Eating Disorders 101

Learning that your loved one has an eating disorder can be one of the most challenging times of your life. If you’ve never encountered eating disorders before – and let’s face it, most of us haven’t – you’ll have a never ending list of questions.

We’ve been where you are. That’s how Eating Disorders Families (EDFA) came about. We needed somewhere to find information about eating disorders so we could support our loved ones.

No matter what stage you’re at on the journey with your loved one, we answer some of the common eating disorder 101 questions.

eating disorders 101

What are the different types of eating disorders?

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses, not a ‘lifestyle choice’. And like other mental illnesses, not all eating disorders are the same. Nor are their causes, symptoms or recovery.

Anorexia Nervosa is characterised by a drastic reduction in food intake or other means resulting in dramatic weight loss. 

A person with Binge Eating Disorder will have episodes of extreme overeating in a narrow window of time. This may be experienced by a temporary loss of consciousness, resulting in loss of time or memory, which can be extremely distressing for the individual. This is the most common eating disorder in Australia.

Bulimia Nervosa is characterised by cycles of binge eating, followed by engagement in destructive compensatory behaviours for short lived relief; leading to feelings of shame and guilt.

ARFID (Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder) is a more recently categorised eating disorder. A person with ARFID has sensory sensitivities and extreme fear around eating certain foods which causes serious nutritional deficiencies and psychosocial effects.

Sometimes, a person’s eating disorder may not fit into a neat category. The terms OSFED (Other Specified Feeding & Eating Disorder ) or UFED (Unspecified Feeding Eating Disorder) are used in these cases.  Pica, rumination disorder and chewing and spitting (CHSP) are also considered ‘other’ feeding and eating disorders.

Who is at risk of eating disorders?

While they are commonly associated with adolescent girls, eating disorders don’t discriminate. They can affect anyone, anytime and anywhere regardless of age, gender or ethnicity.

There usually isn’t one single factor that causes an eating disorder. Instead, it’s usually the combination of a number of different social, psychological and biological factors that build up over time.

It’s really important you know that you aren’t to blame. You haven’t caused your loved one to get an eating disorder. It’s one of the biggest eating disorder myths that we want to dispel!

You might notice that your loved one has withdrawn socially or that they have lost a dramatic amount of weight. Perhaps the first sign is that they’re restricting or hoarding food or exercising excessively. Perhaps they appear to be sad or moody.  Or, in some cases, you may not really notice any signs or symptoms at all

What is the treatment for an eating disorder? 

Recovery from eating disorders is a long road with many ups and downs. The treatment path depends on a number of factors, including the type and severity of the eating disorder. Your loved one’s treatment team, made up of different medical and health professionals, will work together to develop a treatment plan. You are also a critical part of the treatment team, supporting your loved one through the entire journey.

We advocate for patient-centred treatment when appropriate. Eating disorders are complex by nature so, ideally, treatment should be collaborative and multidisciplinary. This includes comprehensive medical, psychological and nutritional treatment.

Eating disorders are serious and potentially life-threatening illnesses. But recovery is possible.

Looking after you too

It’s easy to be consumed by eating disorders. Between medical appointments, supporting your loved one at home and reading more about treatment options, it’s all-consuming. But it’s important to look after you while you look after your loved one. Otherwise, how can you advocate for them?

That’s why Eating DIsorders Families Australia (EDFA) was created. We’ve been where you are now and we’re here to support you. Dive into our resources and discover a compassionate and understanding network of support.


Become a Member of EDFA today