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As obesity becomes an increasing health problem globally; the UAE is considered to have one of the highest rates of obesity worldwide, it is quite easy to overlook the threat of eating disorders that

As obesity becomes an increasing health problem globally; the UAE is considered to have one of the highest rates of obesity worldwide, it is quite easy to overlook the threat of eating disorders that could be on the rise, especially among adolescents and teens.

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses and it is estimated that only one in ten sufferers seeks treatment. While women are more commonly affected by eating disorders, men can and do develop eating disorders as well. The number of sufferers in the UAE is unknown, but a survey done at Al Ain University in 2012 found that 1.8 per cent of 900 girls questioned were anorexic. Another study conducted by university students in the UAE found that three quarters of young Emiratis belive to have body issues, and one in five need clinical intervention.

In observance of Eating Disorders Awareness Month this February, Maria Abi Hanna, a dietitian specialising in eating disorders for The Right Bite Nutrition Centre, shares some facts to highlight awareness about the alarming impact of this issue.

“Eating disorders are real, complex, and devastating conditions that can have serious consequences for health, productivity, and relationships. They are not a fad, phase, or a lifestyle choice. Their physical warning signs include: rapid weight loss, loss of menstruation in girls, signs of damage due to induced vomiting such as calluses on knuckles, and feeling cold most of the time. Behavioural and psychological warning signs include: preoccupation with eating, food, body shape and weight, feeling anxious or ‘out of control’ around meal times, excessive exercise, unnecessary dieting, use of laxatives, and obsessive rituals around food preparation and eating,” Maria shares.

There is no known way to prevent eating disorders, however early treatment may be the best way to keep the disorder from progressing. Knowing the early signs and seeking treatment right away can help prevent both emotional and physical health complications as well as increase the likelihood of recovery.

Although the age group most at risk for developing eating disorders is between 12 and 20, anyone can be affected as it can happen at any age. Right Bite lists these guidelines to help you and your loved ones live healthier and happier lives:

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Become a critical viewer of the media. Even though the media is not completely to blame, sometimes media images and messages about food and bodies are often distorted and may lead everyone, especially children as they are the most vulnerable, to think that the ideal of beauty is extreme thinness. The average model thirty years ago was 8 per cent thinner than the average woman. Nowadays the average model is 23 per cent thinner than the average woman! It is important to encourage healthy realistic attitudes and behaviours related to beauty, body image, eating and weight.

Creating a healthy environment for the growth of your child’s self-esteem begins at home and is vital. It is important to encourage healthy eating habits, be positive role models and avoid dieting around your children. Family dining habits may also influence the relationships children develop with food and eating meals together gives you an opportunity to teach children about healthy eating.

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Don’t judge food. Avoid categorising foods as “good/safe” vs. “bad/dangerous” and always emphasise leading a healthy lifestyle and eating a balanced and varied diet in moderation.

Criticise the culture that promotes unhealthy body image. Reinforce a healthy body image in your children mainly, as well as your family and friends, whatever their shape or size and reassure them that body shapes can vary. Avoid joking about other people who are overweight or have a large frame. Stress on valuing yourself and others based on goals, accomplishments, talents, and character.

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Finally, if you think a loved one has an eating disorder, express your concerns in a caring manner and kindly but firmly encourage the person to seek trained professional help.

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