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This page provides a brief overview of three main forms of disordered eating problems, what psychological therapy for eating disorders involves, and some questions to consider when you are not sure whether you have an eating problem and how healthy your eating habits are.

Eating Disorders overview

There are three main forms of disordered eating problems, which are: Binge eating, Bulimia Nevrosa and Anorexia Nevrosa. All disordered eating problems have two main components: problematic eating behaviours and underlying psychological problems which trigger those behaviours. Because each eating problem contain behavioural and psychological components, it is recommended that both components have to be included into the treatment plan. Implementation and maintenance of a healthy eating routine, together with addressing AND working through underlying psychological causes is considered to be the most effective treatment approach.

What psychological therapy around eating problems looks like depends on the extend and the type of the problems, but generally it will target improving self-awareness, developing better ways of coping with difficulties internally and externally, improving relationship with self and capacity for self-care and self-compassion, developing distress and discomfort tolerance, and processing of underlying emotionally painful material.

Binge eating disorder

Binge eating disorder is a common eating disorder characterised by repeated episodes of consuming large amount of food in a short period of time. Episodes of Binge eating often occur in response to emotions and internal discomfort, rather than hunger.

Bulimia Nevrosa

Bulimia is characterised by repeated episodes of binge eating, followed by behaviours which attempt to compensate for the amount of consumed food through self-induced vomiting or excessive exercise. Bulimia can further lead to development of more physical and psychological health problems.

Anorexia Nevrosa

Anorexia is characterised by extreme food restriction, low body weight, an intense fear of gaining weight, and disturbance in which body weight and shape is experienced. Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness including depression . Anorexia can lead to a whole range of serious physical and psychological health problems.

Do I have a disordered eating problem?

In you are not sure whether your eating habits are problematic or not, consider answering the following questions:

Scoff Questionnaire:

  1. Do you make yourself Sick because you feel uncomfortably full?
  2. Do you worry that you have lost Control over how much you eat?
  3. Have you recently lost more than six kilOgrams in a 3-month period?
  4. Do you believe yourself to be Fat when others say you are too thin?
  5. Would you say that Food dominates your life?

If you answered YES to two or more questions, there is a chance that you have significant eating problem and it is highly recommended that you investigate it further. To read more about scientific validity of SCOFF questionnaire click here.

If you want to evaluate how healthy your eating habits are consider answering 6Ws questions.

  1. Why do you eat? Do you eat when you are hungry or when you want something tasty or when you feel bored? If you are unsure whether you are hungry or just have cravings, think about how much time has passed since you last food intake. If you ate more than 3-4 hours ago you are most likely are hungry.
  2. When do you eat? Similar to sleep routine, eating routine is important. When we eat at specific time our body learns to when to expect food and learns how to use energy more effectively between regular eating times.
  3. What do you eat? Obviously, the quality of food is important, as well as whether the food that we eat corresponds to our bodily needs.
  4. What amount do you eat? How much do you eat? The amount of food should correspond to our need, which usually depend of the size, gender, body type, and levels of our physical activity.
  5. HoW do you eat? The way we are consuming food is important. Are we  present enough to feel the food? Are we eating too slow or too fast? Do we enjoy the process of eating? Does it work for us?
  6. And last but not least: What you do to spend our energy? Do you spend your excess energy by exercising and releasing it through physical activities or through emotionally exhausting self by worrying about things?

Problems with disordered eating are frequently accompanied by depression, anxiety problems, self-defeating tendencies, sleep problems and nightmares, relationships problems and pain. You can read more about anxiety problems here and here, about depression here, self-defeat here, about sleep problems here, about nightmares and night terrors here, about pain here, and about relationships problems here. In addition you might be interested in reading on a few things our clients reflected they wished they knew before entering therapy here.  Let us know if you have any specific questions and, as always, we will do our best to answer them.


Valeria Zoteyeva, Health Psychologist, Member of National Eating Disorders Collaboration.
This post is an intellectual property of the Melbourne Health Psychology Centre (c) 2020


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