• I know just how misunderstood and how difficult it is to understand eating disorders.
    • For this reason here is some information for carers or loved one’s.

Eating disorders are:

  • Psychological disorders which involve serious abnormalities in eating.
  • An expression of deep emotional conflict which is signalled by the individual experiencing a distressed relationship with food.
  • The underlying issues are often deeply linked to the person’s need to be valued, respected and acknowledged as an individual.
  • Contrary to common belief eating disorders are not about food, but about emotions, feelings and other difficulties.
  • Disorders that have serious effects on all aspects of a person’s life.
  • Eating disorders are serious medical and psychological conditions.
  • Once developed, eating disorders severely disrupt an individual’s life plans, family life, and cause distress and anxiety to loved one’s, carers, friends and partners.


Anorexia Nervosa:

Anorexia nervosa is a physical/ emotional/ psychological disorder characterised by severe weight loss (or failure to gain weight in young people). Many people may see it as ‘dieting gone wild’. Individuals with anorexia nervosa have an intense fear of becoming fat, even as weight loss progresses. Anorexia Nervosa is a ‘weight loss’ method. Weight loss is achieved through a variety of methods including severe caloric restriction, fasting, relentless exercising, use of the over-the-counter and prescription diet aids, diuretic and laxative use, and in some cases, self-induced vomiting. Most individuals experiencing anorexia strongly deny the disorder. They often feel ‘fat’ even when emaciated. People experiencing anorexia experience a sense of control by restricting food intake, and often turn away from food in an attempt to cope with life’s stresses. Age of onset varies, though the symptoms of anorexia nervosa usually appear in early to middle adolescence.

Bulimia Nervosa:

Bulimia is a physical/ emotional/ psychological disorder characterised by episodes of binge eating, followed by some form of purging or restriction. Binges are the secretive, rapid consumption of high calorific foods over a discrete period of time. Most people who experience bulimia follow the binge by self-induced vomiting. However, ‘purging’ may take the form of laxative or diuretic abuse, fasting, or strenuous exercising. This binge purge cycle is normally accompanied by self-deprecating thoughts, depressed mood, and awareness that the eating behaviour is abnormal and out of control. Bulimia is a method of ‘weight control ‘rather than’ weight losses. Most individuals experiencing this eating disorder are frequent dieters but remain within the normal weight range. Food takes on a symbolic meaning for the person with bulimia, and the binge-purge cycle may be an outlet for feelings of frustration, disappointment, anger, loneliness, and boredom. People who experience bulimia turn to food in an attempt to cope with life stresses. Bulimia tends to develop in late adolescence and early adulthood. People experiencing bulimia may have been previously experienced anorexia or display symptoms of anorexia nervosa simultaneously.


  • Eating disorders are multidimensional.
  • There is no one single and easily identified cause of eating disorders.
  • Eating disorders are like a melting pot – there are a range factors that can contribute to their development.
  • Eating disorders are complex and have serious physical, emotional and social effects on the individual’s life and their relationships.

Some contributing factors may be:

  • Medical / neuroscience.
  • Psychological.
  • Family dynamics and genetics.
  • Confirmed negativity condition (CNC).
  • Existentialist and meaning.
  • Socio-cultural.
  • Culture of control and work ethic.
  • Gender issues.
  • Dieting Behaviour
  • Negative life events and stressors.
  • Sexual abuse and Boundary violation.
  • Teasing and bullying.
  • Ostracism.
  • Death or Loss.
  • Family issues.
  • Personal and temperament.
  • Co-existing mental health issues.

Eating disorders also distinguish themselves because:

They recruit people at times of great vulnerability and transition in life. People do not develop eating disorders if they have a range of effective coping skills to deal with negative and adverse life events. The times that some people may be vulnerable to developing eating disorders are at times of transition across the developmental life span- for example, during the time of becoming an adolescent, upon leaving school and going into work or university, and getting married. For some people the culmination of a range of adverse life events may serve to increase their vulnerability to developing an eating disorder, such as losses due the death of a loved one, experiencing child sexual abuse or sexual assault, or loss due to the failure of a marriage/relationship, bankruptcy, illness or trauma.


These may include:

  • physical (symptoms and signs)
  • psychological.
  • emotional.
  • developmental.
  • behavioural (drugs, self-harm, alcohol).
  • cognitive and mental.
  • relationships.
  • sexual.
  • spiritual.
  • fertility.
  • longer term consequences (eg. osteoporosis).

Some physical problems associated with eating disorders:

  • cessation of menstruation.
  • chronic kidney problems.
  • irregular heart rhythms.
  • irritation and tears in the oesophagus.
  • swelling of gland under jaw line.
  • erosion of tooth enamel and increased cavitate.
  • electrolyte imbalance.
  • low potassium.
  • light-headedness and dizziness or fainting.
  • sensitivity to cold.
  • dry skin and thinning scalp hair.
  • stomach and intestinal problems.
  • growth of lanugo (fine hair on body surface).

What distinguishes eating disorders from normal concern about healthy eating?

People experiencing eating disorders vary in their everyday functioning. Some people are maintaining themselves in work, study and family life, and their personal distress is often kept secret, or is ignored or discounted by people in their lives. This is particularly the case during the early stages of eating disorders, when it is difficult to discern a person who is becoming recruited into an eating disorder, from someone who is embarking on a lifestyle change that utilises more exercise and/or new eating patterns for ‘health’ reasons. For people with bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder, the visible signs of being in trouble with this problem may not be picked up by people around them, because body weight for this group is within the healthy weight range. However among the population of people experiencing eating disorders, there are some people who become very unwell. Eventually, some people will become unable to maintain normal routines needed to work, study, meet family responsibilities and socialise. This may be the situation for people who are also struggling with other associated conditions, such as major depression, anxiety related conditions, social phobia, alcohol misuse, effects of trauma, bullying, child sexual abuse and obsessive compulsive disorders. These associated conditions are aggravated by the physical and psychological consequences of starvation and binging.


Anorexia Nervosa

  • Abnormal weight loss of 25% or more with no know medical illness accounting for the loss.
  • Reduction of food intake, denial of hunger and decrease in consumption of high carbohydrate and fat-containing foods.
  • Prolonged exercising despite fatigue and weakness.
  • Intense fear of gaining weight.
  • Peculiar patterns of handling food.
  • Amenorrhea (loss of period) in women.
  • Some exhibit bulimic episodes of binge eating followed by vomiting and/or laxative and diuretic abuse.

Bulimia Nervosa

  • Exhibit concern about their weight and make attempts to control weight by diet, vomiting or laxative and diuretic abuse.
  • Eating patterns may alternate between binges and fasts.
  • Most are secretive about binges and vomiting.
  • Food consumed during a binge has a high calorie content.
  • Majority of individuals are within a normal weight, some may be slightly underweight or overweight.
  • Depressive moods and self-deprecating thoughts following a binge.


While it is difficult to list all myths and misconceptions, here are some of the common ones.

  • Isn’t anorexia nervosa about control?
  • Eating disorders are caused by the person’s mother.
  • People with eating disorders come from dysfunctional families.
  • People with eating disorders are just doing it for attention.
  • Eating disorders are just a diet gone wrong.
  • Men don’t develop eating disorders.
  • Eating disorders occur to girls who do not want to ‘grow up’.
  • Eating disorders are like addictions to drugs and alcohol.
  • Only teenagers get eating disorders.
  • Only white middle class women get eating disorders.
  • People choose to have eating disorders.
  • People with eating disorders could get better if they chose to eat normally.
  • Girls develop eating disorders because they want to copy famous people.
  • The media causes eating disorders.
  • Once you have an eating disorder you never recover.
  • Obesity is just a medical health issue.


If you are close to someone who you suspect has an eating disorder it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible. Begin by:

  • Collecting information from a therapist, websites or books.
  • Seeking an Eating Disorder Therapist, Psychologist, Dietician, Psychiatrist and/or GP.
  • In a caring non-judgemental way, tell the person you are concerned for them and suggest together/they seek appropriate physical and psychological assessment. (Use age appropriate language).
  • As the person begins treatment, be natural and caring, but avoid discussing eating, weight or appearance.

Web: House Family Therapy: www.housefamilytherapy.com.au
Call: 0450 131 964


This site is not intended as a means of disseminating medical advice. If medical advice is required it is advisable to seek expert medical assistance. This site contains links to other sites, practitioners and therapists providing health related materials, treatment and therapies. However, the content and materials, treatment and therapies provided by these third party sites, practitioners and therapists, are not produced by nor are they the responsibility of the author of this site.