Eating disorders

An eating disorder is characterised by obsessive thoughts about food and body weight. People with eating disorders may limit the amount of food they eat (anorexia nervosa), eat lots of food in a very small time and then purge (bulimia) or regularly eat too much (compulsive overeating).

Obsessive thoughts about food and body weight can change eating patterns (dieting, making excuses not to eat, avoidance of social situations involving food, going to the bathroom straight after meals), mood (feeling depressed, irritable or anxious), daily activities (not wanting to go out socially, exercising excessively, spending a lot of time talking about appearance or weight or looking in the mirror) and appearance (wearing baggy clothes, losing or gaining weight, greasy or dry hair and skin).

What are the signs?

The signs of an eating disorder include:

  • dramatic weight loss (anorexia)
  • dramatic weight gain/loss (bulimia or compulsive overeating)
  • obsession or preoccupation with food
  • refusing to eat
  • complaining of being overweight
  • overexercising
  • uncharacteristic eating patterns (e.g. eating at different times of the day or eating abnormal amounts given to them)

What are the causes?

There is no single cause for eating disorders. It is thought that a number of factors are involved to varying degrees in different people, including: genetic inheritance, personal and psychological factors related to adolescence or family issues and social factors such as media representation of body image.

It is estimated that approximately 2 in every 100 people will develop some kind of eating disorder at some time in their lives - that is, approximately 200,000 Australians. While anyone can have an eating disorder, more females than males tend to be affected, particular teenage women.

How are eating disorders treated?

Eating disorders can be treated successfully. As eating disorders effect the person physically and psychologically, it is usually most helpful to treat them with a team of professionals including psychiatrists, dieticians, psychologists, nurses and others.

Source of information: SANE Australia


Eating Disorders Victoria (EDV)

Eating Disorders Victoria (EDV) is the primary source of support, information, community education and advocacy for people with eating disorders and their families in Victoria. Their website provides information on treatment, getting help, information for family, friends, and health professionals, and links to national help services.

Eating disorders fact sheet by SANE Australia

SANE conducts innovative programs and campaigns to improve the lives of people living with mental illness. SANE's factsheet on eating disorders includes information, symptoms, causes, treatment and where to find more resources.

Fact sheet about eating disorders by Reach Out!

Reach Out! provides information pages regarding eating disorders which includes fact sheets on specific types of eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, body image and binge eating disorders.

Understanding eating disorders by Headspace

Headspace is a youth friendly, community based health service for young people aged 12 - 25 and their families. This link will take you to their information on eating disorders.

Eating disorders fact sheet in various languages - Mental Health in Multicultural Australia (MHMA)

MHMA provides national leadership in mental health and suicide prevention for Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds. Fact sheets about eating disorders are available in twenty-three different languages.

The following information is from Eating Disorders Victoria (EDV).

Determining if someone has an eating disorder can sometimes be difficult, especially if the person is secretive about his or her behaviour. However, if you have any concerns that something might be wrong, it is better to try and broach the issue with the person, rather than ignore it. There are no ‘right' or ‘wrong' ways to do this, however, there are some points to consider:

  • Communicate with the person. Be honest and open about your concerns. 
  • Try to maximise the chances of a positive conversation. Use your knowledge of the person when deciding which is the best way to approach them.
  • Assure them that you are talking about their eating disorder because of your concern for their well-being. 
  • Use ‘I' statements rather than ‘you' statements. ‘you' statements can make the person feel like they are being attacked. 
  • Offer information, so that the person has something to read later, perhaps a brochure or a list of services.
  • Try to avoid using labelling or judgemental language. Focus on the person's behavioural changes, rather than their weight, food consumption or physical appearance.
  • Choose a time when you are both feeling calm and are unlikely to have any distractions. Pick a safe and comfortable place to talk.
  • Be prepared for their emotional reaction, which may be one of anger, denial or relief.
  • Encourage them to seek professional help from counsellors, doctors, youth workers, community health centres, associations such as the EDFV.
  • Encourage them to seek support from anyone they feel comfortable with; friends, family, friend's parents etc.
  • Encourage them to see the benefits of a life without an eating disorder.
  • Seek support for yourself.

If the person is truly endangering his or her life by their eating habits, family and friends may need to insist that professional help is sought.

Information for family, friends and carers by Eating Disorders Victoria (EDV)

Eating Disorders Victoria (EDV) is the primary source of support, information, community education and advocacy for people with eating disorders and their families in Victoria.  Their site provides information for families and carers of those with an eating disorder.


A community based service for people aged 12 - 25 and their families, Headspace provides help for issues including health, education, work, mental health and drug & alcohol use.

Reach Out!

An initiative of the Inspire Foundation, Reach Out! is a web based service that provides information, support and interactive features to help young people get through tough times.

SANE Australia

SANE conducts innovative programs and campaigns to improve the lives of people living with mental illness, their family and friends. It also operates a busy telephone helpline and website.

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