Dr Alex Yellowlees, Consultant psychiatrist at the Priory Group and author of "Working with Eating Disorders and Self-Esteem"

The media presentation of skinny models as the ideal or the 'norm' is, in my opinion, harmful and a real concern. The theme of 'the thinner the better' is something I hear all too regularly from patients. 

Eating disorders often occur as a result of deeper emotional and psychological problems, whereby controlling food intake through overeating or under eating is used as a coping mechanism for feelings such as stress, anxiety, depression, sadness, anger or other difficult emotions.

However, social factors are also hugely influential in the causes of eating disorders. Low self-esteem can reveal itself through eating disorders. Negative body image and/or body image distortion are also frequent causes of eating disorders.

The increasing drive towards thinness in western culture remains one of the most important ingredients in the mix. Our society grossly overvalues thinness, making it into a modern day virtue. Women grow up brainwashed into the belief that in order to be considered worthy, successful and attractive they have to be thin!

Young women seeking a sense of self-esteem, self-identity and confident femininity are more vulnerable to society's seductive messages suggesting that in order to be worthy, sexy, successful, powerful and happy they must pursue the perfect body at all costs.
They look up to and emulate female role models for direction about how to live as a woman in our society. Today these women are generally excessively or overly thin. This is not healthy physically or psychologically.

The media perpetuate these images, but it is also in a unique position to actually change perceptions and make a real difference through a shift in editorial policy.

A change in what they see on the pages of prestigious magazines could transform the image young girls strive for and hopefully save some of them from the misery and tyranny of an eating disorder.

Eating disorders are complex conditions and often require a number of different professionals working together to treat them. The health consequences of an ongoing eating disorder can be severe and sometimes fatal. The sooner an eating disorder diagnosis is made, the sooner treatment can begin and the greater the chances of a successful recovery.

It can be difficult for anyone to acknowledge that they have an eating disorder but professional help should always be sought as soon as possible. Anorexia needs specialist help to treat both the psychological causes and its physical effects.

Contacting a GP is often the easiest way to get help and further treatment. They may offer psychological counselling or dietary counselling, or refer the individual to a specialist for further assessment. This may lead to outpatient treatment or, if more serious, day or inpatient treatment. A full recovery from an eating disorder is highly achievable, particularly when help is sought early on and treatment followed through a structured programme such as those offered by the Priory Group's network of hospitals nationwide. Treatment for an eating disorder can be life-changing but in an ideal world, where success and beauty are not measured by how THIN an individual looks, weight and food issues would not be so prevalent.