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Eating disorders

Eating disorders are abnormal patterns of eating and exercising that severely interfere with a person’s everyday life. This can include eating extremely small amounts of food or eating in an uncontrolled way. The person may also be very distressed, anxious or worried about food, body weight and appearance. The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.

eating disorders your guide to what they are and how they are treated

Get Eating disorders - your guide
[PDF; 285 KB]

This guide has been written by mental health specialists, based on the best available evidence and with extensive input from consumer and carer representatives.

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What are the symptoms of an eating disorder?

The only way to be sure that you have an eating disorder is to be diagnosed by a health professional.

Here are some of the most common symptoms.

  • you are afraid of putting on weight, or you weigh yourself all the time
  • you think about food all the time, or you feel anxious at meal times
  • you’ve started restricting how much food you eat
  • you overeat uncontrollably
  • you feel out of control around food
  • you hoard food to binge on later
  • you make yourself vomit after eating
  • you take laxatives to make you lose weight
  • you worry too much about how you look
  • you check yourself in the mirror constantly
  • you don’t like eating around other people
  • you have started to lie about what you eat or how much you eat
  • you exercise too much
  • you feel cold all the time, weak or lightheaded
  • for girls and women, your periods have stopped, or have not begun by age 16.

You may also feel bad about yourself or that you are not good enough, feel sad, anxious or irritable, or not feel like spending time with other people.

You don’t have to have all these symptoms to be diagnosed with an eating disorder.

If you think you might have an eating disorder, it’s important that you see your doctor or GP.

Why do people get eating disorders?

Eating disorders can happen because of a combination of things, including

  • the way your brain works
  • your genes
  • how you think
  • your relationships with other people
  • the customs and values of the people around you.

How are eating disorders treated?

If your doctor thinks you may have an eating disorder, they will refer you to an eating disorder specialist or service.

Most services have a treatment team that includes psychiatrists and other doctors, psychologists and dietitians.

Treatment involves a combination of

  • healthy eating
  • medical care
  • psychological treatment
  • medication.

How can a psychiatrist help with an eating disorder?

You are likely to see a psychiatrist if you are treated for an eating disorder.

Some psychiatrists completely specialise in the care of people with eating disorders. Because they are doctors, they can prescribe medication, develop treatment plans and keep track of your physical health. They can also provide psychotherapy (talking therapy).

Will I need to go to hospital?

Most people with eating disorders have mainly outpatient treatment (going to the hospital but not staying overnight), but you may need a longer stay in hospital for treatment if your doctor recommends it.

Will I get better?

With treatment, most people with an eating disorder make a good recovery, although it may take several years.


  • Even if you are not unusually skinny or do not feel skinny you may have an eating disorder if you have symptoms.
  • Anyone of any age can get an eating disorder, it is not limited to young women.
  • Eating disorders need to be treated. See your usual doctor or GP first if you are worried.

More information

.Download Eating disorders - your guide [PDF; 285 KB]

This guide has been written by mental health specialists, based on the best available evidence and with extensive input from consumer and carer representatives.