Eating disorder distress expected to increase for holiday season


For Brimbank residents living with an eating disorder, food-centric holidays, such as Christmas, can be exceptionally challenging and Butterfly, the national charity dedicated to supporting all Australians living with eating disorders and body image concerns, is anticipating a significant surge in contacts to their National Helpline and other services.

The national charity for eating disorders is calling for donations to help support an estimated 750,000 Australians living with an eating disorder who experience a highly distressing eating disorder ‘voice’ or noise in their heads, which is expected to intensify over the Christmas and holiday season.

The eating disorder “Voice” or “Noise” is a persistent inner dialogue revolving around weight, shape, and eating behaviours, which amplifies during stressful events like Christmas with potentially damaging consequences. Research shows that eating disorder self-talk plays a crucial role in the development and maintenance of disordered eating behaviour. Individuals diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa who reported a strong eating disorder voice or noise tended to suffer from more severe eating disorders, and the power inherent in the eating disorder voice has been linked to the high rate of relapse.

During summer, where warmer weather can mean wearing less clothes and more attention on the body, we also see an increase in the severity of eating disorders and increased hospital admissions.

Butterfly has observed a consistent year-on-year increase in calls to its helpline during the holiday period, a trend that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, between December 2022 and January 2023, Butterfly received nearly 3,500 calls – 15 per cent more than the same time in the previous year and a substantial 32 per cent increase compared to 2019. According to Butterfly, the pressure of “new year, new me” diets and exercise regimens further contributes to this surge in calls.

Butterfly Communications and Engagement head Melissa Wilton said for many Aussies, the holiday period is a happy time with family gatherings over food; but for those with eating disorders, it’s a heightened period of stress and pressure where the eating disorder noise grows louder than ever.

“A staggering 75 per cent of those living with an eating disorder contend with this internal struggle and often highlight it as a pivotal aspect of their eating disorder that requires clinical intervention,” she said.

“We encourage anyone experiencing this noise or signs of eating disorders and disordered eating to reach out for support. At Butterfly our Helpline counsellors are qualified mental health professionals with specialist training in eating disorders and body image, ready to help quiet the noise for anyone in need of support this holiday season. Donations are also vital to ensure we can continue to provide this critical support to Australians who need it more than ever.”

Well-known Australian actress Mia Morrissey is also lending her voice to raise awareness about the “ED Noise” by sharing her own lived experiences.

Mia said her complex relationship with food began when she was 10 years old, however it was at the age of 15 when her life was feeling out of control that she began engaging in behaviours which ultimately led her to becoming dangerously underweight.

“[My] eating disorder noise was completely isolating. It was all consuming; a deafening cacophony of shame, anxiety, and hopelessness,” she said.

“And for a long time, I thought that noise was all I would ever hear. But recovery, to me, has meant quieting the eating disorder noise by learning to hear the other noise. The noise of joy, art, love, hope and above all strength.”

The charity is also appealing for donations to sustain its vital virtual and in-person support groups and programs for people experiencing an eating disorder or body image issue and for their carers, friends, and family, as well as supporting the launch of its new virtual intensive outpatient program – a much needed step-down care for people with eating disorders on leaving hospital.