Body Image and Eating Disorders Awareness Week (BIEDAW) 2022 – #HearMyVoice – 5th – 11th September 2022
BIEDAW is a national week of significance that shines a light on eating disorders.
This year Eating Disorders Queensland (EDQ) wants to amplify the voice of those seeking treatment and support for their eating disorder(s).
Eating disorders are complex and severe neuropsychiatric disorders. Treatment is essential to reducing the severity, duration and impact of illness, and a multidisciplinary treating team ideally provides this treatment. With the appropriate support, full recovery from eating disorders is possible.
There is a strong link between the low level of help-seeking among people with eating disorders and the relation to stigma. Less than one in four people (23.2 per cent) with eating disorders seek professional help.
Stigma and shame are the most frequently identified barriers to accessing treatment.
Eating disorders can be misunderstood and stigmatised and, as such, can be accompanied by a sense of shame. For someone experiencing an eating disorder, being open and honest about what is going on can be extremely difficult. Speaking with each new member of the treating team can be difficult and exhausting.
EDQ has multiple examples of stories from people with eating disorders and their family members and carers who have experienced unhelpful responses in accessing health care.
“Once I noticed my body was sending me signs of struggling physically and mentally, yet still having incredibly loud thoughts around guilt and shame, I went to my GP for some advice or support as to whether what I was experiencing was right. They were quick to dismiss my feelings, weighed me and told me that my BMI was fine and to come back if I lost any more weight,” says an individual with lived experience of an eating disorder
Similarly, many who participated in a Butterfly Foundation survey felt that healthcare workers minimised the seriousness of their eating disorders. Some people said that health care workers did not believe that eating disorders were real illnesses, with several respondents told they were ‘wasting hospital beds’ and that they should ‘eat more’ or ‘eat less. Examples provided by survey respondents included the following:
“A nurse once told me to go to McDonald’s and get a burger; it couldn’t be so hard.”
“I was told at a hospital that they would not treat [my daughter], as it is her choice to have an eating disorder.”
“I’ve had medical professionals not take me seriously because binge eating wasn’t seen as a real disorder.”
“Professionals treated me reaching out for help as an excuse for my obesity, rather than helping me get the right support I needed.”
Stigma is also closely related to discrimination. In the survey mentioned above, Butterfly found that experiences of discrimination were daily, with nearly a third of respondents saying they had experienced discrimination in accessing services. One respondent said: “I was told that my ethnic background doesn’t get eating disorders and that I would grow out of it.” Another respondent referred to: “Being called the wrong name and pronouns consistently. Accessing some health care systems made me worse instead of better.”
What can we do about it?
EDQ would like to work with consumers on a co-designed resource that can be used when accessing treatment. Clients and carers can use this self-directed resource to advocate for themselves and encourage their treating team to #HearMyVoice.
Clients and carers or key supports are invited to join EDQ staff on Tuesday, 13th September, from 5.30 pm, for an online workshop where we will create an ‘Eating Disorder Treatment/Support Passport’. This passport will highlight the language and approaches the individual finds helpful when seeing practitioners for eating disorder-related treatment.
Following this workshop and feedback from consumers and carers, a co-designed ‘template passport’ will be made available for individual use. EDQ will also look at partnering with crucial health care providers to embed the use of such a ‘passport’ in health systems.
See the first draft of the passport here. We are currently undergoing a consumer feedback process for this, collating all feedback to create a second version of the passport. If you have feedback, please email [email protected] with the Subject Line ‘Support Passport Feedback’.
Don’t watch and wait: Eating disorder organisations urge people to know the signs and act early
Monday 5 September
Do you know the signs of an eating disorder? This Body Image and Eating Disorder Awareness Week (BIEDAW), 5 to 11 September, Australia’s major eating disorder organisations are encouraging people to know the signs of an eating disorder and take action early on to prevent the mental illness from developing.
- Only one in ten Australians can recognise the signs and symptoms of an eating disorder
- Up to 25% of people diagnosed will experience a severe and long-term eating disorder
- Individuals who receive early intervention for an eating disorder are twice as likely to achieve recovery
- EDAA members have released ‘Eating Disorders: How to start the conversation’ and are encouraging people talk to their loved ones if they recognise signs of an eating disorder.
This Body Image and Eating Disorder Awareness Week (BIEDAW), members of the Eating Disorder Alliance of Australia (EDAA) are uniting to deliver an important community message: know the signs of an eating disorder and act early.
With only one in ten Australians able to recognise the signs of an eating disorder, Dr. Ranjani Utpala, Clinical Director at Butterfly is encouraging people to familiarise themselves with common symptoms, particularly as presentations of eating disorders and demand for services continue to grow with the pandemic.
“Everyone’s experience of an eating disorder is individualised and usually presents in a variety of ways. However, a range of behaviours may easily be observed by family members and friends in loved ones. These can include bodychecking, reassurance-seeking and a preoccupation with eating, shape and weight. You may also notice frequent excuses not to eat, eating in secret, avoiding social situations involving food or engaging in compensatory behaviours such as over-exercise.
Physically you may observe weight loss, weight gain, weakness, fainting, increase in driven exercise, changes in eating patterns, including not eating in public. Psychologically you may notice symptoms such as a depressed mood, anxiety, body dissatisfaction, social isolation/withdrawal, obsessive compulsive behaviour and poor concentration and/or memory.”
Although some may be confronted by such a varying list of symptoms, EDAA members say that knowing these signs and acting early can have a marked outcome on the longevity and severity of a person’s eating disorder.
“Those who receive early intervention through support and treatment are more likely to go on to achieve full recovery from their eating disorder,” explains Belinda Caldwell, CEO of Eating Disorders Victoria. “Not only does this benefit the individual and their loved ones, but also our broader health system, given that eating disorders have one of the highest mortality rates of all mental illnesses in Australia.”
However, while early intervention is paramount to improved recovery outcomes, Caldwell says it is frequently hindered by low mental health literacy, self-stigma and shame.
“Prevailing eating disorder stereotypes and stigma reduce the serious nature of them as a severe mental illness and significantly exacerbate ambivalence towards someone seeking help,” she added.
Sadly, this means many people struggle with symptoms for many years or even decades, with around 25% of people with an eating disorder experiencing a severe and enduring form of this mental illness.
But as Belinda Chelius, CEO of Eating Disorders Queensland highlights, “It’s important to remember that recovery from an eating disorder is possible for everyone, no matter how long they’ve been experiencing the an eating disorder. And early intervention still very much applies to the early identification and response to re-emerging symptoms for someone who has recovered from an eating disorder.”
EDAA members are doing all they can to ensure all Australians impacted by eating disorders have an opportunity to find support at the earliest possible time, and are determined to inspire early action in the community.
“Whether you’re a health care professional, a teacher, a parent, a sibling or even a work colleague, everyone has a role to play in the early intervention of an eating disorder,” says Christine Naismith, Co-Founder & Director of Eating Disorders Families Australia.
“There’s no single way to approach someone with an eating disorder, and different approaches will work for different people at different times. It’s never advised to ‘watch and wait.’ Trust your instincts and take action early before the eating disorder becomes entrenched.”
“It often takes a village to help someone recover and sometimes it may even take multiple tries to find something that works, but that’s ok. The important thing is to support them with compassion and reassurance, and keep trying,” adds Naismith.
EDAA members – Butterfly, Eating Disorders Victoria, Eating Disorders Queensland and Eating Disorders Families Australia – will share BIEDAW content throughout the week across their respective social media channels and will host respective events across Australia. For more information on BIEDAW head to:
To download ‘Eating Disorders: How to start the conversation’ head to: https://butterfly.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/BIEDAW_Conversation-Starters_FINAL.pdf
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Editor and producers note: Please include the following support line details in all media coverage of this story and refer to the Mindframe Media guidelines for safe reporting on eating disorders. Please include the following helpline message.
Help and Support
Anyone needing support with eating disorders or body image issues is encouraged to contact:
- Butterfly National Helpline on 1800 33 4673 (1800 ED HOPE) or [email protected]
- Eating Disorders Victoria Helpline on 1300 550 23
- For urgent support call Lifeline 13 11 14