For years, Mia Morrissey lived with a voice in her head.
An “all-consuming” internal monologue that isolated her teenage self from those around her, reminding her she was not good enough.
The actress’s complex relationship with food began when she was 10 years old, but it was at age 15 when her life was feeling out of control that she turned to behaviours that led her to becoming dangerously underweight.
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“Eating disorder noise was completely isolating,” she said.
“It was all-consuming; a deafening cacophony of shame, anxiety, and hopelessness.”
An estimated 750,000 Australians living with an eating disorder experience a highly distressing voice or noise in their heads.
The persistent inner dialogue revolves around weight, shame and eating behaviours — and only amplifies over the Christmas and holiday season, according to the Butterfly Foundation.
For a long time, Morrissey felt as if she could not escape that damaging noise.
“I thought that noise was all I would ever hear,” she said.
“But recovery, to me, has meant quieting the eating disorder noise by learning to hear the other noise.
“The noise of joy, art, love, hope and above all strength”.
Experts say stressful life events, such as Christmas, can lead to eating disorder relapse, with food-centric holidays intensifying that negative voice.
“We know it’s particularly amplified at this time of year when you’ve got lots of celebration at food, lots of different events, lots of family and friends that you might not see the rest of the year and just this relentless voice telling you that you’re not good enough … you’ll be very distressed,” the Butterfly Foundation head of communications and engagement Melissa Wilton told 7NEWS.com.au
The national charity said summer brings an increase in the severity of eating disorders and higher hospital admissions, as warmer weather often means wearing less clothes and more attention on people’s bodies.
“Year on year, we’ve seen a significant increase in calls over this period,” Wilton said.
“In December and January last year, we had about 15 per cent more contacts to our helpline and support services than we had the previous year.
“All in all, it’s about 32 per cent more than the level we saw pre-COVID.”
According to the Butterfly Foundation, the pressure of “new year, new me” diets and exercise regimens further contributes to this surge in calls.
With more than one million Australians living with an eating disorder and less than one quarter receiving treatment or support, the Butterfly Foundation says the need for support is more critical than ever.
It encourages parents and family members concerned about their loved ones to contact Butterfly, their local GP or talk to the person without judgement.
“If your loved one is noticeably changing their body shape, overly involved in exercise or perhaps behaviours are changing around meal times and around food, and you’re noticing that they’re not wanting to participate, any of those things can be warning signs to at least have the conversation,” Wilton said.
The charity is also calling for donations to support people experiencing an eating disorder or body image issue.
“In particular, we’re trying to raise $50,000 to support our next steps, our patient program and other services that we provide,” Wilton said.
“It can be an amazing, wonderful time of year, but for many, many people it can be incredibly stressful and overwhelming, and we really want people to reach out for help when they need it.”
If you or anyone you know has an eating disorder, or if you would like information, referrals or counselling for eating disorders, disordered eating or body image concerns, contact The Butterfly Foundation on 1800 33 3673 or butterfly.org.au
If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.