Body Image Concerns & Eating Disorders Exacerbated by COVID-19
Friday 4th September
This year’s Body Image and Eating Disorder Awareness Week (BIEDAW), (6 to 12 September), is more important than ever for over one million Australians living with an eating disorder, as well as many more with body image concerns, as they struggle with the restrictions of COVID-19.
As the country grapples with a worldwide pandemic, Butterfly and the eating disorder sector has come together this week to celebrate Body Image and Eating Disorder Awareness Week (BIEDAW.) Given a sharp spike in the number of people seeking help for body image concerns and eating disorders during the pandemic, BIEDAW is significantly timely.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, Butterfly have been dedicated to ensuring that people experiencing eating disorders receive the support they need. Demand to Butterfly’s National Helpline was more than 25 per cent higher during the peak of the pandemic (January – June) than the previous six month period. Moreover, demand for support via Butterfly’s online webchat service has increased by 116 per cent in the last year.
Juliette Thomson, Manager of Butterfly Foundation’s National Helpline, said people living with an eating disorder during this time have indicated a significant increase in eating disorder behaviours and thoughts due to the high levels of stress and uncertainty associated with COVID-19.
“The stress of rapidly adapting to a new way of life has seen a dramatic increase in the number of people seeking help via the Butterfly National Helpline. A disruption to food shopping, change in exercise routines, increased exposure to food as we spend more time at home and the inability to receive face-to-face support are just a few of the stressors that we have been hearing since the beginning of the pandemic.”
Increased exposure to stressful media coverage and weight stigmatising social media messaging has also been linked to greater eating disorder symptomology at this time. 
Victorians experiencing eating disorders and body image concerns are even more vulnerable with Thomson detailing an increase in Helpline calls as the state entered stage four restrictions.
“The Helpline is certainly seeing an increased demand from Victorians, with our total number of contacts increasing by almost 30 per cent. What we are hearing on the Helpline from Victorians is that people experiencing an eating disorder are under much more stress and pressure, which often increases eating disorder symptoms. We’re also hearing that due to isolation and tighter restrictions people are finding it harder to access treatment and care.”
With suicide 31 times more likely for people with eating disorders, Butterfly CEO Kevin Barrow noted the significance of RUOK? Day and World Suicide Prevention Day also falling within BIEDAW.
“Eating disorders are complex and enduring mental illnesses that come with significant physical complications. Unfortunately it’s the severity of these illnesses that cause them to have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses. It’s very fitting that these two days fall within BIEDAW because suicide prevention and encouraging help-seeking are critical to the ongoing work of Butterfly and are particularly imperative at a time like this when we know people are really struggling.”
Butterfly will promote BIEDAW across their social media channels from 6 to 12 September. Eating Disorders Victoria, Eating Disorders Queensland, Eating Disorder Families Australia and Bridges for Eating Disorders WA will importantly come together for RUOK? Day on 10 September in a video sharing advice on ‘How to approach someone you care about’ if you think they have an eating disorder.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Eating Disorders Victoria Helpline on 1300 550 23
- For urgent support call Lifeline 13 11 14
 Eating disorders during the COVID-19 pandemic: An overview of risks and recommendations for treatment and early intervention: https://psyarxiv.com/x7hea