The Talbot Centre

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Eating Disorders

woman looking at herself in mirror

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions characterised by a preoccupation with body weight and shape, food, and eating habits.

Eating disorders are complex and life-threatening and pose significant physical, emotional, and social risks.

You cannot tell whether someone has an eating disorder based on how they look. Eating and body image challenges can affect anyone, regardless of age, weight, size, gender identity, sexuality, or cultural background.

Common types of eating disorders include:

  • Anorexia Nervosa – involves restriction of intake, a fear of gaining weight, and disturbed body image.
  • Bulimia Nervosa – involves episodes of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviours to prevent weight gain. These behaviours can include vomiting, excessive exercise, or the misuse of laxatives or diuretics.
  • Binge Eating Disorder – involves episodes of eating excessive amounts of food in a short period of time. These episodes can feel uncontrollable and are accompanied by feelings of guilt and shame.
  • Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED) – includes eating disorders that present with many of the symptoms of anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa or binge eating disorder but do not meet the full criteria. These presentations can still cause significant distress or impairment.
  • Avoidant Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID) – restricted intake not related to body image or weight concerns. See our feeding clinic for more information.

What causes Eating Disorders?

There is no single cause of an eating disorder. Typically, a combination of psychological, biological, and environmental risk factors are involved.

Some risk factors include:

  • A history of dieting or negative energy balance.
  • Having Type 1 Diabetes or PCOS.
  • Perfectionistic tendencies and low self-esteem.
  • A history of trauma (e.g. physical or emotional abuse).
  • Body image concerns.
  • History of bullying, especially if focused on appearance.
  • Exposure to beauty ideals of thinness or muscularity.
  • Involvement in a sport where there is an emphasis on appearance or weight.
  • A family history of an eating disorder.
What causes eating disorders

Having one or more risk factors doesn’t mean you will develop an eating disorder.
While early changes to eating behaviours may be driven by body image concerns, eating disorders often involve broader psychological concerns than a focus on food or appearance.

Eating disorders are not a choice, a phase or a passing fad; all eating and weight related concerns should be taken seriously. It is never too early or too late to start a journey of personally meaningful changes in your relationship with food and your body.

Recognising the Signs

Signs can vary depending on the type of eating disorder. Some individuals display all of the following signs, whilst others may only present with one or two, or present with more subtle signs. Some common signs include:
Mood and behavioural changes
Mood and behavioural changes:

such as constant mood swings, irritability, and withdrawing from social events.

Skipping meals or engaging in secretive eating
Skipping meals or engaging in secretive eating:

such as avoiding social mealtimes, eating alone, and hiding food.

Physical symptoms
Physical symptoms

such as dizziness and fatigue, having cold extremities (i.e. hands and feet), and gastrointestinal concerns (such as constipation).

Significant weight changes
Significant weight changes

This can include weight loss, weight gain or weight cycling. People with an eating disorder can have all different body types (sizes and shapes), you cannot tell whether someone has an eating disorder purely based on their physical appearance.

appearance
Preoccupation with weight, food, exercise, and or physical appearance:

such as repeatedly mentioning calories, checking food labels, engaging in excessive amounts of exercise, or constant mirror checking.

How might therapy help?

Eating disorder therapy may assist in various ways by helping you or your loved one to:

  • Develop a healthy relationship with food and eating.
  • Reduce eating disorder behaviours.
  • Assist with body image concerns and work towards body acceptance.
  • Educate and challenge misconceptions about food and weight.
  • Develop coping skills to manage emotions, stress, and triggers without relying on eating disordered behaviours.
  • Address co-occurring mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression
    or trauma.
  • Prevent relapse and maintain long-term recovery.

It’s natural to feel hesitant about seeking help; our compassionate team will place you and your goals at the centre of our work together. We will walk alongside you as you take your first steps in the recovery process and will support you at each point along the journey to achieve your healthcare goals.

women celebrating their bodies

What does eating disorder therapy involve?

Eating disorder therapy typically involves a combination of personalised psychological, nutritional and medical support with a multidisciplinary team. This can include a psychologist, dietitian, and medical practitioner such as a general practitioner (GP) or psychiatrist. Other professionals may also be involved depending on your specific needs.

Psychologists

Psychologists play a key role in addressing the emotional and behavioural aspects of an eating disorder, making a diagnosis, and addressing co-occurring conditions such as anxiety or trauma. Initially we will meet with you to get a thorough understanding of your concerns and background. We will then work with you to develop a you-centred care plan that will help you move towards your personal goals for recovery. Some common therapy approaches include:

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Enhanced (CBT-E): CBT-E aims to address the thoughts, feelings, and behaviours related to food, eating, and body image that maintain the eating . This involves developing a formulation of the eating disorder, implementation of regular eating, identifying and addressing factors that maintain the eating disorder, and developing healthier coping skills to manage setbacks.
  • FBT: FBT stands for Family-Based Treatment and is also known as the Maudsley Approach. FBT is suitable for children and adolescents with anorexia nervosa and may also be suitable for young people with bulimia nervosa. FBT involves empowering parents to take an active role in their child’s recovery by refeeding their child and helping them restore weight to a healthy level. Once this has occurred, the age-appropriate control over eating is gradually transferred back to the adolescent. This treatment method is typically conducted with a psychologist and/or FBT trained dietitian.

Dietitians

Dietitians provide nutritional guidance and address misconceptions that may be present about food. They help you to develop a pattern of eating that is healthy for you and to build a positive relationship with food whilst ensuring you get the necessary nutrients to be healthy. The assessment process involves learning about your nutritional status and dietary habits and aims to identify any nutritional deficiencies to address. Dietitians provide education on nutrition and bodily processes that can be impacted by an eating disorder.

RAVES is a common stepped approach typically involved in dietetic treatment that aims to address eating disorder behaviours. This involves developing Regular, Adequate, and Varied meals. This framework also touches on social eating concerns that may arise and encourages food spontaneity. Please note some specific elements of this treatment method may not be appropriate for neurodivergent individuals, therefore working with a dietitian to develop a tailored and personalized treatment approach is important.

GPs

Ongoing medical support is essential to ensuring ongoing physical health safety due to the seriousness of an eating disorder. The frequency of medical support is dependent on your individual needs. This support is provided by a GP (or psychiatrist) and involves monitoring blood work and overall physical health. Where required, a medical professional is likely to be involved in supporting step up care into more intensive treatment services (such as inpatient admission).

Neurodiversity Affirming Care

Research indicates an increased likelihood of eating-related concerns among neurodivergent folks. At The Talbot Centre, we integrate neurodiversity-affirming principles into our interventions, recognising that traditional treatment models may not be effective and are often grounded in neuro-normative assumptions. We take an individualised approach that respects client autonomy and acknowledges sensory and communication preferences whilst also ensuring safety. We embrace the diverse needs and preferences of our clients and strive to create a therapeutic space where every individual feels validated and supported in their recovery journey.

In the Media

Podcast

Eating disorders and autism: More common than you think

Podcast

Boosting body image in kids

How do I make an appointment or access more information about eating disorders?

If you would like to discuss how our team might be able to support you or your child in recovering from an eating disorder please get in touch and speak with one of our client care team members. The Talbot Centre is a contemporary health service focussed on providing integrated health care programs. Our therapists work in collaboration with other professionals as part of a multidisciplinary team providing patient-centred care.

You can also get more information about eating disorders from the Butterfly Foundation, National Eating Disorders Collaboration and Inside Out Institute website.