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Insights in Recovery: A consumer-informed guide for health practitioners working with people with eating disorders 

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions associated with significant physical complications and increased mortality rates.

They have a significant and underestimated impact on Australian society, and, at any point in time, about one in 20 Australians is living with an eating disorder, a rate that is only increasing. 

Currently, approximately 50 per cent of people living with an eating disorder fully recover, taking an average seven years to achieve full recovery. Previous research into the process of recovery for eating disorders has found that they are very complex, and there is no single ‘correct’ pathway for treatment.

With this in mind, Butterfly has conducted a research project into the recovery process, commissioned by the Mental Health Commission of NSW, Insights in Recovery. The findings have then been translated into a practical guide to help health professionals adopt a person-centred, recovery-orientated approach when working with patients experiencing an eating disorder.

Insight from more than 100 Australians who have a lived experience of an eating disorder was incorporated into the report, and the details of what helped them recover were analysed. Insights in Recovery explored what motivated them to engage in recovery, how they understand recovery in their lives and what sort of professional responses they found helpful.  

Researchers found that important issues aiding recovery include developing a sense of identity, experiencing personal agency in the recovery process, supportive relationships, choice and a sense of control, as well as confidence and hope. Participants also noted that it was important that they were seen as an individual person first rather than feeling categorised by their illness.

Central to the guidelines is a 'help me to feel safe' approach. That is:

  • Help me – the whole person in the context of my family and friends, my life and dreams
  • To feel – help me to deal with my thoughts and feelings in a positive way
  • Safe – help me to feel understood, less afraid and more hopeful

Overall, the data collected in the Insights in Recovery project supports the use of the personal recovery model as relevant to people with eating disorders. The project has highlighted areas where recovery oriented approaches for people with eating disorders may require a different emphasis to treatment of other mental illnesses. Of particular note is the need for:

  •  Access to competent and compassionate care when it is needed.
  • A focus on the thoughts associated with eating disorders rather than priority given to weight and appearance.
  • Service settings and healthcare practices that promote feelings of safety to enable people to engage in the hard work of recovery.

Findings from this study have informed the development of a new resource on recovery oriented practice as a companion to National Framework for Recovery Oriented Mental Health Services.

Insights in Recovery: A consumer-informed guide for health practitioners working with people with eating disorders 

An overview of the research project informing the Insights in Recovery Guide for practitioners working with people with eating disorders

The Insights in Recovery project was implemented by the Butterfly Foundation in partnership with the Mental Health Commission of NSW, and supported in part by the Ian Potter Foundation. 

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Worried about a friend or someone you care about?

It can be extremely difficult raising the subject of eating disorders with a friend or loved one. To be supportive one needs to learn what to say and what not to say.  


We can help you with knowing when to talk to your friend and what to say. ›

Concerned parents & carers

Communicating your concern with your child about eating and dieting behaviour can be extremely difficult. Butterfly offers a range of services that can provide you with skills and information related to communicating with your child.  


We can help you with recognising issues and what to do. ›

Teachers & Professionals Working with Young People

Teachers and those working with young people are often the first to become aware of dis-ordered eating behaviours.  Butterfly Education provides early intervention and prevention skills for professionals working with young people. 

We have a range of advice & resources ›