Eating disorders affect about 9% of the Australian population. They can occur in people of any age, although young people are at a higher risk.  They are much more common in women, but can also affect men, contrary to popular belief. 

Eating disorders can lead to various physical and psychological complications, some of which are potentially life-threatening. 

They are also frequently associated with other mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. 

What are the warning signs? 

It can be difficult to identify warning signs, particularly if the affected person affected makes significant efforts to conceal their behaviour. 

Some common signs and symptoms that may occur include: 

  • Rapid weight loss 

  • Fatigue and low energy 

  • Feeling cold, even in warm weather 

  • Preoccupation with eating, food, body shape and weight 

  • Distorted body image 

  • Using food as a source of comfort, or as self-punishment 

  • Excessive dieting 

  • Eating in private and avoiding meals with other people 

  • Visiting the bathroom frequently, especially after eating 

  • Self-induced vomiting or using laxatives, enemas, appetite suppressants, or diuretics 

  • Wearing baggy clothes 

  • Compulsive or excessive exercising, even when sick 

However, it’s important to keep in mind that people with some of these signs and symptoms may not necessarily have an eating disorder. 

How can I help them? 

The first step is to talk to them. It can be difficult approaching someone who you’re worried about, especially if you’re not sure what to say or how you might be able to help. 

Here are some basic tips on how to talk to someone you think might have an eating disorder: 

1. Be prepared. Educate yourself as much as you can about eating disorders.  

2. Talk to them in a private and comfortable environment about what you’ve noticed. If you make them feel comfortable and that it is safe to talk to you, they are more likely to open up. Explain to them that you are worried. They may react angrily or deny that there is a problem, but this is common, and doesn’t mean that the problem doesn’t exist. They may be experiencing anxiety, shame or guilt, or may not recognise that their behaviour is problematic or dangerous. Try not to get angry or frustrated. 

3. Be empathetic, and ask how you can help. Let them know that you care about them and support them. Listen to them, and encourage them to express how they feel. If they open up, ask them if there’s anything you can do to help them. 

4. Encourage them to seek professional help and/or support services. 

If you would like more information about eating disorders, how to help someone with an eating disorder or services and support organisations that are available, please visit the National Eating Disorders Collaboration website at   

It can be beneficial to talk to a medical professional or support organisation before you approach someone about their eating problems. They can help you understand the issue, and may be able to provide you with advice about how to talk about it. You are welcome to come and talk to one of our friendly GPs, our phone number is 8269 6000.


  • National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC) 2015, ‘Understanding the warning signs,’ National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC),  

  • National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC) 2016, ‘Approaching someone you care about,’ National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC),  

  • National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC) 2017, ‘NEDC Fact Sheets,’ National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC),  

  • New, Michelle J 2014, ‘I Think My Friend May Have An Eating Disorder. What Should I Do?,’ TeensHealth,

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