Eating Disorders: Signs, Symptoms, and How to Find Support

Eating disorders can be challenging to recognise, even when you're the one affected. With nearly 9% of Australians experiencing an eating disorder in their lifetime, it's more common than many people think. This post will guide you through identifying signs and symptoms of disordered eating and provide crucial resources for seeking help.

Key Takeaways

  • Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions that involve unhealthy behaviours and attitudes towards food and body weight. They can affect anyone regardless of size, shape, age, abilities, gender identity, or sexuality.

  • There are several eating disorders, including Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, and others. Each type has its own unique symptoms and patterns of behaviour.

  • Recognising the signs and symptoms of disordered eating is important in seeking help. Physical signs can include stomach cramps, fluctuations in weight, and dental problems; psychological signs may include preoccupation with weight and body image; behavioural symptoms may include strict adherence to rigid eating rules or excessive exercise.

Understanding Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions that involve unhealthy behaviours and attitudes towards food and body weight.

Definition of an Eating Disorder

An eating disorder is a significant mental health condition identified by an unhealthy relationship with food that can affect physical and psychological well-being. It encompasses various types, including Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder.

These disorders often involve extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviours surrounding weight and food issues. They are not exclusive to any size, age, ability or location; anyone can have an eating disorder, affecting approximately 9% of Australians in their lifetime. Cultivating a healthier body image can help mitigate the risk, as negative body image is typically a primary concern among individuals affected by this issue.

Common Types of Eating Disorders

There exist several types of eating disorders that people may suffer from.

  1. Anorexia Nervosa: This disorder is typically characterised by dramatic weight loss and an intense fear of gaining weight. Individuals with anorexia nervosa have a distorted body image and may deny the seriousness of their low body weight.

  2. Bulimia Nervosa: Those suffering from bulimia nervosa go through episodes of binge eating followed by purging behaviours such as vomiting, using laxatives, or excessive exercise in attempts to prevent weight gain.

  3. Binge Eating Disorder: This disorder involves recurrent episodes of eating large amounts of food to the point of discomfort, often accompanied by feelings of loss of control during the binge episode, intense distress, and compensatory behaviours common in bulimia nervosa.

  4. Pica: People with pica crave and consume non-food items like dirt, soap, or hair. While it can occur in anyone, pica is more common among children.

  5. Rumination Disorder: This disorder involves repeatedly regurgitating food after eating, then re-chewing and re-swallowing or spitting out the regurgitated food.

  6. Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID): Previously known as selective eating disorder (SED), ARFID involves severe food restriction but without concerns about body shape or size seen in anorexia nervosa.

  7. Purging Disorder: Like bulimia, individuals with purging disorder use purging behaviours but do not binge eat.

  8. Night Eating Syndrome (NES): NES is characterised by regular late-night meals or nighttime awakenings with eating episodes.

  9. Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorder (OSFED): OSFED covers conditions where an individual has symptoms characteristic of an eating disorder that causes significant distress or impairment but does not meet full criteria for any specific feeding or eating disorders under DSM-IV guidelines.

Causes of Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are complex mental health conditions that involve a multitude of factors. Firstly, genetics can play a pivotal role in determining who is susceptible to developing an eating disorder.

This means if you have a family member with an eating disorder, you might be genetically predisposed to develop one. Additionally, certain personality traits, such as perfectionism and impulsivity, are commonly associated with higher risk.

Cultural influences also contribute significantly to the rise of eating disorders. In many societies where thinness is heavily promoted and idealised, individuals may feel pressure to conform, leading to unhealthy eating habits or even full-fledged conditions like Anorexia Nervosa or Bulimia Nervosa.

Emotional factors such as trauma or stressful life events can also trigger disordered behaviours around food.

Lastly, it's essential to recognise how our brain structure and biology integrate into this equation - imbalances in brain chemicals that manage hunger, digestion, and mood regulation could precipitate the onset of these disorders.

However, remember there's no singular cause for all eating disorders; each case stems from unique combinations of individualised needs and experiences. This is where Noosa Confidential's eating disorder program comes into play. Offering a tailored treatment plan rooted in an understanding of your individual circumstances, Noosa Confidential can provide the necessary support to embark on your journey towards recovery and regain control over your eating habits.

Identifying the Signs and Symptoms of Disordered Eating

The signs and symptoms of disordered eating include physical, psychological, and behavioural indicators.

Physical signs

Physical signs of disordered eating can manifest in various ways. It is essential to recognise these signs to seek help and support. Some physical symptoms of disordered eating include:

  1. Stomach cramps: Disordered eating habits can lead to discomfort and pain in the stomach area.

  2. Difficulty concentrating: Poor nutrition and unhealthy eating behaviours can affect cognitive function, making it difficult to focus and concentrate.

  3. Fluctuations in weight: Rapid or frequent changes in body weight may indicate disordered eating patterns.

  4. Menstrual irregularities: Disordered eating can disrupt hormonal balance, leading to irregular periods or even the absence of menstruation.

  5. Dental problems: Frequent purging, such as induced vomiting or excessive use of laxatives, can cause dental issues such as enamel erosion, cavities, tooth sensitivity, and gum disease.

  6. Dry skin and hair: Inadequate nutrition and hydration can result in dryness and a lacklustre appearance of the skin and hair.

  7. Brittle nails: A lack of essential nutrients can weaken nails, causing them to become brittle and break easily.

  8. Muscle weakness: Insufficient nutrients for muscle health can lead to weakness and decreased strength.

  9. Swelling around salivary glands: Repeated purging behaviours can cause inflammation and swelling around the salivary glands.

  10. Impaired immune functioning: Malnutrition resulting from disordered eating habits weakens the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to illness and slower recovery times.

Psychological signs

Psychological signs can indicate the presence of disordered eating and should not be ignored. It is essential to be aware of these signs as they often go unnoticed or are dismissed. Here are some common psychological signs to look out for:

  1. Preoccupation with weight and body image: Constantly thinking about weight, body shape, and appearance can indicate disordered eating.

  2. Negative self-worth: Feeling inadequate or having low self-esteem, particularly related to body image and food, may indicate the presence of disordered eating.

  3. Obsessive thoughts about food: Constantly thinking about food, planning meals meticulously, or fixating on calorie counting can be signs of disordered eating.

  4. Anxiety and depression: Disordered eating often coexists with anxiety disorders and depression due to the emotional distress surrounding food and body image.

  5. Mood swings: Extreme shifts in mood, including irritability or anger, may occur due to disordered eating patterns.

  6. Social withdrawal: Individuals with disordered eating may isolate themselves from social activities that involve food or others' judgments about their appearance.

  7. Guilt and shame around eating: Feeling guilty or ashamed after consuming certain foods or indulging in average amounts of food can indicate a distorted relationship with food.

Behavioural signs

  • Obsession with body weight, shape, and appearance

  • Strict adherence to rigid eating rules or specific food rituals

  • Excessive calorie counting or obsession with counting macronutrients (carbohydrates, fat grams)

  • Frequent skipping of meals or restrictive eating patterns

  • Engaging in fad diets or extreme forms of dieting

  • Regular and excessive exercising, even when injured or ill

  • Compulsive exercise that is driven by a need to burn calories rather than for enjoyment or health benefits

  • Regular use of laxatives, diuretics, or colon cleansers to control weight

  • Refusal to eat in restaurants or social situations involving food

  • Social isolation due to fear of judgment about eating habits

  • Hiding or hoarding food in secret places for binge eating episodes

Treatments and Recovery for Disordered Eating

Treatment for disordered eating typically involves a combination of professional help and self-care strategies. This may include therapy, medication, nutritional counselling, and support from loved ones.

Recovery is possible with the right support and resources.

Professional Help and Support

Seeking help for an eating disorder can often feel like a daunting journey, but we're dedicated to easing this path for you at Noosa Confidential. We understand the intertwined physical, mental, and emotional challenges of disordered eating. For this reason, our holistic approach to treatment is not just based on empirical evidence, but it's also individualised to address your unique experiences and needs.

Treatment for disordered eating often necessitates a blend of professional help and self-care strategies. Our diverse and highly qualified team at Noosa Confidential is prepared to provide these services. Comprised of doctors, psychologists, psychiatrists, dietitians, therapists, and a range of specialists, our team has a deep understanding of eating disorders and can provide guidance on the most effective treatments for your specific needs.

Whether you're grappling with anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating disorder, or other forms of disordered eating, we're well-equipped to support your journey towards recovery. With a wealth of therapeutic approaches at our disposal, from trauma-informed and somatic therapies to nutritional guidance, we can offer comprehensive treatment in a highly confidential and comfortable environment.

Importantly, recovery is more than possible with the proper support and resources, and we're committed to offering that to you. Our unique post-program follow-up ensures that the behavioural changes and coping strategies you learn are smoothly integrated into your daily life, supporting a sustainable recovery.

Self-Care Strategies

  1. Prioritise self-care: Take time for yourself and engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation. This can include hobbies, exercise, spending time with loved ones, or practising mindfulness and meditation.

  2. Nourish your body: Focus on consuming a balanced diet that includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods to support your physical health. Aim for regular meals and snacks that provide adequate energy and nourishment.

  3. Practice intuitive eating: Listen to your body's hunger and fullness cues, and eat when you are physically hungry rather than based on external factors or emotional triggers. Honour your cravings and enjoy food without guilt or judgment.

  4. Challenge negative thoughts: Recognise and challenge any negative or distorted thoughts about food, weight, or body image. Replace them with positive affirmations and focus on self-acceptance and self-love.

  5. Seek support: Reach out to friends, family members, or mental health professionals who can provide understanding, empathy, and guidance during difficult times. Feel free to ask for help if needed.

  6. Engage in self-reflection: Reflect on the underlying emotions or triggers that may contribute to disordered eating behaviours. Explore healthier coping mechanisms such as journaling, art therapy, or talking with a therapist.

  7. Set realistic goals: Avoid setting strict rules or restrictions around food and body image. Instead, focus on setting realistic goals related to overall health and well-being that are sustainable in the long term.

  8. Celebrate small victories: Acknowledge and celebrate your progress towards recovery, no matter how small it may seem. Every step forward counts towards building a healthier relationship with food and your body.

  9. Educate yourself: Learn about eating disorders, body positivity, and nutrition from reputable sources to gain knowledge and understanding of these topics. This can help dispel eating disorder myths and foster a more compassionate attitude towards yourself and others.

  10. Practice self-compassion: Be kind to yourself throughout your recovery journey. Remember that healing takes time, and being patient and gentle with yourself as you navigate the challenges of disordered eating is important.

Remember, seeking professional help is essential for treating and recovering from disordered eating. These self-care strategies can complement professional treatment but should not replace it.

How to Help Someone with an Eating Disorder

If you know someone struggling with an eating disorder, there are several ways you can offer support and help them on their journey towards recovery. Firstly, it's important to educate yourself about eating disorders and their different types.

This will give you a better understanding of what your loved one may be going through.

Next, approach the conversation with empathy and without judgment. Let them know you are there for them, and they don't have to face this alone. Encourage open communication so they feel comfortable talking about their feelings and experiences.

Encourage your loved one to seek professional help from a healthcare provider specialising in treating eating disorders. Various treatment options are available, including therapy and medication, which can provide the necessary support for recovery.

Offer practical assistance, such as helping with meal planning or accompanying them to appointments if they're comfortable. However, remember that you cannot force someone to recover or make decisions for them – ultimately, it is up to the individual to take steps towards healing.

Finally, remind your loved one that recovery takes time and patience. Be there for emotional support throughout their journey and celebrate small victories. With the right support system in place alongside professional help, individuals with eating disorders can find hope and healing on their path towards recovery.


In conclusion, recognising the signs of disordered eating is crucial for seeking help and starting the journey towards recovery. Whether it's physical, psychological, or behavioural symptoms, it's important to reach out for professional support and practice self-care strategies.

Remember, you don't have to face your eating disorder alone. Wherever you are in Queensland or anywhere else, Noosa Confidential serves as your beacon of hope for overcoming your eating disorder. Don't let your eating disorder define you; reach out to Noosa Confidential today and embark on your journey towards sustainable well-being.