Eating Disorders


Eating Disorder (ED) is a mental health disorder defined by abnormal eating behaviours that negatively affect a person’s mental and physical health. The exact cause of eating disorders is unknown. Eating disorders can manifest in multitude of forms and symptoms, which may include Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD). Sex Addiction Australia describes the most common manifestations of abnormal eating behaviour and discusses eating disorder in relation to sexual behaviour and sexual compulsion, namely sexual anorexia and sexual aversion disorder, erectile dysfunction and other sexual related behaviours.

Eating disorder can affect men and women across various age groups, cultures, and socio-economic backgrounds. However, not every person with developed eating disorder suffers co-morbid sexual compulsive disorder. The development of eating disorders may be influenced by a variety of factors including genetic, biological or social influences.

Persons with eating disorders commonly display self-loathing views of their body shape, their attractiveness, or body weight. Those symptoms may become a singular focus, and can affecting their everyday life including their sexuality and sexual function.

Untreated eating disorders can become habitually entrenched and very difficult to overcome. The health toll can be devastating to emotional and physical wellness, and severe cases of untreated eating disorder may lead to death. US statistics estimate 7000 death in 2010, and a rise in hospital cost from 165 million dollars in 1999-2000 to 277 million dollars in 2008-2009.


Individuals with anorexia nervosa may experience extreme fear of any form of weight gain. Even very thin persons with anorexia nervosa may perceive themselves as ‘fat’, and may do anything to lose more weight.

Extreme dieting or compulsive and excessive physical exercise are typically employed. In order to stay thin, a strict control over certain foods considered ‘safe to eat’ may be executed. Weight gain may also be prevented by self-purging.

Some individuals with anorexia nervosa accept that they are thin, but cannot escape the compulsion of losing more weight.

Anorexia nervosa is not primarily about food control. An anorexic’s extraordinary ability to control, restrict, or avoid food leads to achieving euphoric highs and a false, but powerful sense of superiority and control over underlying distress.

Individuals with anorexia nervosa practise food restriction in an unconscious attempt to win a relentless everyday battle of coping with extreme pressures and interference of their inner world.

Associated physical symptoms of anorexia nervosa include

  • loss of menstrual periods
  • intolerance to cold temperatures
  • lowered heart rate and blood pressure
  • weakening of bones, poor hair, poor nail conditions

Psychological symptoms of anorexia nervosa include

  • depressed mood
  • obsessional thoughts
  • perfectionism
  • negative self image, feelings of guilt and unworthiness
  • inability to concentrate on anything but on food, dieting and disorder-related issues.


Bulimia Nervosa typically involves a cycle of binge eating, followed by behaviours used to avoid weight gain. The weight gain avoiding behaviours can include rigid dieting which may lead to inadequate nutrition, hunger, fatigue, then followed by strong urges to binge.

Intense fears of weight gain and losing control may cause individuals with bulimia nervosa to purge themselves, using self-induced vomiting, abusing laxatives, fasting, and excessive exercise.

The fear their illness could be detected threatens the bulimics intense emotional need of being in control. Sufferers of bulimia nervosa may become masters of disguise with hiding their illness from friends and loved-ones, and professionals for many years.

Psychological and behavioural symptoms of bulimia nervosa include

  • intense feelings of being ‘out of control before or during a binge
  • extreme concern with body image
  • in excess exercising, exercise binge
  • lowered mood
  • unstable emotions
  • feelings of hopelessness, shame and guilt
  • social withdrawal

Physical symptoms of bulimia nervosa include

  • gastrointestinal problems – reflux or constipation
  • rapid tooth decay
  • glandular swelling
  • fatigue
  • dizziness
  • increased risk of cardiovascular problems
  • cardiac arrest


Binge eating disorder is characterised by compulsive overeating without compensatory behaviours such as purging, fasting or compulsive exercising. During binge eating episodes, the amounts of food eaten can be very large, and eating is more rapid than usual. Eating may even occur when the individual is not physically hungry.

Typical behaviours include

  • several failed attempts to weight loss
  • buying and preparing more food than needed
  • eating while preparing food
  • eating between meals, and eating when not hungry
  • avoiding eating in the presence of others

Psychological symptoms associated with binge eat disorder include

  • low self-esteem
  • difficulty to asserting or communicating needs
  • social withdrawal or isolation
  • self-disgust
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • obsessional thoughts about weight and food

* NOTE A referral to a medical practitioner is essential in cases of severe eating disorder. Affirmotive Sex Addiction Australia (ASAA) recommends a dual treatment approach for best therapy outcomes.


Sex Therapist and Professional Counsellor Heide McConkey can help. Please call her in Sydney +61 2 9380 4486 book a confidential appointment, or obtain professional advise.