What are the warning signs?
Each child or young person may display different warning signs, which may be behavioural, physical or emotional.
Possible warning signs include:
- noticeable change in attitude/performance in the classroom
- difficulty concentrating in class
- frequently expressing body image complaints/concerns
- being extremely sensitive to comments about weight, shape, eating and exercise
- talking about/engaging in dieting and a preoccupation with food
- eating alone or avoiding eating food with others in school hours
- changes in exercise/training behaviours (mainly increases in volume/duration, exercising through injury or illness)
- appearing sad/depressed/anxious
- experiencing other mental health issues
- experiencing physical symptoms such as fainting/dizziness, tiredness, feeling cold even in warm weather
- being the target of weight-based or other bullying (online and face-to-face) changes in weight
- appearing withdrawn and reluctant to ask for help (or avoiding drawing attention to self).
It’s important to be mindful that a person’s size, shape or weight alone is not an indicator of whether or not someone is engaging in disordered eating behaviours.
What can I do if I'm concerned about a child or young person?
It’s important to explore your concerns, as evidence shows early intervention can help achieve the best outcomes for children and young people.
A good place to start might be to contact your learning community’s wellbeing team or guidance counsellor. You could also contact the Butterfly National Helpline 1800 33 4673.
Remember, it’s not your responsibility to diagnose or treat a student experiencing disordered eating - only to support them.
Find out more in the Be You Fact Sheet about supporting children and young people experiencing disordered eating.
Be You Professional Learning
Learn more about how to recognise behaviours that might indicate early signs of mental health issues, talk to children and young people about these issues, and provide appropriate and timely support in the Early Support domain.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
Butterfly Foundation. (2012). Paying the Price: The Economic and Social Impact of Eating Disorders in Australia. https://thebutterflyfoundation.org.au/assets/Uploads/Butterfly-report-Paying-the-Price-Executive-Summary.pdf
Jacobi C, Hayward C, de Zwann M, Kraemer HC, Agras WS. (2004). Coming to terms with risk factors for eating disorders: Application of risk terminology and suggestions for a general taxonomy. Psychological Bulletin, 130, 19–65.
Madden, S., Morris, A., Zurynski, Y. A., Kohn, M., & Elliot, E. J. (2009). Burden of eating disorders in 5-13-year-old children in Australia. The Medical Journal of Australia, 190, 410-4.
Mental Health First Aid Eating Disorder Guidelines (2013). https://mhfa.com.au/sites/default/files/MHFA_eatdis_guidelines_A4_2013.pdf
National Eating Disorder Collaboration website: https://nedc.com.au/eating-disorders/eating-disorders-explained/types/bulimia-nervosa/
Vinkers, C., Evers, M., Adriaanse, M. & de Ridder, D. (2012). Body esteem and eating disorder symptomatology: The mediating role of appearance-motivated exercise in a non-clinical adult female sample. Eating Behaviors, 13, 214 – 218.
Understanding disordered eating
When eating, exercise, and weight or shape, become a preoccupation – or distressing – for a child or young person, they may be experiencing disordered eating.
Last updated: May, 2022