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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    What are the signs which could suggest an eating disorder?

    I don’t know much about eating disorders, however I am a high school teacher and am very interested to know the signs to look out for?
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    The Butterfly Foundation was founded in August 2002 by Claire Vickery who found many ‘gaps’ in the public health system for those experiencing eating disorders. … View Profile

    It is important to be aware of the warning signs of an eating disorder. If you or someone you know are experiencing these symptoms it may mean that you are at risk of developing an eating
    disorder, or be experiencing one already. The signs to be most cautious of occur in clusters. It
    is important to seek help and support as soon as possible for an eating disorder,as it has been
    shown that early intervention allows the chances of a shorter recovery time.

    Physical Signs

    • Rapid fluctuation in weight (loss or gains)
    • Menstrual changes and irregularities
    • Poor dental heath, such as gum disease and enamel loss
    • Broadening jaw line and swollen salivary glands due to vomiting
    • Feeling consistently cold with poor circulation
    • Unexplained fainting, dehydration and/or electrolyte disturbances
    • Poor sleep quality, tiredness
    • Use of appetite suppressants, laxatives, diuretics
    • Somatic compaints – Gastrointestinal disorders (bloating, constipation, intolerance to foods)

    Behavioural Signs

    • Avoiding socialising, especially when eating is involved
    • Increasing isolation and loss of friends
    • Frequent self weighing
    • Excessive or extreme exercise
    • Secretative behaviour and covering up the truth
    • Changes in eating patterns, such as restrictive eating or reporting of food allergies or vegetarianism
    • Dieting to lose weight
    • Trips to the bathroom after meals
    • Body image disturbance

    Psychological Signs

    • Refusing to maintain a healthy weight, including fear of weight gain
    • Obsessive thoughts about food
    • Feeling “fat” despite being a normal weight
    • Perfectionism and self criticism
    • Life centres around food and need for control
    • Depression, anxiety and moodiness
    • Self harm, suicide ideation and suicide attempts

    It is important that if you believe you or someone you know has an eating disorder to seek
    professional assistance immediately. It can be scary to make this first step, however the earlier
    help is sought the quicker the road to recovery. If you require a referral to a general practitioner or other health practitioner practicing in the eating disorder field, contact The Butterfly Foundation for a list of names and numbers. The Butterfly Foundation offers telephone and email support for those with eating disorders and their family and friends. This confidential and supportive counselling service is available on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or at support@thebutterflyfoundation.org.au

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    I have been working in Eltham, Melbourne as a relationship and family counsellor for over twelve years. I draw on current theory and research about … View Profile

    Wonderfully comprehensive advice given here by the Butterfly Foundation. Just one more bit of information - it may be that a young person does not identify that they have an eating disorder, and therefore may not be willing to access psychological services. Headspace may be a good option for young people who are willing to talk with a counsellor/psychologist about the issues concerning them, and if the assessment team and/or counsellor has concerns re the young person having an eating disoder they can access specialised help from there (e.g. psychologists who specialise in working with eating disorders, GP, Psychiatrists all work 'in house' at most Headspace Centres, so the young person and/or their parent doesn't have to then contact a different service to access these supports).

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    Dr Pek Ang

    Psychiatrist

    Specialist Psychiatrist - management of Depression and Anxiety Disorders, PTSD, Bipolar, ADHD, Autism, Mood and Anger problems and Personality Disorders. Management of Psychological problems associated … View Profile

    Exellent advice from Vivienne. 

    Often Headspace can be the first port of call as it is seen as a general one stop shop for young people addressing a wide variety of health matters.  Therefore it might not be as confronting to the young person to visit.

    Later on when some work has beem achieved at learning insight into their eating habits a more specialised service may also be required if there is such a need.

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