Talking Helps to support marginalised people with eating disorders and body image issues

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Only 25% of Australians living with an eating disorder currently access treatment

Butterfly Foundation is urging all Australians with an eating disorder to reach out for support, regardless of their life circumstances. Butterfly today launched its ‘Talking Helps’ campaign to encourage the one million Australians living with an eating disorder to seek support, especially those who are further discriminated against due to their gender, sexual orientation or cultural background.

CEO of Butterfly Foundation, Kevin Barrow said that thousands of Australians are not getting the help they need. In fact, only 25 per cent of people currently living with an eating disorder are getting treatment2. Many more are struggling alone with body image issues and are at risk of developing an eating disorder. Internal and social stigma are immense factors to seeking help, especially for those who don’t fit the eating disorder stereotype.

Butterfly’s National Helpline for eating disorders reports just 6 per cent of contacts coming from males, even though 37 per cent of people experiencing eating disorders are men. Men also represent half of those experiencing binge eating disorder – the most common type of eating disorder experienced3.

Additionally, only 10 per cent of contacts to the Helpline identify as LGBTIQA+, although people in this community are significantly more likely to experience an eating disorder than the general population. Homosexual men are seven times more likely to report bingeing and nearly 12 times more likely to report purging than heterosexual males;4 and two-thirds of people who identify as trans or gender diverse report limiting their eating because of their gender identity.

“Our latest campaign ‘Talking Helps’, aims to eliminate this common stereotype and encourage help-seeking by focusing on the stories of five unique Australians,” said Butterfly CEO, Kevin Barrow. “When you can relate to a person’s life experience and story of their eating disorder it is often a strong step to dismantling the barrier that is stopping you from seeking help. Seeingyourself in another person’s story can help to break down the feeling of isolation and help you to connect with the support you need.”

Katie, one of Butterfly’s Talking Helps Champions who has lived experience of anorexia and bulimia, found her sexuality and being in a same-sex relationship presented a different set of challenges when it came to her eating disorder experiences

“I didn’t want my partner at the time to think that I was comparing our body types. I didn’t want her to be overly focused on her own eating, or her own body image.”


However, reaching out, getting help and subsequently learning to be kinder to herself have been paramount to the quality of life that she now experiences.

Juliette Thomson, Psychologist and Manager of Butterfly’s National Helpline commented, “Anyone can experience an eating disorder, but people who do not fit the image of what an eating disorder looks like can have a harder time accessing treatment and care. In fact, less than one in four people with eating disorders access professional help.”

“The Helpline is a free, safe and confidential service providing counselling, support groups, information and referrals to health professionals around Australia screened for an understanding of eating disorders. All our counsellors are qualified mental health professionals with specialist training in eating disorders and body image.”

“Talking to our Helpline can be the first step in getting support, even if you’re not ready to change. It offers support along the journey, with a relapse, or acts as an important source of information if you’re worried about someone you know.”

Butterfly Helpline counsellors have competence training from LGBTI Health Alliance, Aboriginal Cultural Competence Training and an understanding of the challenges people from different cultural backgrounds face.

There is also a Translation and Interpreting Service that is free and available to access via the Helpline. It is available to anyone from a non-English speaking background, via 131 500. More information about eating disorders can be found via Butterfly’s website in 23 different languages.

For more information on Butterfly’s ‘Talking Helps’ campaign visit to:

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
  • Eating Disorders Victoria Helpline on 1300 550 23
  • For urgent support call Lifeline 13 11 14

page2image47587968Talking Helps Champions

1) TJ, who has lived experience of anorexia, describes how being multicultural male made it harder to initially reach out for help because he didn’t recognise himself in media about eating disorders.

“When people talk about eating disorders, online and on TV, they usually focus on young women, and I found myself thinking, well, what about me? I wasn’t quite sure where I fit into all that.”

2)  Sarah,ontheotherhand,hadneverheardofbingeeatingdisorderorevenknewit existed before she began talking about what she was going through. “If you’re feeling like you need to change your body to be worthy, to be accepted, then I think it’s really important to speak to someone about it because that’s not normal, you shouldn’t feel unworthy in your body.”

Alarmingly, Sarah is just one of many people who go undiagnosed every week – particularly men, those experiencing binge eating disorder, and others who might be pathologised due to their sexuality or gender identity – even sometimes despite efforts to seek help.

3)  For Katie,hersexualityandbeinginasame-sexrelationshippresentedadifferentsetof challenges when it came to her experiences of anorexia and bulimia. “I didn’t want my partner at the time to think that I was comparing our body types. I didn’t want her to be overly focused on her own eating, or her own body image.”

However, reaching out, getting help and subsequently learning to be kinder to herself have been paramount to the quality of life that she now experiences.

4)  Quinn,one of Butterfly’s Talking Helps Champions identifies as trans-masculine, non- binary and queer, and has lived experience of disordered eating. Reaching out for help and transitioning were the turning points to developing a positive relationship with their body. However, the reinforced eating disorder stereotype did not make the path to this turning point an easy feat.

“I was unhappy with my body for about 35 years. I certainly felt that services that supported eating disorders were for girls and women. And even though I identified as both a girl and a woman for most of my life, I looked like a butch lesbian, and I never felt like I belonged. It wasn’t until I transitioned and reached out for help that things started getting better.”

5)  Dominik, a carer for his wife who has an eating disorder, found that reaching out to Butterfly helped them find new ways to cope. “There’s a lot of times where you’re like, ‘I don’t know how to do this, nothing is working, what can I do?’ Then there’s other times when everything is okay and we are happy, and that’s when you avoid talking about it. But that’s exactly the time when you need to talk. It’s counterintuitive, but that’s what I found is the best.”

Talking to someone allowed him to bounce ideas around about problems they were experiencing, or solutions to problems and ultimately it lifted the weight off his shoulders.

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