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Eating disorders


An eating disorder involves an intense focus on eating, exercise or body shape. You might be familiar with the stereotype of someone with an eating disorder from movies or TV: someone who is very underweight, or who restricts their food.

But eating disorders can manifest in other ways, from bingeing (eating a lot of food at one time), to only eating in private, to becoming obsessed with exercise, to fixating on only healthy, ‘clean’ foods. You can’t tell if someone has an eating disorder by looking at them, and while there are some demographics which are more at risk, eating disorders can affect anyone.

This is because an eating disorder is a mental health condition. They involve a combination of physical, psychological and behavioural elements. Left unaddressed the medical, emotional and psychological consequences can be serious and long term.

Over one million Australians are currently experiencing an eating disorder, but most people aren’t receiving treatment. It can take time to recognise that you (or someone close to you) might have one and to reach out to a professional for help.

Some of the common types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and disordered eating. Orthorexia is an obsession with healthy or ‘clean’ eating: it’s not currently recognised as an official eating disorder, but there is growing understanding that it may be a distinct disorder.

What to do

Some of the most common warning signs of an eating disorder are as follows:

  • Physical signs can include sudden weight loss, fatigue, dizziness, sensitivity to the cold.
  • Psychological signs can include obsession with body size and shape, moodiness, anxiety around mealtimes.
  • Behavioural signs can include constant dieting, refusing or limiting certain foods, secrecy around eating, excessive exercise.

If you’ve suffered from an eating disorder in the past, symptoms can recur during times of intense stress or when you experience a big change.

There’s also a range of external factors in our modern world that can contribute to or influence your vulnerability to developing an eating disorder, such as societal pressure to conform to unrealistic beauty, fitness or weight standards, the fixation on body image on social media platforms, and the diet culture industry.

Getting support

It’s important to treat any eating disorder, no matter how mild, as a mental health condition, and to get support quickly. It is difficult to recover from an eating disorder alone.

If you are experiencing any of the above signs, a conversation with a professional is recommended. Or, you might be looking for ways to support someone who might be developing an eating disorder.

You can book an appointment with a Deakin counsellor here. It’s common for eating disorders to co-exist with other mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, so a counsellor will be able to unpick the complexities of what you’re going through.

If you are suffering from the physical symptoms of an eating disorder, like weight fluctuations, difficulty sleeping, low energy or exhaustion, you can get a check up with a doctor at a Deakin Medical Centre. One of the challenging aspects of an eating disorder is managing the physical, psychological and behavioural aspects: your doctor will be able to work with you on a plan which addresses all of these things.

More help and advice

The Butterfly Foundation is an Australian organisation dedicated to educating and supporting people affected by eating disorders. If you’re not sure where to start or what help you might need, you can contact their national helpline.

Eating Disorders Victoria also has a range of resources you can use. Visit their website or their EDV Hub to have conversation about how you’re feeling.

Reach Out’s library of articles might be helpful if you’ve got complex, confusing feelings about your body.

The National Eating Disorders Collaboration also has a directory of resources including recovery and support groups, treatment options and service locators.

BUPA has some helpful advice on how to tell if someone has an eating disorder.

If you are in crisis or need emergency support, you can call Lifeline for 24/7 crisis support (13 11 14) or Triple Zero (000).

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