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You are here: Support for Australians experiencing eating disorders › Understanding eating disorders & body image issues

Understanding Eating Disorders
& Body Image Issues

Eating disorders are not a lifestyle choice or a cry for attention. Eating disorders are serious mental illness that have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness. Many people experiencing an eating disorder suffer from depression and/or anxiety. Suicide rates for anorexia are 32 times higher than the general population.  

Currently around 4% of the Australian population is experiencing an eating disorder. This is close to one million people. Eating disorders do not discriminate by age, gender, ethnicity or socio-economic status. Eating disorders not only impact on the person experiencing the disorder, but also on their family, friends and community. 

Body image is the perception that a person has of their physical self and the thoughts and feelings that result from that perception. When a person has negative thoughts and feelings about their own body, body dissatisfaction can develop. Body dissatisfaction is an internal process but can be influenced by several external factors. Click here for more information on body image

What Can Cause an Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses with medical complications and it’s unlikely that an eating disorder will develop as a result of one single cause. It’s much more likely to be a combination of risk factors, including genetic vulnerability, psychological factors and socio-cultural influences.

Find out more about what causes an eating disorder.

There are a few different kinds of eating disorders

Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia Nervosa is characterised by restrictive energy intake that leads to a person affected unable to maintain what is considered to be a normal and healthy weight. People experiencing Anorexia Nervosa possess an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming overweight no matter their current weight and appearance.

Read more about Anorexia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa is characterised by repeated episodes of binge eating followed by compensatory behaviours such a purging. In addition, people with Bulimia Nervosa place an excessive emphasis on body shape or weight in their self-evaluation.

Read more about Bulimia Nervosa

Binge Eating Disorder

Binge Eating Disorder is characterised by episodes of binge eating; eating a large amount of food over very short periods of time with no compensatory behaviours and feeling a loss of control during the episode. 

Read more about Binge Eating Disorder


OSFED stands for Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders. OSFED may present with many of the symptoms of other eating disorders but will not meet the full criteria for diagnosis of these disorders. OSFED is no less serious and with treatment, recovery is possible.

Read more about OSFED

Disordered Eating

Disordered eating is a disturbed and unhealthy eating pattern that can include restrictive dieting, compulsive eating or skipping meals. Disordered eating behaviours, and in particular dieting are the most common indicators of the development of an eating disorder.

Read more about Disordered Eating

How is An Eating Disorder Treated?

It is important to remember that successful treatment and recovery from an eating disorder is possible.

Eating disorders are complex and crippling mental illnesses that require expert treatment and support. Sufferers require effective treatment in the short and long term. 

Read more about how an eating disorder can be treated.

Myths about Eating Disorders

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Worried about a friend or someone you care about?

It can be extremely difficult raising the subject of eating disorders with a friend or loved one. To be supportive one needs to learn what to say and what not to say.  


We can help you with knowing when to talk to your friend and what to say. ›

Concerned parents & carers

Communicating your concern with your child about eating and dieting behaviour can be extremely difficult. Butterfly offers a range of services that can provide you with skills and information related to communicating with your child.  


We can help you with recognising issues and what to do. ›

Teachers & Professionals Working with Young People

Teachers and those working with young people are often the first to become aware of dis-ordered eating behaviours.  Butterfly Education provides early intervention and prevention skills for professionals working with young people. 

We have a range of advice & resources ›