WHEN Theresa (not her real name) was caught in a bulimia and binge eating cycle at 16, she did not know where to turn.
“I travelled from a country town to live in Perth and was finding life difficult, I was struggling socially, I felt isolated,” she said.
“I was overweight and then I went on a low calorie diet, which I was unable to sustain so then it became a cycle of binging and dieting, binging and dieting.
“You feel anxiety, you eat, then you feel bad again so you eat and it goes around and around like that,” she said.
According to a Butterfly Foundation report, there are an estimated 429,600 people who experience Binge Eating Disorder in Australia, the highest of any eating disorder.
After a long journey to recovery through peer support programs, Theresa now co- facilitates the Northbridge Women’s Health and Family Services’ not for profit Body Esteem Program.
“We don’t talk about food, only occasionally in the way that food is a coping mechanism for other factors in life,” she said.
“We cover things like anxiety, loneliness, shame, guilt; topics that have nothing to do with food but the coping strategy is food.”
During the early 1990s, Theresa said it was difficult to find eating disorder support groups.
“I was in that cycle for a long time and I was quite oblivious to the fact I had an eating disorder, when I started compensatory behaviours like bulimia then I started to think ‘I’m in trouble’,” she said.
“Before that, it just seemed like dieting, I thought, ‘I don’t have any control over food, I’m useless, I’m hopeless, I’m fat, I’m lazy;’ all those things that you say to yourself.”
Theresa said it was important for her to be able to share her story. “People have a sense of hope and there is a sense that we know what they are going through, there are women aged from 18 to 60 and some really heavy stuff comes out but there is no judgment,” she said.
Theresa said “media literacy” and advertising, which are covered in the program, could have an impact, especially with younger women.
Media literacy and the advertising industry are topics covered in the program.
“Many women are following people on social media, who have the ‘perfect life’, often they don’t see that as an issue we always encourage them to question it,” Theresa said.
“There is good and bad with social media but it is about navigating the minefield and knowledge is key, some people might not have thought about the fact that their anxiety might be caused by things other than food so then they can start to sew the seeds for change.”
Body Esteem Program service development co-ordinator Kathleen Chinn said there was a lack of information and community understanding about eating disorders.
“People can feel ashamed to reach out for help because they feel as if they do not fit the stereotypical image of a person with an eating disorder,” she said.
“All groups are facilitated by women with personal lived experience of an eating disorder and subsequent recovery, which makes it unique in WA.”
Ms Chinn said more than 300 women had accessed support through the Body Esteem Program and outcomes have been “overwhelmingly positive”.
“More than 70 per cent of group participants identified they experienced a decrease in their eating disorder behaviours, post program.”
The next Body Esteem Program Binge Eating Disorder Group starts on October 11.
Call 9300 1566 or email BEP@whfs.org.au.
If any information has affected you, contact:
The Butterfly Foundation: 1800 33 4673 Monday–Friday 8am to 9pm AEST
Lifeline: 13 11 14