For those living with an eating disorder, food-centric holidays, such as Christmas, can be exceptionally challenging. With over 1 million Australians living with eating disorders and less than a quarter receiving treatment or support, the need for support is more crucial than ever.

In the lead up to the holiday season, Butterfly Foundation – the national charity dedicated to supporting all Australians living with eating disorders and body image concerns – is bracing for a surge in calls to their National Helpline.

The ‘eating disorder voice or noise’ – experienced by approximately 75% of those living with an eating disorder – is a persistent inner dialogue revolving around weight, shape, and eating behaviours, which amplifies during stressful events like Christmas with potentially damaging consequences.

Recognising the signs of an eating disorder: Tips for parents

It can be challenging to know if or when a child or teen’s attitudes and behaviours towards eating is developing into something more serious, or if it is just part and parcel of their development. However, early intervention is key in reducing the duration and severity of an eating disorder, so it is important for parents to be aware of the warning signs so they can ensure their child receives timely support and treatment.   

  1. Look out for these warning signs

Some physical signs may include rapid weight loss or frequent weight changes, loss or disturbance of menstruation, fainting or dizziness, feeling tired and not sleeping well, low energy, and feeling cold even in warm weather.

Psychological warning signs can include preoccupation with eating, food, body shape and weight, feeling anxious or irritable around mealtimes, using food as a source of comfort or as self-punishment, a distorted body image, or feeling ‘out of control’ around food.

Behavioural warning signs to look out for include dieting behaviour (ie. Fasting, counting calories, avoiding food groups), eating in private and avoiding meals with other people, frequent trips to the bathroom during or shortly after meals, compulsive or excessive exercising, changes in food preferences, or extreme sensitivity to comments about body shape, weight, eating and exercise habits.  

2. Establish open communication, be compassionate and non-judgemental

 If you are concerned, be informed, and seek guidance on how to approach your child.  Aim to be compassionate, gentle, and non-judgemental and strive to better understand what’s going on for that young person, for example “I’ve noticed you’re not eating much at dinner, is there a reason for this?” or “How are things, I feel that you don’t seem yourself. Can I help in anyway?”. Aim to focus on their feelings, rather than their weight or size. Avoid discussing their eating behaviours or your concerns during mealtimes, or when they are surrounded by their peers or other family members. 

3. Seek professional help

If you notice persistent warning signs or suspect an eating disorder, reaching out to a trusted GP or Butterfly’s National Helpline are good places to start.

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

To access more information, resources, or donate, please visit

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

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