Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 25 March 2018

Family and friends have crucial role in detecting eating disorders, doctors say

Signs of a disorder include being withdrawn, avoiding meals, isolating themselves or even delving into excessive high-intensity exercise

Health experts say they are spotting eating disorder cases through “sheer coincidence” as parents are not knowledgeable enough about the symptoms.

Ayla Coussa, clinical dietitian at Fakih IVF in Dubai, said that mothers bring their daughters to her because they are worried that their child is losing weight, is stressed or has a thyroid problem.

“They have very poor awareness about eating disorders. People come to dietitians asking to lose weight though they don't need to lose weight. We start asking questions and digging more and we find that people are starving themselves,” said Ms Coussa.

“If the patient is losing weight, the parent will get them [help] but they don’t know the child has an eating disorder.”

The dietitian said she rarely gets referrals from doctors.

"I caught two girls, one anorexic and another bulimic. Both were pregnant but neither had told their gynaecologist. I came to know about their eating disorders by asking them questions,” she said.

Many women in the Middle East want to become thin before weddings or major events and go on detox diets, she added.

“Many obese people also have anorexia nervosa as they think they need to starve to lose weight but, in a few days, they compensate because they are depressed,” said Ms Coussa.

On many occasions people visit Ms Coussa with friends or family members in tow but, because of this, they lie about their problem.

However, Lina Doumani, a clinical dietitian and expert on eating disorders at Camali Clinic in Dubai, believes families and friends play a crucial role in detecting a problem.

“As soon as a parent notices warning signs like their child being withdrawn, not sitting with them at meals, being isolated, never hungry or suddenly turning vegetarian or eating only one kind of food or even delving into excessive high intensity exercise, they should approach a psychiatrist and check for eating disorders,” she said.