Understanding and treating eating disorders

Eating disorders are a serious mental illness affecting men as well as women in Australia, however as Lynette Bolton discovers on The House of Wellness TV there is hope, and help, at hand.

Mitch Doyle was just 11 years old when he was first diagnosed with an eating disorder.

At last count, there were nearly 7,000 Australian men diagnosed with anorexia nervosa, dispelling the myth it’s primarily teenage girls who are affected by this crippling psychiatric illness.

“I was bullied about my weight consistently throughout primary school,” Mitch says. “There was always this thing hanging over my head that guys don’t get this [anorexia] – that this was a white, female thing.”

As Butterfly Foundation CEO Christine Morgan explains an eating disorder isn’t a choice but a serious mental health issue estimated to affect around nine per cent of the Australian population or close to one million people, with many suffering in secret because they feel so ashamed.

“Eating disorders don’t discriminate by age, gender, ethnicity or socio-economic status and impact enormously not only the person involved but family, friends and their community,” Christine says.

“They have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness, with suicide rates for anorexia 32 times higher than for the general population.”

From negative to positive

Mitch thinks his disorder started so young because of bullying about his weight and the fact he was shorter than other children in his class. He describes yoga as his saviour, saying it helped remove negativity from his life and gave him focus during the toughest times.

Now studying psychology at university, Mitch speaks in schools on behalf of The Butterfly Foundation, raising awareness of eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia and warning kids about the pressures placed on body image by social media.

As a leading national voice in supporting the needs of people suffering eating disorders, the foundation highlights the realities of seeking treatment for recovery, and advocates for improved services from both government and independent sources.

With studies showing that 41 per cent of Australian children are worried about the way they look, health and wellness advocate Lynette Bolton says it’s important that everyone understands the facts about mental health and eating disorders to improve prevention, early identification and to encourage people to seek help.

“Some of the psychological risk factors to look out for include perfectionism, obsessive compulsiveness, neuroticism and low self-esteem,” she says. “It’s important to remember that successful treatment and recovery from an eating disorder is possible.”

Lastly, helping people with mental health issues overcome trauma through yoga is Sydney-based Maya Rees, owner of Omillusion Yoga. “I want people everywhere to have access to yoga that connects body, mind and spirit to promote freedom from trauma, body positivity, social inclusion and personal development,” she says.

If you, or anyone you know is experiencing an eating disorder or body image concerns, you can call the Butterfly Foundation National Helpline on 1800 33 4673 (ED HOPE) or email [email protected]