Promoting mental health, demystifying mental illness, countering stigma and discrimination

Eating Disorders

What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders most commonly affect young women who deliberately, and often obsessively, lose weight.

There are three major forms of eating disorder.
(Please click for specific information on each)

Anorexia Disorder:

This disorder mainly affects young people around the time of puberty and involves extreme weight loss. People with Anorexia Nervosa intentionally starve themselves.
Although they look emaciated, they are convinced they are overweight and are not prone to seeking treatment. Sometimes they must be hospitalised to prevent starvation.

Binge Eating Disorder:

This is an illness that resembles Bulimia Nervosa. It is characterised by episodes of uncontrollable eating or binging. However, Binge Eating Disorder differs from Bulimia Nervosa in that sufferers do not purge their bodies of excess food.

Bulimia Nervosa:

People with Bulimia Nervosa consume large quantities of food and then rid their bodies of the excess calories by vomiting, use of laxatives or diuretics, taking enemas or exercising excessively.
Some use a combination of these forms of purging.

What are signs of Eating Disorders?

Some early signs include:

  • Increased concern about weight.
  • Disgust with body shape.
  • Wearing only baggy clothes or concealing clothing.
  • Exercising excessively.
  • Refusing to eat with others.
  • Having rituals around eating eg counting mouthfuls etc.
  • Vomiting after meals.
  • Use of laxatives, diuretics, enemas.
  • Lying about eating ("I've already eaten").
  • Secrecy about eating.
  • Being moody or angry when asked about dieting.

What causes an Eating Disorder?

There is no known cause of Anorexia. What is known is that it develops in certain stages.

  • It is often from media pressure and the idea of needing to be thin to be beautiful.
  • There may be genetic influences leading to a stronger likelihood to develop anorexia.
  • The sufferer's specific situation may lead to anorexia.

An anorexia sufferer may not feel unwell, despite the weight loss. They may in fact feel extremely energetic and exercise to excess. They continue to diet because they do not think that they are as thin as they desire.

Family and whanau and friends may tell them that they have become too thin, however, they are not easily convinced that they are not overweight.

How is Anorexia diagnosed?

The diagnosis of anorexia is made when the loss of 15% of body weight or the growing child fails to acquire 85% of the minimal weight for their particular age and height. A history of excessive exercise, self-induced vomiting and the overuse of laxatives and diuretics help the mental health professional make a diagnosis of anorexia.

How is Anorexia treated?

Individual and/or family and group therapy are important for those with anorexia.
Group members can offer each other valuable support in monitoring eating and weight gain and in improving self-esteem.
Most people with anorexia can be treated as outpatients, however, when weight loss is severe, hospitalisation may be necessary.
Medications can be effective for the treatment of anxiety and/or depression associated with anorexia.
The major breakthrough to treatment comes with education, when the detrimental effects anorexia has on the body and mind are realised

What happens to someone with Anorexia?

For some people, anorexia is a one off adverse experience lasting a few weeks or months. For a few, it can be prolonged through adolescence and into early adulthood. Sadly, for about 5% of people it can lead to death.

Resources in Taranaki:

Mahia Mai A Whai Tara: (Kaupapa Maori Service)
8 Warre Street, Waitara.
Tel (06) 754 4669


Health Child and Adolescent Service: (Mainstream)
Taranaki Base Hospital,
New Plymouth
Tel: 06 753 7790

Fax: 06 753 7791

Taranaki Health Adult Mental Health Services: (Mainstream)
Taranaki Base Hospital, New Plymouth
Tel: 06 753 6139

Fax: 06 753 7715

The following organisations may provide assistance and support:
Eating Disorders Association,

Tel: 09 818 9561 or 09 627 8493

Eating Disorders Collective,

Tel: 04 473 5900

WEDRC (Women with Eating Disorders Resource Centre,
Tel: 03 366 7725

The following websites provide information on eating disorders:

An international website with information on many illnesses.

NZ website with resource data on most illnesses.

A site developed by Child & Adolescent Services, Taranaki Health, working with youth, covering many health issues.

An International website with an informative section on eating disorders/support & treatment.


Like Minds Taranaki gratefully acknowledges the financial support of this website by the Ministry of Health

Feedback is always welcome
Like Minds Taranaki, 06-759-0966, email:

or on our Facebook page at:

Previous page: Disordered Eating
Next page: Anorexia Nervosa

Taranaki Mental Health Sector