Eating disorders are pervasive mental health conditions that affect the way a person feels about themselves, food and exercise. They can have a detrimental impact on a persons’ day to day functioning.

Eating disorders are characterised by distorted beliefs about food, shape and weight and involve a rigid, obsessive fixation on using foods as a means to alter shape and weight. They are also characterised by the belief that that self-worth is contingent upon shape and weight, and that the way to improve self-worth is to control shape and weight through acts of restriction and self-deprivation.

Eating disorders can present across all ages, cultural backgrounds and can be evident in all different body types. The experience of an eating disorder for an individual in a larger body is just as valid and pervasive as those in a smaller body – and the eating disorder can exist regardless of an individual’s weight. 

Common eating disorders:

Eating disorder subtypeSymptoms
Anorexia Nervosa (AN)characterised by extreme food restriction, significant weight loss and an intense fear of gaining weight
Bulimia Nervosa (BN)characterised by episodes of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviours, which are intended to prevent weight gain.
Binge Eating Disorder (BED)characterised by repeated episodes of binge eating, without the use of purging or other compensatory measures.
Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED)used to describe an eating disorder that significantly impacts the individual’s life, but does not meet full criteria for one of the other eating disorder diagnoses.
Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorderused to describe disordered eating behaviours that significantly impact on the individual’s life, and are not better described by another diagnostic category.
Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)characterised by an eating problem (such as avoidance of sensory characteristics of food, lack of appetite, concern about aversive consequence of eating) that results in failure to meet nutritional and/or energy requirements.
Rumination disordercharacterised by repeated regurgitation of food that is re-chewed, re-swallowed or spit out.
Picacharacterised by persistent eating of non-nutritive, non-food substances (i.e., dirt, cotton, paper etc). 

What are the risk factors for developing an eating disorder?

  • Gender – generally eating disorders are more prevalent in females, however, rates of eating disorders are often underreported in males. Further, transgender and gender diverse individuals also recall higher prevalence rates of eating disorders. 
  • Age – individuals in the pre-adolescent, adolescence and early adulthood (i.e., university-aged) stages also recall higher rates of disordered eating, likely due to the onset of puberty in changing the structure of the body. Eating disorders can also emerge out of the identity exploration associated with adolescence and early adulthood.  
  • History of dieting – dieting is the biggest predictor of the development of an eating disorder. 
  • Concerns about shape and weight, and the degree to which shape and weight is part of an individual’s self-worth can also increase the risk of an eating disorder. 
  • Low self-esteem 
  • Perfectionism 
  • Genetics and family history of eating disorders – eating disorders have a strong genetic link, particularly Anorexia Nervosa. 
  • Trauma and adverse life events – an eating disorder can develop as a way to manage distressing emotions and intrusive thoughts associated with trauma. 
  • Difficulty identifying and expressing emotions 
  • Autism spectrum disorder can be a risk-factor for the development of disordered eating given that some individuals may experience adverse reactions to the taste, texture and smells of certain foods, resulting in a diet that lacks variety. Autism is also highly associated with ARFID.  
  • Digestive problems and health problems throughout life, including Diabetes 

(Jacobi et al., 2004) 

Help is available

Despite the pervasive nature of an eating disorder, it is possible to recover. Effective treatment approaches with a suitably trained Psychologist include: 

  • Family Based Treatment (FBT) for Eating Disorders 
  • Cognitive Behaviour Therapy for Eating Disorders (CBT-E) 
  • Specialist Supportive Clinical Management (SSCM) for Eating Disorders 
  • Maudsley Model of Anorexia Treatment in Adults (MANTRA) 
  • Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) for Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder 
  • Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) for Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder 
  • Focal Psychodynamic Therapy for Eating Disorders 

Did you know?

There have been changes made to Medicare support for eating disorders treatment? Individuals who have a diagnosis of Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa or Binge Eating Disorder may be eligible to receive further support and care from qualified Psychologists and Dietitians. Up to 20 dietetic and 40 psychology sessions each year. 

Aimee Maxwell

Our own Psychologist, Aimee Maxwell has a particular interest in eating disorders and is accepting referrals: 

  • Griffith Health Clinics 
  • Psychology Clinic 
  • Level 4, G40 Health Building, Griffith University,  
  • Gold Coast Campus 
  • Southport, QLD, 4215 
  • Ph: 1800 188 295 
  • Email: [email protected]