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Early in her career, Professor Phillipa Hay had a mentor introduce her to the complex research area of anorexia nervosa.
Phillipa, from the School of Medicine, has since become one of the leading experts in the field, with her research – along with the research of others – revealing that the number of people with eating disorders in our community is growing rapidly.
Most importantly, eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, are not gender, age or socio demographic specific.
Phillipa is a leading researcher in Western Sydney University's emerging public health discipline – which was recently rated "above world standard" in the latest Excellence for Research in Australia (ERA) report.
Together with her colleagues from across the University, she is using Western Sydney's unique challenges and advantages to improve public health nation-wide.
Today, her research is taking a giant LEAP forward in the treatment of the illness.
LEAP stands for Loughborough Eating disorders Activity Therapy, and Phillipa's LEAP project – which is a world-first when it comes to evaluating the efficacy of an exercise-enhanced psychotherapy to treat the condition – is being funded by a grant from the National Health and Medical Research Council.
"Traditionally, sufferers were told not to exercise fearing that it would lead to further weight loss, however our research has shown that exercising in a functional way can assist people, both mentally and physically," says Phillipa.
"Educating patients in what constitutes healthy exercise and providing them with the knowledge and skills that allows the patient to gain control of their exercise behaviour has proven to be beneficial in their recovery."
Another important function during the recovery process is the introduction of the anorexia mentoring program.
Phillipa herself will be mentoring early-career researchers Dr Lucie Ramjan and Dr Sarah Fogarty who will be working with her on this part of the project, which is being jointly funded by the Ian Potter Foundation and the University.
"People with lived experiences are often best placed to provide encouragement and reassurance for the person with acute illness and thus be effective mentors," says Phillipa.
"Collaborating and listening to people with lived experiences is definitely the way forward when it comes to finding new approaches to treatment and prevention."