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Prevention is always better than cure. But, in order to overcome an illness you first need to recognise that it exists. Then you can look at ways to resolve it. Today we focus on ways to help prevent eating disorders so that you or a loved one can find effective solutions.

Ways To Help Overcome Eating Disorders Start With Family Ties
Photo Credit: Eleni Psillakis – Family Ties

EATING DISORDER NEWS & REVIEW: Ways To Help Prevent Eating Disorders

By Columnist Eleni Psillakis – Eating Disorder Educator: 

Ways To Help Prevent Eating Disorders #1 – Understanding the Illness – It’s Not Always About Body Image

It’s true that prevention is much better than cure. Finding out about an illness upon onset gives you a greater chance for recovery – less damage is done perse. This is true for so many illnesses. But, while this sounds easy enough, sometimes many factors contribute to an illness such as an eating disorder. Therefore, the sheer number of factors may prevent you from recognising there is a problem. So, it’s difficult for you to find ways to help prevent eating disorders.

Let’s look at this situation in greater detail to understand this concept better.

Eating Disorder Factors To Look Out For

There are many factors that contribute to mental illnesses. Some of these may be genetic, life experiences, resilience, personality type, socio-cultural and familial. The age of onset for eating disorders is on average 15 – 17 years of age. However, there have been cases where children younger than 12 have been hospitalised for these illnesses.

Factor 1 Depression And Anxiety

Eating disorders are often comorbid with depression and anxiety. Plus, other mental illnesses play a role in their manifestation. For example, some 50% of people with an illness of the mind usually have a first episode by the age of 15. Early intervention is therefore crucial so a person can avoid living with these disabling illnesses for too long.

Factor 2 Unhealthy Habits

Unhealthy diet and exercise habits are often maladaptive coping mechanisms for uncontrollable emotions. IT IS NOT ALWAYS ABOUT BODY IMAGE. We are missing this point and this further complicates the disorder. Mainly due to a person over using these unhealthy behaviours to cope. As a result, these practices have dangerous consequences on their physical, mental, emotional and social health.

woman with painted face and body sitting on table
It’s Not Always About Body Image — Photo by Ivan Samkov on Pexels.com

Research Data

Studies have shown that more than 50% of all children and adolescents with an eating disorder may not meet all the all the diagnostic criteria (DSM-IV) for anorexia or bulimia. This situation occurs because they do not express body-image dissatisfaction. Or because inadequate nutrition provides evidence of growth failure rather than weight loss to less than 85% of expected weight.1 Consequently, these figures highlight that it is NOT always about body image. Thus, many people are not treated appropriately because they do not meet the criteria of ‘body dissatisfaction’. This raises some concerns including:

  1. What is the real problem for individuals and are people not receiving appropriate help for this?
  2. Implies that people who are of healthy weight range or overweight do not suffer from eating disorders and may be refused help because they do not ‘match the criteria’

First Hand Experience

My experience reflects this. I was never dissatisfied with my body, my weight or shape. EVER. Instead, my restricted eating and excessive exercise gave me a sense of control over things I felt I had no control over. My sense of worth and being heard was wrapped in adhering to these behaviours. It was exhausting, but they became coping mechanisms I feared living without because no one dared to ask WHY.

So I believe to prevent these poor coping strategies from taking hold we need to nurture the ‘unseen’ qualities of a person’s development. How we do this depends on our own attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. As such, we can all play a part in trying to prevent eating disorders, as they can affect anyone regardless of age, race, gender or social status.

Helping To Prevent Eating Disorders #2 – Allow For Open Communication

Are we really listening to each other? Does our verbal and non-verbal communication put a barrier up so that others, especially those who are passive, are prevented from saying anything at all? This person was me. I did not want to ‘rock the boat’, especially when conversations involved yelling and not really listening to each other. I did not learn to express myself. So I bottled feelings up.

Therefore, it’s important to listen beyond the words. Instead, listen to the mood and to each other’s feelings without judgment or threat. If these feelings are associated with a traumatic event that has happened, then at least knowing they can speak about it when they are ready may prevent them from using unhealthy behaviours to cope.

four women chatting while sitting on bench
Open Communication Helps Prevent Eating Disorders — Photo by ELEVATE on Pexels.com

Ways To Help Prevent Eating Disorders #3 – Adjust Our Expectations Of Others

Are we allowing others to be themselves, to follow their dreams and supporting their goals and talents? Or are we squashing them with our own agendas, making them only feel worthy when they have ticked our boxes? Are we breeding people pleasers who have lost all sense of themselves, as they try to see their ‘image’ in others?

Are we applauding and developing the process of using unseen treasures such as talent, creativity, compassion, a clever wit or sense of humour or are we only highlighting achievement and comparing these to others?

By adjusting our expectations and taking another person’s feelings, hopes and dreams into consideration, we allow them to grow as an individual. Being respectful of others and encouraging, no matter their age helps to nurture and heal.

Is our own self-worth based on body shape, weight and size and do we stick to strict diet and exercise regimes to feel this sense of worth? Is anxiety increased and do we project this anxiety onto others? What are our comments and behaviours teaching others, especially those who are insecure about who they are? By answering these questions and discussing the responses we are acknowledging thoughts, attitudes and behaviours that relate to our bodies. We can then help prevent eating disorders by:

Promoting behaviours

  • Your own self-acceptance and being a good role model in this regard.
  • The value of exercise to promote health.
  • The importance of a variety of foods from all the food groups.
  • The joy of movement – feel your body strengthen, what you can do physically as well as feel like.
  • Self-esteem and self-respect by acknowledging intellectual, relational, creative and athletic endeavours.
  • Education and understanding about the harmful effects of bullying and prejudice.
  • Better social media awareness of topics and images that imply ‘perfection’.
  • Participation in activities such as swimming and dancing, regardless of body shape and enjoy the movement of these.

Avoiding behaviours

  • Categorising foods into ‘good, bad, safe’ etc.
  • Portraying exercise as a means of burning calories and as a punishment for eating.
  • Comments conveying value on appearance.
  • Gender stereotyping.

It’s also important to look out for signs such as fussy eating, especially in children. Read more at: http://www.woodcockpsychology.com.au/fussy-restricted-eating-child/. However, it’s also suggested that you seek out diagnosis by a medical expert trained in eating disorders.

Overall, while eating disorders present as an individual having an unhealthy diet, exercise habits and other compensatory behaviours, often one’s values also get caught in a complex web of many factors.  but If we continue to say that eating disorders are ‘body image issues’, for the majority of children and adolescents that do not express body dissatisfaction, as research suggests, are we putting up another barrier before them preventing their expression of what is really going on for them? Are we only just treating the signs and not the cause?

photo of a sign and eyeglasses on table
Think Positive To Make Positive Change — Photo by Binti Malu on Pexels.com


Identification and management of eating disorders in children and adolescents – DS Rosen – Pediatrics, 2010 – Am Acad Pediatrics.

Workshops & Events

Identifying & Managing Eating Disorders in the Fitness Industry

Event #1

Where: Northern Beaches Community College, Level 1 14 William Street; BROOKVALE, NSW.

When: Feb 2nd, 2018

Time: 12 noon – 6pm

Event #2

Where: QUEST WODONGA, 46 Reid St Wodonga, VIC

When: Feb 9th, 2018

Time: 12 noon – 6pm

The link to register is https://www.brazengrowth.com.au/services/identifying-and-managing-eating-disorders-in-the-fitness-industry

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 her time as a group fitness instructor, personal trainer, secondary and tertiary educator, Eleni wasn’t aware of the fine-line that crossed from healthy to unhealthy diet and exercise habits.

How Eleni Used Resistance Training

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 a diagnosis of clinical depression resulted. 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 is not 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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