering all other factors. In all activities, if someone is not happy with who they are, constantly compares themselves to others and attempts to use unhealthy diet and exercise behaviours to improve their performance, could be at risk of developing an eating disorder. In fact, their performance will drop if their thoughts are unhealthy and their diet and exercise are unbalanced.


Photo Credit: Unconditional Love – Eleni Psillakis – 2017


Communication and Education

Constant, open, non-judgmental communication about how someone is feeling, at all stages of life is such an important factor. Treating people’s feeling with respect and talking about them allows for healthy means of identifying and managing emotions. If not discussed openly and without fear, then these can form unhealthy beliefs about ourselves that we may control with behaviours that are harmful. They affect not only our own physical, mental and social health, but that of those around us and our relationships.

Melbourne Workshop for Fitness Industry Professional Development: Identifying and Managing Eating Disorders in the Fitness Industry

Date: June 25, 2017

Time: 10:30am – 4pm

Venue: Virgin Active, 567 Collins Street, Melbourne

Register now: www.brazengrowth.com.au/shop

Eleni will also be presenting at the National Eating Disorders and Obesity Conference

Date: August 7-8, 2017

Venue: The Mantra View Hotel, Gold Coast

Register now for a wealth of information: https://eatingdisordersaustralia.org.au

About Our Eating Disorder News and Review Columnist – Eleni Psillakis


Combining over 27-years experience in the fitness industry, education and a lived experience, Eleni Psillakis is raising awareness of eating disorders as serious mental illnesses. In this time as a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, secondary and tertiary educator, she is aware of the fine-line that may be crossed from healthy to unhealthy diet and exercise habits.

Using resistance training to gain weight to her 39kg frame at age 19, Eleni physically recovered and went on to compete in women’s bodybuilding. However the underlying emotional issues and thought patterns resurfaced 25-years later when her marriage broke down and she was diagnosed with clinical depression. Antidepressants and 8-years of psychological counselling, assisted with unlearning of negative thought processes that Eleni had of herself for most of her life. These were nothing to do with body image, but self-worth.

Resistance training again helped the process of stopping her thoughts racing during this time of depression and she stepped back onto the competition stage gaining a top 3 place in her division for each of the 5 competitions since. It was the psychological help that has made the difference this time around.

An Insight to Anorexia and Other Eating Disorders for Fitness Professionals”, a seminar that Eleni has written, has been approved by Fitness Australia for continuing education.

Eleni Logo

Disclaimer: The information published in this column are based on the author’s own professional and personal knowledge, and opinion. This information and opinion are not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment of any manner. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition and consult a qualified medical professional before beginning any nutritional program or exercise program. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on InShape News.

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