In support of Eating Disorders Awareness Week, an international event that raises awareness on the challenges and stigma associated with various types of eating disorders, I invited Clinical Nutritionists, Rhiannon Lambert and Sophie Bertrand, to deliver a seminar to resident GPs and fellow academics of the Imperial College
Faculty of Medicine to enhance current knowledge on eating disorders in the context of Public Health.
As the General Practitioner is most often the first point of call for the patient, with very little time to address the holistic needs of patients, Rhiannon and Sophie established some of the complex nutritional and psychological factors that are involved in catalysing both the onset and the continuance of disordered eating. The conditions, which include anorexia (the extreme limitation of calorie intake), bulimia (compensating binge eating through subsequent purging), emotional overeating, and orthorexia (a clinical obsession with eating only “pure” food) are fuelled by severely unhealthy relationships with food and are usually exacerbated with prolonged suffering. With social media having more impact on everyone’s daily lives, sufferers of eating disorders are a particularly vulnerable group, facing greater susceptibility to impossible and unrealistic body “standards” from which they are bombarded with through mediums such as Instagram. In a study in which Sophie was involved in conducting, she found that 21% of young people are referring to social media influencers for nutrition advice, and 44% of young people believe that eliminating an entire food group equals “health”. This may include complete elimination of fats, carbohydrates, or animal products. The two pointed out the dangers of turning to social media images for dietary advice.
It is now more than ever crucial for GPs to listen for clues that their patients might be internally suffering from an eating disorder, as BMI may not always be an indicative factor of the psychological trauma associated with such conditions. While consultation time is limited, it is important to open up the conversation and have a list of resources, helplines, and referrals of nutritionists or charity organizations specialized in the field as an effective option to offer patients while (and if) they are on a waiting list for further clinical help. Like any illness, early intervention is key for successful long-term outcomes, and they recommend that patients are referred to qualified clinical nutritionists with professional experience in working with this vulnerable and impressionable population.
Rhiannon’s book, Re-nourish: A Simple Way to Eat Well offers readers expert guidance to “eat like a Nutritionist” as well as evidence-based understanding of how nutrition affects the body, and sounds like a great starting point for everyone interesting in learning more about how to love food and feel great.
Blog post commissioned by the UK's Faculty of Public Health, http://fph.org.uk
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