Student Life

Counselling and Personal Development

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Eating disorders

Food provides us with essential nutrition for health and vitality. Eating can be an intensely pleasurable experience. It is associated throughout history and in all cultures with celebration and hospitality. However, for many people, eating food, especially 'fattening' foods, feels scary and dangerous. Eating may be accompanied by feelings of guilt, shame and remorse. Social events involving eating can become extremely difficult.

What is an eating disorder?

'Eating disorders involve a preoccupation with control over eating, food and body weight. Left unaddressed the medical, psychological and social consequences can be serious and long term. The disorders can destroy a person's quality of life, and are potentially life threatening'. (Source: Eating Disorders Foundation of Victoria)

Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder are three of the most commonly diagnosed disorders, however, there are a wide range of disordered eating patterns that do not have a clear cut diagnosis. 

Anorexia and bulimia are virtually unknown in less industrialised countries, while in our society it is estimated that 10% of young women suffer from an eating disorder.   'Eating disorders are most commonly experienced by adolescent girls and young women, but also occur in both genders, people of all ages and across all socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds'. (Source: Source: Eating Disorders Foundation of Victoria)

There is no single cause for the development of an Eating Disorder.  Instead there are many factors that may contribute, such as social images, messages and expectations (pressures), psychological factors, such as personality and self perception,  major life changes or cumulative stressors, and biological factors such as genetics and physiological/developmental changes.

In highly industrialised countries where food is plentiful but our relationship to it so complex, it is not hard to observe that some degree of ‘disordered eating’ has become a norm rather than  exception.

Getting help

Current best practice for recovery and treatment for an Eating disorder involves a multidisciplinary approach, which includes medical, nutritional and psychological intervention.

  • Medical intervention involves a full examination and history, and possible blood tests (and other tests) may be required.
  • Nutritional intervention involves education and establishing a well balanced diet.
  • Psychological intervention involves addressing factors such as self esteem, self confidence, anxiety, depression, difficulties with realistic cognition, difficulties with relationships, and so forth.

Other aspects for recovery are self-education and self support, drawing upon various community resources as listed in the Taking it further and Getting help sections of this page.

Supporting others who have an Eating Disorder

Remember:  Experiencing an Eating Disorder can be a very isolating and distressing experience.
Family , friends, peers and colleagues can often feel confused about why this has happened and what to do.

Quick Tips

  • Encourage the person to seek professional help.  Refer to their doctor or counsellor. Utilise the websites below.
  • Encourage the person to see their other strengths and qualities, and encourage and support them in their attempts to live without an Eating Disorder.
  • Attempt to keep communication positive and open
  • Separate the person from the disorder
  • Accept limitations and responsibilities. 

(Source: Eating Disorders Foundation of Victoria)

Taking it further

Getting help

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17th March 2011