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Finding FOOD FREEDOM…

Eating disorders are a very real concern on the North Coast, especially among our youth. Ballito dietician Bertus Coetzer says it’s time to open up conversations on the topic to help those struggling with eating disorders not to feel alone – and to find ‘food freedom’.

It’s hard to believe, looking at him, that Bertus was once heavily overweight, fighting his own weight loss and eating battle. In fact, he says, it’s something he still struggles with on a daily basis.
“I have struggled with my weight my entire life. I know what it’s like to feel like you are being constantly tortured by food.”

It was for this reason, about 12 years ago, he decided to change the course of his life and study dietics and psychology. “My girlfriend and I moved to Thailand and I had quite a lot of free time on my hands. I weighed around 115kg and was boarding on being a Type 2 diabetic. I was only 22 years old, and desperate to find a solution that didn’t involve dieting and feeling like I was depriving myself.”

Determined to find his own ‘food freedom’, Bertus says studying dietics and psychology together was imperative because the two are so closely interlinked. “You have to find and address the ‘why’ in your relationship with food before you can fix an eating disorder.”
Now based in Ballito, Bertus works in hospitals focussing on nutritional psychology. “On a daily basis I see girls struggling with severe eating disorders. Some haven’t had their periods for six months and women in their thirties are already going into early menopause. It’s not normal and it’s not okay.”

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Bertus says the constant bombardment and marketing on social media and ‘diet culture’ is mainly to blame. “We are constantly being told what our body is supposed to look like. It shouldn’t be like this. Life is already challenging enough without this added pressure.”
Eating disorders, Bertus says, become addictions similar to those of alcoholics or drug or pornography addicts. The difference is, those things can be removed from your life. Food cannot.

Ballito dietician Bertus Coetzer

“We need food to survive, so our relationship with food is extremely important. This is one of the hardest addictions to live with, because no one talks about it. Eating disorders are the second biggest cause of death from addiction (second to opioid addiction).”
So, what do we need to do to fix it? “We need to open up conversations and start talking about eating disorders,” says Bertus, who is in the process of setting up an eating disorder support group in Ballito.
“Parents need to have conversations with their kids about this and help them to create healthy relationships with food. We are quick to tell them not to drink alcohol, but how often do we talk to them about their relationship with food?”
It’s important, Bertus says, to stop ‘villianising’ certain foods and food groups. “One doughnut is not going to make you fat, just like one salad won’t make you thin. It’s about what you do consistently. Food is supposed to be enjoyed and not make us feel guilty. My best advice is to live by the 80/20 rule. Try and make healthy choices 80% of the time, and the rest of time, enjoy and eat whatever you want.”
Bertus says it’s important as well to remember that everyone has a different journey with food and different triggers. There is no ‘quick fix’ for eating disorders and each person has to walk their own path.

EATING DISORDER PREVENTION TIPS
1. Get rid of the notion that a particular diet, weight or body size will lead to happiness. You are more than what your body looks like. Challenge the false ideas that thinness and weight loss are great and that body fat and weight gain are horrible.
2. Learn about the types of eating disorders. Genuine awareness will help you avoid judgemental or mistaken attitudes about food, weight, body shape, and eating disorders and help you to learn the signs of potential eating disorders.
3. Avoid categorising foods as ‘good’ vs ‘bad’. We all need to eat a balanced variety of foods. A healthy diet should focus on whole foods (produce, lean meats, low-fat dairy, nuts and legumes) but allow room to enjoy all kinds of food in moderation.
4. Stop judging others and yourself based on body weight or shape.
5. Choose to value yourself based on your goals, accomplishments, talents and character. Avoid letting the way you feel about your body weight and shape determine the course of your day. Be grateful that your body can dance, clean the house, walk upstairs, give birth, and much more.
6. Finally, if you think someone has an eating disorder, express your concerns in a forthright, caring manner. Gently but firmly encourage the person to seek professional help. If you have an eating disorder, don’t let it control your life any longer. Reach out and find out how a tailored treatment programme can help you regain control over your life and find food freedom.

Details: Bertus Coetzer, [email protected], 073 454 5706, @dietitian__bert

Text: Leah Shone

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