Eating Disorders: The Hidden Illness


Eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder are very misunderstood illnesses that have attached to them, misconceptions, myths and preconceived ideas around why someone may develop an eating disorder and whether it is a legitimate concern for families today.  But eating disorders and poor body image is an ever growing concern for young people, particularly young girls throughout Australia.

Startling facts highlighting the seriousness of eating disorders.

  • Eating disorders have the HIGHEST mortality rate of any psychiatric illness
  • Suicide rates for anorexia is 32 times HIGHER than average
  • Mortality rate for chronic anorexia is 15 – 20%
  • 20% of people with an eating disorder are male


But where does it all start.

  • Nationally, body image is one of the three top ranking issue of concern for 11 – 19 year olds as reported in the Mission Australia National Youth Survey in 2012
  • 90% of 12 – 17 year olds females are on a diet of some type


If you think about what is in our popular culture through television, magazines and advertising, perceived standards of beauty and success are a particular size, look, shape and measurement. As adults this may not be something that greatly affects us as we may just accept what we have and what we look like, but this is not the case for young people specifically between the ages of 11 – 19. According to Mission Australia’s 2012 National Youth Survey, they indicated that the top issue of concern for young people is body image and self-perception. It wasn’t money, career, schooling or even dealing with their parents. It was how they look and whether they are good enough.

The Butterfly Foundation are seeing more young people who feel an intense need to change what they look like and the body shape that they are. Young people feel that they must look a particular way in order to gain acceptance, a feeling of self-worth and to be valued by their family, friends and peers.

In the face of these starling statistics and comments about the grip that eating disorders and poor body image has on our young people, parents can have an enormous positive impact on their children in relation to developing a sense of positive body image and self-esteem. This goes a very long way in preventing young people from developing a serious eating disorder.


Tips on how you can be a good body image role model for your child:

  • Love and accept your own body!
  • Try to avoid talking about diets and making negative comments about your own body. If your child sees that you feel comfortable and happy with your body, this can help them feel comfortable in their own skin.
  • Talk to your child about the way that they feel about the way they look. If your child feel safe to talk to you, then they are likely to share feelings about their bodies with you.


As a parent, it can be hard to know how to talk about food and weight for fear of sending the wrong message. Create space to talk about things on a daily basis including what is happening with their friends.

If you are concerned about your child (there are some warning signs to look out for below).  It is important to seek help as early as possible.


If you want to talk to an experienced counsellor about image issues and eating disorders, The Butterfly Foundation can support you. Call our National Support Line on 1800 ED HOPE (1800 33 4673) or email us at


Warning signs of an Eating Disorder


Physical signs:

  • Rapid weight loss or frequent changes in weight
  • Loss or disturbance of menstrual periods in girls and women and decreased libido in men
  • Fainting or dizziness
  • Feeling cold most of the time, even in warm weather (caused by poor circulation)
  • Feeling bloated, constipated, or the development of intolerances to food
  • Feeling tired and not sleeping well
  • Lethargy and low energy
  • Facial changes (e.g. looking pale, sunken eyes)
  • Fine hair appearing on face and body

Psychological Signs:

  • Preoccupation with eating, food, body shape and weight
  • Feeling anxious and/or irritable around meal times
  • An intense fear of gaining weight
  • Refusal to maintain a normal body weight for the person’s age and height
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Slowing of thinking and increased difficulty concentrating
  • ‘Black and white’ thinking – rigid thoughts about food being ‘good’ or ‘bad’
  • Having a distorted body image (e.g. seeing themselves as fat when in reality they are underweight)
  • Low self-esteem and perfectionism
  • Increased sensitivity to comments relating to food, weight, body shape, exercise
  • Extreme body image dissatisfaction

Behavioral Signs:


  • Dieting behavior (e.g. fasting, counting calories/kilojoules, avoiding food groups such as fats and carbohydrates)
  • Deliberate misuse of laxatives, appetite suppressants, enemas and diuretics
  • Repetitive or obsessive behaviors relating to body shape and weight (e.g. weighing
  • themselves repeatedly, looking in the mirror obsessively and pinching waist or wrists)
  • Evidence of binge eating (e.g. disappearance or hoarding of food)
  • Eating in private and avoiding meals with other people
  • Anti-social behavior, spending more and more time alone
  • Secrecy around eating (e.g. saying they have eaten when they haven’t, hiding uneaten food in their rooms)
  • Compulsive or excessive exercising (e.g. exercising in bad weather, in spite of sickness, injury or social events and experiencing distress if exercise is not possible)
  • Radical changes in food preferences (e.g. suddenly disliking food they have always enjoyed in the past, reporting of food allergies, food intolerances or becoming vegetarian)
  • Obsessive rituals around food preparation and eating (e.g. eating very slowly, cutting food into very small pieces, insisting that meals are served at exactly the same time every day)
  • Preoccupation with preparing food for others, recipes and nutrition
  • Self-harm, substance abuse or suicide attempts


Please be aware that the information is made available for educational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You must exercise your own due diligence before implementing any recommendation and/or purchasing any product. Judith-Rose Max and Happy Parenting are exempt of any and all responsibility associated with misuse or your own interpretation. Do not delay seeking medical or professional advice. You acknowledge and agree that the above warnings and disclaimers shall apply to all content and that you take responsibility for your own health and wellbeing.
Scroll To Top