A diagnosis of an eating disorder may be given to someone who experiences an unhealthy preoccupation with eating, exercise, body weight or shape. In making a diagnosis of an eating disorder, doctors will ask about your behavior, your thinking and your feelings. These can include:

Behavioural changes

  • constant or repetitive dieting
  • binge eating
  • excessive or compulsive exercise
  • development of patterns of obsessive rituals around food preparation and eating
  • avoidance of social situations that involve eating
  • strong focus on body shape and weight
  • development of repetitive or obsessive body checking behaviours
  • social withdrawal and isolation
  • deceptive behaviour around food
  • eating very slowly
  • continual denial of hunger

Psychological changes

  • negative body image
  • heightened anxiety around meal times
  • depression or anxiety
  • low self-esteem
  • feelings of life being ‘out of control’
  • feelings of being unable to control behaviour around food

Types of eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.

Eating disorders can interfere with a person’s day-to-day life, including relationships, work, physical health and sense of self.

Different therapies and treatment plans may be effective for different people, depending on the age of the person experiencing the issues and underlying factors, such as trauma.

Treatment and support will be different for each person. Mental health professionals should help you find treatments and supports that work best for you. Treatment for eating disorders will generally involve a team of different health professionals who focus on a range of things:

Physical health: there are many physical complications that can arise from an eating disorder. Treatment often involves monitoring and attending to these issues as they arise.

Nutritional counselling and advice: establishing a well-balanced diet is essential to recovery. Help from a dietician or nutritionist can be helpful, particularly if the person has lost sight of what makes up a usual diet.

Mental health support: people with eating disorders are often encouraged to engage in some form of therapy, counselling or psychotherapy. These therapies may include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy, dialectical behavioural therapy, intensive short term dynamic psychotherapy, mindfulness, peer groups, and family-based therapy. Particular therapies may be applied to younger people experiencing a particular eating disorder.

A diagnosis will mean different things to different people. It is only one way of understanding your experiences and what might support your recovery. It can help to do your own research and talk to a range of professionals, trusted family and friends, or to people who have had similar experiences.

Regardless of diagnosis, people do recover and live well.

If you need to talk, call our Helpline.

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Remember, you are not alone. Hear stories from people who have been there.

For more information, please contact Wellways on 1300 111 400.