This refers to anorexia and bulimia, but also other less well-known disorders such as binge eating and drunkorexia, which means skipping meals and dramatically reducing calorie intake from food in order to save calories for alcohol.
These conditions affect more people than many of us would imagine.
In Italy, around 3.5 million people suffer from an eating disorder, with 8,500 new cases every year.
Meanwhile in Australia, eating disorders affect around 9 per cent of the population, according to the National Eating Disorders Collaboration.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) reported that anorexia and bulimia are the second largest cause of death among teenagers, following road incidents.
In fact, it’s during adolescence that these disorders often tend to appear, even though more and more cases of eating disorders among children are being reported and people can be affected later on in life.
Though eating disorders are so prevalent, great prejudice and false convictions still surround them, and they are often considered a choice, a way of “dieting”, or a phase rather than a mental illness which requires attention and care.
Lilac Ribbon Day was commemorated in Italy through a range of initiatives, and the association Mi Nutro di Vita (I Feed on Life) sparked the phenomenon of taking a photo with a lilac ribbon in hand and posting it on Facebook to “create a network of solidarity to break down the shield of silence behind which eating disorders hide”.
One of these photos came from Sydney.
It was that of Giovanna Trento, a 25-year-old Italian from Spilimbergo, near Pordenone, in the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, who came to Australia in 2017.
“A country where I found my cure,” she wrote on the Coloriamocidililla – Giornata del Fiocchetto Lilla Facebook page.
It’s also a country to which her family has a profound connection.
Her grandfather - an Istrian exile - migrated to Australia in 1956, but decided to return to Italy around a decade after the birth of his children, settling in Friuli.
As is often the case in these situations, his reasons for returning were shrouded in mystery and Australia remained a distant memory to the family for a very long time.
That was until a student exchange between Giovanna’s brother and a boy from Kiama, in NSW, re-established a connection to Australia.
When the Australian boy arrived at her house on exchange, Giovanna was 16 years old and going through the worst period of her life.
What began as a silly diet, which included eating less sweets, soon became something much darker.
“I lost 15 kilograms in six months,” she told IL GLOBO in an interview.
“I didn’t eat anything, maybe a piece of fruit for the day. My parents had no idea what to do.
“I don’t remember much of what we did during that period when the exchange student was with us. I was continually fainting, in the morning I’d wake up and not know where I was, and I couldn’t walk home from the bus stop. I lived in horrible isolation.”
It all came crashing down when she was admitted to a “day hospital”, followed by a month spent in paediatrics.
Her parents had spurred her to ask for help months earlier, but a mistake in her weight recording (which added 10 kilograms to her actual weight) caused doctors to believe there was no great concern.
When she was admitted to hospital, Giovanna weighed 39 kilograms - not much, given she was 161 centimetres tall and had previously had a muscular build from growing up doing gymnastics.
Her heart rate was slow and her legs were purple due to poor circulation.
Giovanna’s hospitalisation was her saviour.
The experience scared her and she realised the risk she was taking and sought to regain her strength.
Despite many moments of difficulty, she managed to take some huge steps forward with the help of highly prepared hospital staff.
In July 2009, Giovanna’s mother gifted her a trip to Australia, something they’d always spoken about.
It was love at first sight.
“I was lucky to fall in love with it so much that I want to be well enough to be able to return,” Giovanna said.
And that was the key to wellbeing: beginning to look towards the future again.
“You can’t be a slave to anorexic or bulimic thoughts, and you must instead say ‘today I will live’,” she explained.
Giovanna’s advice to parents with a child suffering from an eating disorder is to avoid talking about food and making it an obsession, focusing instead on dreams and encouraging experiences, even simple things like a walk outdoors or a visit to the museum.
“It’s important to keep them alive, to not abandon them, and not think that it’s just a phase which is better off left alone,” she said.
It’s also crucial to keep an eye on the websites they’re visiting, as there are many sites which promote eating disorders as a lifestyle choice and offer advice and tips on how to hide the condition from those around them.
Asking for help is key: you can ask a general practitioner or specialist.
For example, in Australia, you can turn to the Butterfly Foundation.
Information plays a fundamental role in allowing us to recognise the problem before us instead of sweeping it under the rug.
“A psychologist once explained to me that eating disorders are like an addiction; they’re a way to escape from life and its difficulties, seeking refuge in a disorder of which you are the master,” Giovanna said.
“But these disorders cause lifelong problems, such as infertility. It’s important to understand that the body can abandon you and that you have to be stronger than your mind.”
In doing this, the mind can go from being a sworn enemy to a precious friend which keeps illness at bay.
Usually, thanks to the love of a place, a person, a passion, or of yourself.