What is an Eating Disorder?

Eating disorders are serious mental illnesses; they are not a lifestyle choice or a diet gone ‘too far’.

The facts

Eating disorders are estimated to affect approximately 9% of the Australian population and the rate is increasing. Approximately 15% of Australian women experience an eating disorder during their lifetime.

However, eating disorders can occur in both men and women, young and old, rich and poor, and from all cultural backgrounds.

On a global level, while estimates of the incidence of eating disorders vary between countries and studies, there is agreement that eating disorders, disordered eating and body image issues have increased worldwide over the last 30 years.

Long-term impacts

A person with an eating disorder may experience long term impairment to social and functional roles and the impact may include psychiatric and behavioural effects, medical complications, social isolation, disability and an increased risk of death.

Many people who have eating disorders also present with depression, anxiety disorders, personality disorders or substance abuse problems.

The impact of an eating disorder is not only felt by the individual, but often by that person’s entire family or circle of support.  The impact may lead to caregiver stress, loss of family income, disruption to family relationships and a high suicide risk.

Physical complications and increased mortality

Eating disorders are associated with significant physical complications and increased mortality. The mortality rate for people with eating disorders is the highest of all psychiatric illnesses, and over 12 times higher than that for people without eating disorders.

Eating disorders defy classification solely as mental illnesses as they not only involve considerable psychological impairment and distress, but they are also associated with wide-ranging and serious medical complications, which can affect every major organ in the body.



Eating Disorders and the DSM

Eating disorders are classified into different types, according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Classifications are made based on the presenting symptoms and how often these occur, and include:

  • Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
  • Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorders (OSFED)
  • Bulimia Nervosa (BN)
  • Anorexia Nervosa (AN)
  • Avoidant/restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID)
  • Unspecified Feeding or Eating Disorder (UFED)
  • Pica
  • Rumination Disorder


See also

Eating Disorders in Australia

Prevalence Eating disorders and disordered eating together are estimated to affect over 16% of the Australian population.


Who is Affected?

Eating disorders can occur in people of all ages and genders, across all socioeconomic groups, and from any cultural background. AgeAlthough eating disorders can develop at any age, the peak risk period for the onset of an eating disorder is adolescence.


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