By Melinda Hutchings.

Last week an intense debate erupted over Jennifer Hawkins appearing naked and unretouched on the cover of the current issue of Marie Claire – and whether she represents a role model for positive body image. Media personality Bianca Dye, who also posed nude for a recent issue of Madison, made the point that as Hawkins is genetically blessed she should not be deemed as a role model for positive body image because the average woman looks nothing like her. The Butterfly Foundation defended the Marie Claire cover, citing Hawkins body confidence and popularity a positive step forward in the body image stakes, while Marie Claire editor Jackie Frank said the fact that the cover stimulated debate is what counts.

The negative attention generated by the Marie Claire cover is not going to do us any favours in the body image debate. Perhaps it would be more beneficial to profile a celebrity who has suffered from an eating issue to increase awareness about the steps we can take to reduce the incidence of disordered eating behaviours, and to show that the path of an eating issue is far from glamorous, but an existence of heartache, loneliness and misery.

In my book Why Can’t I Look the Way I Want; Overcoming Eating Issues, there is a section that aims to expose the early warning signs. As people suffering from eating issues are secretive in order to ‘protect’ their illness, these signs are often subtle and can be passed off as ‘normal’ behaviour – unless you know what to look for.

Common warning signs are going on an unusually strict diet, making excuses for not eating or pretending to have already eaten to avoid a meal, avoiding eating in public or with others, wearing baggy clothing to hide weight loss, obsession with food preparation and a change in attitude towards food e.g. becoming vegan or cutting out entire food groups under the guise of wanting to be ‘healthy’.

Another common warning sign is ritualistic behaviour when eating, such as eating very slowly, cutting food into tiny pieces, insisting that meals are eaten at a particular time each day or obsessive use of the same crockery and cutlery.

Whilst images in the media can heighten anxiety when it comes to self image and body image, the only way forward is to be vigilant about increasing the awareness of the early warning signs. Understanding what constitutes disordered eating will lead to a very real chance of catching the behaviour early and reducing the alarming incidence of eating issues amongst our teens and young adults.

If we shift the focus of the body image debate, we can truly start to make a difference.

Writer Melinda Hutchings, Author & Professional Speaker. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.