Concerned about someone you know?
It’s not easy to discuss eating disorders. No matter who you suspect may be suffering, it’s normal to feel worried and uncertain about how to talk about it. Here are some tips to help you offer support to your child, family member, or friend.
Caring for someone with an eating disorder
Butterfly Foundation supports thousands of Australians every year including children, partners, family members or friends of someone with an eating disorder or body image issue.
Approximately 9% of Australians will experience an eating disorder in their lifetime. There’s a good chance you’ll know one of them.
Eating disorder warning signs
It’s important to know that it’s not always easy to tell if a person has an eating disorder based simply on their appearance. Here are some of the warning signs to watch out for, including behavioural, physical and psychological signs.
It’s important to note that the warning signs might be different for different people and that this isn’t a comprehensive list.
Some behavioural warning signs
- Dieting behaviours, such as fasting, counting calories or avoiding food groups
- Evidence of binge eating, such as hoarding food
- Evidence of vomiting or laxative use
- Excessive or obsessive exercise patterns
- Changes in food preferences (e.g. refusing to eat certain ‘fatty’ or ‘bad’ foods, cutting out whole food groups such as meat or dairy, claiming to dislike foods previously enjoyed, a sudden concern with ‘healthy eating’, or replacing meals with fluids)
- Rigid patterns around food
- Avoidance of eating meals in a social setting
- Lying about the type or amount of food eaten
- Social withdrawal or avoidance of previously enjoyed activities
Physical warning signs
- Weight fluctuation
- Sensitivity to the cold, even in warm temperatures
- Changes in menstrual patterns
- Damage to teeth from vomiting
Psychological warning signs
- Preoccupation with food, body shape and weight
- Extreme body dissatisfaction
- Distorted body image
- Heightened anxiety around mealtimes
- Depression, anxiety or irritability
- Low self-esteem
- Rigid ‘black and white’ thinking when it comes to food, such as labelling food ‘good’ or ‘bad’
How to talk to someone with an eating disorder
There’s no right or wrong way to approach someone with an eating disorder, and different approaches will work for different people at different times.
Probably the most useful thing to do before you approach someone is to have a plan, be prepared and educate yourself about eating disorders and treatment options.
Are you concerned about a student?
Teachers and those working with young people are often the first to become aware of disordered eating behaviours. If you’re concerned about a student, we have a range of resources to help early intervention and prevention skills specifically designed for professionals working with young people.