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Departments

Eating Disorders Program

What are eating disorders?

Eating disorders happen as a result of severe disturbances in eating behaviour, such as unhealthy reduction of food intake or extreme overeating. These patterns can be caused by feelings of distress or concern about body shape or weight and they harm normal body composition and function. The main types of eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. A person with anorexia nervosa starves herself or himself to be thin, experiencing extreme weight loss. Bulimia nervosa is binge eating followed by purging (vomiting).

Aims of the program

Eating disorders are a mental health disorder with physical consequences. Therefore, our aims are:

  • To help restore or achieve a level of health that will allow the young person to return to home and school safely
  • To encourage the young person and their family to gain an understanding of the nature of the illness
  • To facilitate linkage with psychological support for the young person and their family.

Who is eligible?

The Austin Hospital Eating Disorders Program is open to any young person who has an eating disorder. A referral is required from a GP or paediatrician and then a consultation is arranged in outpatients where the program will be discussed, including expectations of outpatient and inpatient care.

If an admission is required

When the young person arrives on the ward, a timetable will be provided so that appointments with the dietician, consultant or mental health therapist can be scheduled. This timetable will also be used to factor in school for the young person at the Austin School. It is expected that the young person will attend the Austin schoolroom when medically stable, to try and reduce stress related to long periods away from school.

Parents of patients under 13 years old are welcome to spend the first 1 night with their child to help them settle in for the first admission.

As it is hospital policy that no mobile phones are allowed on the wards, a bedside phone is available to take and make calls. To make an outside call, a Telstra PhoneAway phone card can be purchased from vending machines in the hospital or from newsagents.

Visiting hours are between 8am and 8pm. When the young person is deemed medically stable, parents are welcome to take their child out to the courtyard for 30 minutes.

Aims of an inpatient stay

Physical health stabilisation

Following admission, blood tests are taken, and may be taken regularly thereafter to monitor physical health. Temperature, pulse rate (PR) and blood pressure (BP) are recorded on a 4-hour basis initially, then twice daily as physical health improves. Lying and standing BP and PR are recorded once daily in the morning after waking up, as they are important markers of improving health. Weight is measured on admission, and twice a week thereafter.

 

Establishment of adequate nutrition

The young person and their family will meet with the program dietician to discuss food issues and preferences. The dietician works closely with each young person and their family to devise a healthy eating meal plan.

Once admitted to the program, each young person will have three meals and three snacks a day, as prescribed by the dietician. If, after 24 hours, the young person has been unable to eat the required meals, then the safest and most effective way to temporarily deliver nutrition is to insert a naso-gastric tube. This provides the nutrition that the young person is unable to have orally. The tube is not uncomfortable once it is in place, and will be removed once regular oral intake of food is re-established.

No food or drink is to be brought from home unless requested by the dietician.

 

Conservation of energy and reduction of stress

Many young people are admitted to the program because they have become physically unwell and are in a weakened state. Consequently, it is important to conserve energy and get lots of bed rest, particularly after meals and snacks. There is a mandatory one-hour rest period in bed after meals and snacks. During these periods, craft and schoolwork are encouraged, and television and DVDs are available to help alleviate stress and boredom.

 

Discharge planning

During the second week of the admission, the young person's family are expected to have at least three family meals at the hospital. While the young person's meal will be provided by the hospital, the family should bring their own food. The family are encouraged to seek help from the nursing staff if any difficulties arise.

Prior to discharge, outpatient appointments will be made for the young person for medical, psychiatric and dietetic follow-up. The dietician will also help to create an individualised meal plan in discussion with the young person and their family. This meal plan will help to ensure that the young person stays physically and nutritionally safe at home.