An eating disorder is a serious mental illness, characterised by eating, exercise and body weight or shape becoming an unhealthy preoccupation of someone's life. Eating disorders are not a lifestyle choice, a diet gone wrong or a cry for attention. Eating disorders can take many different forms and interfere with a person’s day to day life. 

Types of Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders are categorised as below:

  • Anorexia Nervosa
  • Bulimia Nervosa
  • Binge Eating Disorder
  • Other Eating Disorders

Warning Signs and Symptoms

Early intervention is the best way to assist with successful recovery. It’s important to be aware of the warning signs that may indicate someone is developing or experiencing an eating disorder. Many people with an eating disorder do not realise they have a problem, or if they do, they may go to extraordinary lengths to hide the signs of their behaviour.

Behavioural Warning Signs

  • Constant or repetitive dieting (e.g. counting calories/kilojoules, skipping meals, fasting, replacing meals with fluids);
  • Evidence of binge eating (e.g. disappearance of large amounts of food from the fridge, hoarding of food in preparation for bingeing);
  • Evidence of vomiting or laxative abuse (e.g. frequent trips to the bathroom during or shortly after meals);
  • Excessive or compulsive exercise patterns (e.g. exercising even when injured, refusal to interrupt exercise for any reason; insistence on performing a certain number of repetitions of exercises, exhibiting distress if unable to exercise);
  • Making lists of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ foods;
  • Development of patterns or obsessive rituals around food preparation and eating (e.g. insisting meals must always be at a certain time; only using a certain knife; only drinking out of a certain cup);
  • Frequent avoidance of eating meals by giving excuses (e.g. claiming they have already eaten or have an intolerance/allergy to particular foods);
  • Behaviours focused around food preparation and planning (e.g. shopping for food, planning, preparing and cooking meals for others but not consuming meals themselves; taking control of the family meals; reading cookbooks, recipes, nutritional guides);
  • Strong focus on body shape and weight (e.g. interest in weight-loss websites, dieting tips in books and magazines, images of thin people);
  • Development of repetitive or obsessive body checking behaviours (e.g. pinching waist or wrists, repeated weighing of self, excessive time spent looking in mirrors);
  • Social withdrawal or isolation from friends, including avoidance of previously enjoyed activities;
  • Change in clothing style, such as wearing baggy clothes;
  • Deceptive behaviour around food, such as secretly throwing food out, eating in secret (often only noticed due to many wrappers or food containers found in the bin) or lying about amount or type of food consumed;
  • Eating very slowly (e.g. eating with teaspoons, cutting food into small pieces and eating one at a time, rearranging food on plate);
  • Continual denial of hunger.

Physical Warning Signs

  • Sudden or rapid weight loss;
  • Sensitivity to the cold (feeling cold most of the time, even in warm environments);
  • Loss or disturbance of menstrual periods (females);
  • Signs of frequent vomiting - swollen cheeks/ jawline, calluses on knuckles, or damage to teeth;
  • Fainting, dizziness;
  • Fatigue - always feeling tired, unable to perform normal activities.