CPR First Aid

How to Help People with Eating Disorders?

Head to Health, a national mental health website, outlines the different ways to help people with eating disorders. Some of these are talking to them honestly, encouraging them to share, and inviting them to social activities. Resources and help are also available in government offices and non-profit organisations. It would be helpful to take these actions and seek support, especially since the eating disorder statistics in Australia show disturbing numbers. If you know someone who may be among these people, find out how to help them below.

How to Help People with Eating Disorders?

If you think someone has an eating disorder, you may do one or more of the following to help them.

If you suspect an eating disorder, here's how to help: offer support, listen without judgment, and encourage professional help.

Talk to them Honestly

It’s ideal to talk to them honestly and openly about a possible eating disorder they may be experiencing. It’s important to be careful with your words so they don’t get hurt by their appearance. 

Encourage them to Share

It may be difficult, but try encouraging them to share their feelings, experiences, and fears. When they do, remember to listen without judgment, and avoid blaming anyone. 

Invite them to Social Activities

Head to Health encourages inviting them to social activities that do not involve food or excessive physical routines. An example is first-aid training that is held at a classroom-type centre with other students where you learn treatment for incidents and emergencies. It’s a place where you learn life-saving skills without having to worry about food or performing vigorous physical activities.

Where is the Location of a First Aid Training?

There is first-aid training at Sports & Community Club, 139 Bradley Grove, Mitchell Park. CPR First Aid also has centres in other parts of the country. Visit its website for more information.

Learn More about Eating Disorders

It’s useful to have basic knowledge about eating disorders, but you may be able to help even more if you understand it deeper. The websites of Head to Health, local government agencies, and non-profit organisations have resources for this. 

Look after Yourself

It may be mentally and physically draining to help someone overcome an eating disorder. So, it’s important to also look after yourself by still eating well, sleeping enough, and exercising. If you need help, visit the following websites for assistance.

  • Carer Gateway – an Australian Government website and phone service for carers
  • Carers Australia – the national peak body for unpaid carers
  • Beyond Blue Online Forum – an online peer support forum for sharing tips on supporting someone with a mental health condition
  • SANE Friends, Family, and Carers Forum – an online community for people affected by mental illness
  • Lifeline toolkit for carers of people with a mental illness – a self-help resource for people caring for someone
  • Young Carers Network – a national resource to raise young carer awareness

The above may give you support and guidance while caring for someone who is suffering from an eating disorder.

Know Where to Ask for Support

You don’t need to help a friend or family member on your own. Reach out to any of the following contact numbers below for support and free services.

  • 1800 33 4673 – Butterfly National Helpline (an organisation for eating disorders and body image issues)
  • 1300 195 626 – Eating Disorders Families Australia (an organisation that provides support for carers)
  • 13 11 14 – Lifeline (a national charity for those experiencing emotional distress)

The National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC) is also available for support and services.

What is an Eating Disorder?

If you are curious, “Is an eating disorder a mental illness?” Well, the NEDC says yes and states that eating disorders are serious conditions. They come with disturbances in behaviours and thoughts about food, eating, body weight, and shape. It comes with different categories which may occur to anyone and cause serious medical and psychological complications.

Yes, eating disorders are mental illnesses characterized by disturbances in behaviors and thoughts about food, eating, body weight, and shape. They can cause serious medical and psychological complications.

What are the Types of Eating Disorders?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), Fifth Edition classifies eating disorders into the following.

  • Binge eating disorder (BED) – lack of control in eating
  • Other specified feeding or eating disorders (OSFED) – present many symptoms of other categories
  • Bulimia nervosa – comes with a feeling of guilt and shame after eating a large amount of food
  • Anorexia nervosa – leads to significant weight loss due to food restriction
  • Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) – causes someone to avoid and restrict food
  • Unspecified feeding or eating disorder (UFED) – causes significant distress or impairment in social functioning
  • Pica – eating of one or more non-nutritive, non-food substances on a persistent basis
  • Rumination disorder – eating of one or more non-nutritive, non-food substances on a persistent basis

The website of The National Eating Disorders Collaboration (NEDC) contains additional information about these.

What is the Statistics for Eating Disorders in Australia?

The NEDC reports that about 1 million Australians have an eating disorder which represents 4% of the population. It affects any age but is more common for those who are 12 to 25 years old. Statistics also show that 8.4% of women and 2.2% of men will experience an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

What Factors Contribute to an Eating Disorder?

Studies show that genetic factors contribute to anorexia nervosa. But, other aspects such as psychological, behavioural, and socio-cultural factors may also increase the chances of developing an eating disorder.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of an Eating Disorder?

A person suffering from an eating disorder may show one or more of the following.

  • Sudden weight loss
  • Loss of menstruation
  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Repetitive dieting behaviour
  • Avoidance of social events that involve food
  • Excessive exercising
  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Difficulty concentrating

Visit the website of NEDC for the full list.

What Treatments Are Available for Eating Disorders?

The following treatments may help someone overcome an eating disorder.

  • Enhanced Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT-E)
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy-Guided Self Help (CBT-GSH)
  • Family Based Treatment (FBT)
  • Specialist Supportive Clinical Management (SSCM)
  • Maudsley Model of Anorexia Nervosa Treatment for Adults (MANTRA)
  • Dialectical Behaviour Therapy for Eating Disorders (DBT-ED)
  • Interpersonal Psychotherapy for Eating Disorders (IPT-ED)
  • Adolescent-Focused Therapy (AFT)
  • Focal-Dynamic Psychotherapy

Identification of the right treatment may start with a GP who may recommend a specialist in the area.

How to Prevent an Eating Disorder?

Existing media literacy programs in Australia are available such as Body Project Australia, Butterfly’s Body Bright, and Flinders University Media Smart.  The NEDC also discusses the other prevention programs on its website.


To help people with eating disorders, talk to them honestly, encourage them to share, invite them to social gatherings, learn more, look after yourself, and seek support. Eating Disorder is a mental illness that disturbs someone’s behaviours and thoughts about food, eating, body weight, and shape. It falls into 8 different categories which affects about 1 million Australians. Genetic, psychological, behavioural, and sociocultural factors may increase the risks which may cause warning signs to show. Fortunately, treatments are available and there are already media literacy programs to help in the prevention.



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