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By Amy Donohoe

The media contributes to dieting and size discrimination. There’s an increased population that spend their time watching television and on social media.

Some of them feel as if they must be like the people they see on the screens.

The Department of Health estimates that around 200,000 people in Ireland are affected by an eating disorder.

There’s 400 new cases each year, resulting in 80 deaths per annum according to Vision for Change.

The media sometimes indirectly tells us to lose weight. Overweight characters on the television and in films are occasionally represented as sluggish, the one with no friends, or the antihero, while thin women and men are mostly successful and popular.

The About-Face organisation said that, "400-600 advertisements bombard us every day in magazines, on billboards, on tv, and in newspapers.

One in eleven has a direct message about beauty, not even counting the indirect messages.

'The average female model weighs up to 25% less than the typical woman and preserves a weight at about 15 to 20 per cent below what is considered healthy for her age and height. Some models mould their bodies into more photogenic versions of themselves with tape and/or plastic surgery and most photos are airbrushed before going to print.' Spunout.ie opinions writer Eboni Burke said. 

'The media is capable of both glorifying and helping those with eating disorders. The constant pressure to copy celebrities perpetuates body dysmorphia and it can glorify eating.'

'However, there’s less pressure to be so thin compared to the 00s. Plus sized models like Ashley Graham and The Kardashians are inspiring people to love a full-sized figure.' 

Bodyswhy.ie, a HSE organisation said that an eating disorder is defined by:

• Self-starvation – by fasting or restricting food.

• Purging – by self-forced vomiting, over-exercising, or abusing laxatives.

• Bingeing – by overconsuming large quantities of food.

It’s very important that the media take accountability for what is reported and that they recognise the possible impact of messages that are capable to weaken healthy self-image and self-esteem which are the keystones of mental well-being.

71.4% of Irish adolescents feel harmfully affected by media portrayal of body weight and shape, with more than a quarter (25.6%) believing it to be far too thin.

A three-year study of adolescent girls in Fiji found that purging behaviours had increased from 0% to 11% within the first three years of television being introduced to Fiji's Nadroga province.

Using extreme weight control behaviours (such as vomiting or using laxatives) are 3 times higher in the highest frequency readers of magazine articles about dieting and weight-loss compared with those who did not read such magazines.

Last summer, Netflix released a new movie surrounding a whole host of eating disorders, particularly anorexia, called To the Bone. It stars Lily Collins as a teenage girl suffering from anorexia who enters a group home to aid her recovery. The trailer was enough to cause concern, with some viewers and mental health experts worrying about the content.

The Director, Marti Noxon took to Twitter to address the matter, explaining that she had spoken with survivors of eating disorders and a charity called Project Heal to ensure that the film wouldn’t become exploitative.

She said that her aim was never to glamorise the disease, but “to serve as a conversation starter about an issue that is too often clouded by secrecy and misconceptions”.

Eboni Burke said: 'After To the Bone, it would seem eating disorders haven’t been tackled in the media due to the scrutiny the film got for inaccuracy. We talk about diversity in films a lot, but you never see a character coping with an eating disorder that isn’t completely dramatized.' 

People from every age group seem to have a huge presence on social media. With a wide range of social media platforms used among all age groups including Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, and Twitter, it can be difficult to escape the pressures and influences of social media.

The Huffington Post have released these useful ways to escape the negative effects of social media and use it as a tool for self-empowerment:

1. Unplug. – Go outside, call a friend, or meditate. Engage in activities that allow you to be free from the digital world. Sign off from your accounts or put them away when you are experiencing a moment of difficulty or stress.

2. Unfollow. – If you are following individuals who are obsessed over posting their food, image, and exercise regimes, unfollow them and be free. Block unfriendly social media users and only use the digital world to celebrate the good things in life.

3. Unwind. – Put away your phone and engage in mindful eating behaviours. Replace time on social media with mindfulness techniques such as yoga, meditation, or cooking healthy meals.

World Eating Disorders Action Day is a movement designed for and by people impacted eating disorders, their families, and the medical and health professionals who support them.

The aim is to expand global awareness.

The Third Annual #WorldEatingDisordersDay will take place on June 2, 2018 globally.

Bodyswhy provide support. Their Helpline number is 1890 200 444 and it runs seven days per week. They also provide an email support service at alex@bodywhys.ie.

You can also find information at their website www.bodywhys.ie.


Irish eating disorders service Bodywhys has demonstrated in their annual report that 2016 saw a 10 per cent increase in people with disordered eating issues using their support services.

According to the report, the service has seen a a 33 per cent increase in support emails received. 

It has also seen a 30 per cent jump in people attending support groups, and a 6 per cent increase in people using their online support groups.

The group also presented their findings from their call service, with 13 per cent of those calling being in a time of crisis. 

People aged 15 to 18 made up almost one quarter of those who contacted the service.

Anorexia was the most common illness, as 60 per cent of those who contacted Bodywhys were struggling with this particular disorder.

Bulimia sufferers made up 17 per cent, while Binge Eating Disorder sufferers made up 19 per cent. 

Those suffering with EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) made up 4 per cent. 

These figures come after Bodywhys commented on new Netflix film To The Bone, which gives a depiction of eating disorders.

'Bodywhys acknowledges that the filmmakers have understood the seriousness and complexity of eating disorders.'

'Visual and other elements of the film may be challenging for those with a personal connection to the issue of eating disorders.'

'The central character, Ellen, is in crisis and unwell. Some scenes involving specific eating disorder behaviours are shown, along with personal and emotional conversations.'


Dieting, restrictive eating and intense workout sessions seem to be part and parcel of life for many young Irish people, but when does 'looking after your body' cross the line to a dangerous obsession?

Many eating disorder sufferers point to a lack of control in their lives or a time of intense upheaval as the moment their issues with food began. But it's not always quite so clear cut, as Irish woman Fiona Morris can attest to.

"For so many years, people, family, friends, doctors, counsellors tried to uncover the reason for why my eating disorder began," she says of her 12-year experience with anorexia.

"What was the root cause? When did it all start? I thought that if I knew the reason it all started, then I would be able to find the way out of it."

Today marks the second day of Eating Disorder Awareness Week in Ireland and around the world, and Fiona has graciously shared her story with us.

"I put the debut of anorexia down to a culmination of feeling inadequate, seeing myself as 'ugly', unfortunate circumstances and bad timing," she says.

"Over the years I have realised that finding out how or why I got sick wasn't nearly as important as realising how I could get better."

While she does not yet fully consider herself as "recovered," Fiona says she is "proud AF" with how far she has come.

"I am not going to say I am one of the 'lucky' ones, luck has not played any part. What I will say is that I am one of the brave ones, who was strong enough to stand up for my right to be alive and to have a place in this world.

"I would give a lot to be able to get back the years I lost to anorexia…but the reality is, I can never get those years back.

"I can never erase the years of crying, lying, wishing, wanting, jealousy, hatred, frustration, fear and guilt."

Despite all of this, Fiona still tries her best to take even some small positive lessons from her experience.

"Having anorexia, has no doubt taught me a lot about myself and about life. Yes, I regret the years I spent with it, but I don't regret all the lessons it taught me.

"I understand the beauty and fragility of life. I understand the blessing that we have been given with life. I have compassion and understanding.

"I have a clear and balanced perspective on what is important and most of all, I have a deep appreciation for good relationships, with both friends and family.

"I have had to try and take some positive out of my 'lost' years and it is these life lessons that have stood out."

After a long-term battle with her eating disorder, Fiona said she now accepts her experience as a part of herself – and wants to use what she has learnt to help others.

"I would be lying if I said that I don't still struggle. I do. I really really do. I have had it for 12 years so I wouldn't expect to not have tough times.

"I am not sharing this for praise or attention, I know myself how much I have accomplished. I am sharing this to reach out to people struggling with an eating disorder.

"I want you guys to know that no matter how long you have had an eating disorder for, how many times you have got  a bit better only to fall down again, how bad it may seem right now, no matter how hopeless you feel or how scared you are about taking a step forward… that recovery is possible for everyone.

"Recovery is a full time job and I am OK with that, because the pay is more than any job will give you."