The American Centre for Psychiatry & Neurology in Abu Dhabi Image Credit: Supplied

Abu Dhabi: If you are obsessed with a diet, chances are you are suffering from an eating disorder, according to a leading psychologist and eating disorders specialist.

“Almost all eating disorders are triggered by a diet. Diet does not create eating disorder but in many patients, it is the trigger,” said Carine El Khazen, clinical psychologist and eating disorders practitioner at the American Centre for Psychiatry & Neurology in Abu Dhabi.

According to her, nearly 35 per cent of people who are on a diet will develop a disordered form of eating which is an abnormal relationship with food.

“Around 20 to 25 per cent of this lot develop a full-fledged eating disorder that needs treatment,” said Khazen.

A psychologist with more than 12 years of experience in treating eating disorders, Khazen is heading the new Eating Disorders Unit that opened in Abu Dhabi on December 7 at the American Centre. The programme will be available in Dubai and Sharjah also.

The UAE’s first such medical facility, the unit offers intensive outpatient treatment which can sometimes replace in-patient care.

Multi-disciplinary treatment

“The traditional approach to treating eating disorders is rehab. Unfortunately we do not have such a facility in the Middle East. But with the opening of the new unit, patients need not travel abroad for rehab. With a team of specialised doctors including four psychologists, a psychiatrist, nutritionist and general practitioner, we offer a comprehensive multi-disciplinary treatment, which is as good as in-patient treatment,” said Khazen, adding that she has seen a spike in the prevalence of new types of eating disorders among men and children in the last decade.

“There are more chronic cases, and more men and children suffering from eating disorders,” said Khazen. One of the most common types of eating disorder seen in men is Muscle Dysmorphia or Bigorexia, which is an obsessive belief that one’s own body is too small. “We are also dealing with new kinds of eating disorders like night eating syndrome (excessive eating during nights) and Orthorexia, which is an obsession with clean eating. Vegans, people who zealously avoid processed food, trans fats or eat only organic food etc are prone to Orthorexia,” said the expert.

Khazen has also warned parents to watch the eating habits of their children. “If they are obsessing about avoiding junk food or weight loss, it is an indication. Also, if they are too picky, they could have Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder.”

She said up to 20 per cent of anorexics will die from the medical complications of their anorexia.

“Eating disorder is a mental disorder. Prognosis greatly depends on early diagnosis and medical intervention,” said the expert.

Those suffering from eating disorders can also seek help through MEEDA (Middle Eating Disorders Association) that offers support through talks, workshops and support groups.