Sharon Ridley, Clinical Psychologist

 

When I was asked to write a blog post for Eating Disorders Awareness Week I was surprisingly a bit stumped. Caught between feeling like I know a great deal after working with eating disorders for a decade now (a decade?! When did that happen?) and also feeling that I do not know enough.

You see, if we in the field knew enough, people would not still be dying from anorexia-related complications and suicide, children (boys and girls) as young as primary school age would not be reporting negative body image as one of their biggest concerns, there wouldn’t be a life-time prevalence of 1 in 6 Australian females suffering from an eating disorder (look around your next yoga or spin class, statistically someone in the room has had, or is currently battling, an eating disorder).  So clearly there is more to be learned, so much more that we have to keep throwing our support and funding behind critical research, and the hospitals (public and private) that work every day to get women and men back to health. I guess what I can share from 10 years of service in this area is that there are many stories of hope, there are little wins and big wins, and there are heart-warming recoveries that remind me we do know a decent amount and it does work in a lot of cases.

What would I tell a loved one that came to me looking for advice to get an eating disorder treated in Perth?

  • Go to your GP and discuss referral options, whether that be a referral to a public eating disorder service or a Mental Health Care Plan to access a private psychologist that understands eating disorders.

 

  • Consider seeing a dietitian that has a lot of experience with eating disorders; nutrition will form the cornerstone of your recovery and often people feel more secure with a lot of guidance in the early stages until they can trust their hunger and fullness once more and eat more intuitively. A dietitian can tailor a plan to suit you that becomes increasingly more flexible as your anxiety reduces and confidence increases.

 

  • Consider taking medication as necessary; your GP or a psychiatrist can guide you in the right direction. Whilst there is no medication that specifically treats eating disorders, many people benefit from anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medication while they make steps towards recovery. There is some evidence to suggest certain medications are helpful for bulimia nervosa and binge eating tendencies.

 

  • Prepare yourself for a journey, not a quick fix. Some people can make huge strides very quickly, while others may take months. Some have to have a couple of bites at the cherry, pardon the pun, before they get going. Regardless, do not hesitate to seek help because the sooner you start doing something about it, the sooner you can feel better.

 

  • Eating disorders do not go away by themselves and the longer they are left untreated the more physical and psychological damage is done. Get on it!

 

  • And I would say “you can do this!”. It is not your fault that you have this illness, and it thrives in the shadows of secrecy and shame. By asking for help you are already taking a vital step towards getting out of the grips of your eating disorder and taking back control of your life.

Finally, if your eating disorder therapist doesn’t think adding cheese to your salad is a big deal even though you haven’t touched cheese since the Spice Girls were together, then you need a new therapist because small changes are a big deal! It is when you add up all the small changes that you get a life free of pre-occupation with food, weight, shape, and exercise, a life that is not dictated by the number on the scale or what you see in the mirror, a life where your first reaction when you are invited out to eat is not a panic-stricken one, a life worth living to its fullest.