The Butterfly Foundation represents all people affected by eating disorders and negative body image

– a person with the illness, their family and their friends. As a leading national voice in supporting their needs, Butterfly Foundation highlights the realities of seeking treatment for recovery, and advocates for improved services from both government and independent sources.

I caught up with CEO Christine Morgan to find out how this amazing organisation works.

The foundation is integral to supporting people with eating disorders. Can you tell me how it started?

The Butterfly Foundation was founded in August 2002 by Claire Vickery who found many ‘gaps’ in the public health system for those experiencing eating disorders. This was also in response to her family’s journey with two daughters suffering from anorexia and unable to find appropriate care and support. The Foundation is a community based charitable organisation that supports eating disorder sufferers and their carers through direct financial relief, advocacy, awareness campaigns, health promotion and early intervention work, professional training in primary and secondary schools and supporting eating disorder and body image research.

How have the rates of eating disorders changed over the years?

Unfortunately the rates of eating disorders within Australia have increased over the years, with more than 913,000 people in Australia identified as having the illness in 2012. It was also estimated that there were over 1,800 deaths from eating disorders in the same year. That equates to about one in 20 Australians having an eating disorder with the rate in the Australian population increasing.

Approximately 15% of Australian women experience an eating disorder during their lifetime. Many people who have eating disorders also present with depression, anxiety disorders, personality disorders or substance abuse problems.

While adolescence represents a peak period of onset, eating disorders can occur in people of all ages. Regardless of the age of a person at the time their eating disorder begins, there can often be a considerable period of time between onset and the time of first treatment. Eating disorders occur in both men and women, young and old, rich and poor, and from all cultural backgrounds.

Have you found that with the increase in social media it has made the rate increase?

With the increase in the use of social media, particularly by young people, the Butterfly Foundation has seen an increase in the number of people being affected negatively when it comes to self-perception, self-esteem and the development of an eating disorder. Although no formal research has been done around this by the foundation, Butterfly through our contact with the community and influence in schools has seen that many young people, with their access to social media 24/7 are unable to escape the messages that may come from what they see and then judge themselves based on these false images and comments.

Social media has its place in being able to influence positively within the community. However it is saturated by images that make many people feel that they don’t measure up to what is considered acceptable, beautiful and fashionable. For those that are particularly vulnerable to these messages around one perfect body shape or size, it only has a negative impact that can ultimately be very damaging to one’s health and mental state.

Have you seen much evidence of a new type of eating disorder with the health movement ‘orthorexia’ where the patient restricts foods to only perceived health and super foods?

Although Orthorexia is not currently recognized as a clinical diagnosis, it is beginning to be recognised as an illness and is being treated by eating disorders specialists in Australia. Anyone who obsessively manages the consumption of whole food groups is at risk of nutritional deprivation. These include people who fixate on eating foods that make them feel healthy to the extent that they avoid foods with additives, or the trio of fat, sugar and salt.

Other signs of orthorexia include:

  • Preoccupation with specific foods
  • Feeling guilty when not following strict rules about meals
  • Feeling virtuous when eating ‘correctly’
  • Social isolation in group-dining settings
  • Only eating specific food groups like fruits and vegetables
  • Spending long amounts of time reading ingredient labels
  • Avoiding situations that might involve ‘processed’ foods

In our society, a large percentage of young women, and an increasing number of young men, engage in disordered eating behaviour. These behaviour’s develop in response to high levels of body dissatisfaction and weight concerns and can lead to serious physical, psychological and social problems.

Our environment is filled with subconscious messages about idealised beauty, body shape and size that you absorb almost every minute of every day, this includes via the social media. People of all ages are bombarded with images that often promote unrealistic, unobtainable and highly stylised appearance ideals which have been fabricated by stylists and digital manipulation and cannot be achieved in real life. Those who feel they don’t measure up in comparison to these cultural ideals can experience intense body dissatisfaction which is damaging to their psychological and physical wellbeing.

Can you tell me how treatments have changed over the years?

Treatments have changed and advanced over the years as there has developed a greater understanding around what causes an eating disorder, what influence genetics has on the person and how a holistic approach to treatment is essential for a person suffering from an eating disorder. When considering treatment approaches for an eating disorder, it is important to understand that different people respond to different types of treatment, even if they are experiencing the same eating disorder.

These evidence-based treatments have been found to be effective in the treatment of eating disorders. Typically, these treatments are not stand-alone treatments and a person with an eating disorder will usually receive a combination of treatments as part of their recovery program.

Some treatments are better suited to specific eating disorders than others and a multidisciplinary approach to treatment is often the best way to treat an eating disorder. These include the following:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Family involvement
  • Self-help approaches
  • The use of medication
  • Nutritional management
  • Meditation

What’s the newest method being used now and how effective has it been?

There would not be one latest methods being used or practiced by a doctor and specialist. As mentioned previously, one particular treatment method may work for a certain individual but then not for another. Therefore a tailored approach that addresses the needs of the person with the eating disorder and their families and friends is paramount.

Different people respond to different types of treatment, even though they may be suffering from the same eating disorder.

What is your biggest recommendation to young people on how to nurture themselves and help build up body confidence?

Some recommendations to young people when it comes to nurturing themselves and building up body confidence would be the following:

  • Don’t compare the way you look to anyone else. This is being very unfair on yourself, especially if you compare yourself to airbrushed images of models, celebrities, and pop stars!
  • Treat your body well. Eating nutritious foods, exercising MODERATELY and never going on dangerous diets will make you feel more alive and positive about yourself.
  • Don’t try to be someone else. You are beautiful just the way you are.
  • Focus on the parts of yourself you like. Everyone likes some parts of their appearance. Try to focus on what you like and enhance it with clothes and accessories that bring out your personal style and confidence.
  • Remember that people on TV and in magazines don’t really look like that. Photos of models, celebrities, pop stars, actors and sports stars who appear in the media are airbrushed, photo shopped and digitally enhanced.
  • You are so much more than the way you look.

How can people help the foundation?

People can help the Butterfly Foundation by doing a number of things.

First, educating themselves on what an eating disorder is and how to identify whether a friend or family member is showing signs of developing an eating disorder.

Share the National Help Line number with people that may need assistance and guidance when it comes to an eating disorder – 1800 33 4673 or email [email protected]

Get involved in a community awareness or fundraising activity in order to support the organisation in spreading the positive messages around healthy bodies and minds.

Make a donation to the Butterfly Foundation so that we can continue the vital work that we do throughout Australia.


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