Take 5: Common myths around eating disorders

2 minute read

Many young people engage in unhealthy eating behaviours but few develop an eating disorder


Many young people engage in unhealthy eating behaviours but only a very small number go on to develop an eating disorder.

Professor Stephen Touyz, a clinical psychologist at The University of Sydney, lays out the facts in this five-minute video.

“There is often a myth that most teenagers will go through some form of an eating disorder during the adolescent years,” he said.

“Millions of adolescents will diet … but very few will develop an eating disorder such as anorexia nervosa.”

Eating disorders are estimated to affect approximately 9% of the Australian population and represent the third most common chronic illness for young females, according to National Eating Disorders Collaboration.

Early diagnosis and treatment was crucial, said Professor Touyz.

“If you do not recover in those early first few years there’s a real risk that you end up with an enduring illness that will impact on every aspect of your life for the rest of your life and, tragically for some, end up dying much earlier than you should,” he said.

Dieting disorders such as anorexia nervosa were sometimes portrayed as glamorous but this could not be further from the truth, continued Professor Touyz.

“They are never glamorous disorders to have,” he said. “They are serious psychiatric disorders, often difficult to overcome and can have a devastating impact on the individual.”

While earlier diagnosis is better, doctors and parents should avoid overdramatising behaviour that is not cause for serious concern, said Professor Touyz.

“But I think if a parent is seeing behaviour that seems to be becoming fanatical, that is rigid, that the person can no longer act in flexible way they did before with food then usually I would think a trip to the GP to discuss it and get the GP to have a look at whether they feel this is progressing towards an eating disorder,” he said.

The following video discusses the following topics:

  • What are some of the most common myths around young people and eating disorders?
  • How can we differentiate between behaviour that is ‘just a fad diet’ and that is becoming an eating disorder?
  • How often are eating disorders associated with other mental illnesses such as anxiety or depression?
  • What can schools do to prevent eating disorders?

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