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Australia’s first eating disorder recovery facility set to open on the Sunshine Coast

23 June 2021 at 7:21 pm
Nikki Stefanoff
The Butterfly Foundation is opening the doors to Wandi Nerida, a purpose-built treatment facility for Australians living with an eating disorder 

Nikki Stefanoff | 23 June 2021 at 7:21 pm


Australia’s first eating disorder recovery facility set to open on the Sunshine Coast
23 June 2021 at 7:21 pm

The Butterfly Foundation is opening the doors to Wandi Nerida, a purpose-built treatment facility for Australians living with an eating disorder 

Set in 25 acres of bushland on the Sunshine Coast sits Wandi Nerida, an eating disorder treatment facility 100 per cent owned by The Butterfly Foundation — a charity for all Australians impacted by eating disorders and body image issues. 

Wandi Nerida, which means to ‘gather together to blossom’ and is a name gifted by local Elders of the Kabi Kabi nation, is set to open in mid-July and has the capacity to welcome 13 participants at any one time. 

Jodie Ashworth, the executive director of the facility, said that with more than 1 million Australians living with an eating disorder, and only 25 per cent getting treatment, 13 beds might not sound like enough — particularly when the facility has already received 668 general enquiries. 

Ashworth explained that Wandi Nerida’s model of care is built on social connection, and so having more participants at the centre would mean having to take a less individualised approach to treatment. 

“Our model of care is built to support connection and more beds would compromise the model,” she told Pro Bono News. 

That’s not to say that Ashworth wouldn’t love to see more beds available, she would. In fact, she’d love to see facilities like Wandi Nerida in every state. 

The importance of lived experience 

30 per cent of Wandi Nerida staff have lived experience of an eating disorder, including Ashworth whose daughter has recovered from bulimia. 

“I think having the lived experience is a really valuable tool for us because it gives us the compassion needed,” she said. 

“You can have all the experience in the world, you can know every aspect of the pathophysiology behind eating disorders but we are [a centre] built on kindness, compassion and having a non-judgmental approach. If we don’t get that right then the model has failed, it’s that simple.” 

Finding a sustainable model

With a 57 per cent spike in calls to the Butterfly Foundation over the last 12 months, there’s no doubt that more facilities like Wandi Nerida are needed. So why has it taken so long for Australia to open its first treatment facility? 

Ashworth points to the financial sustainability of this type of treatment. 

She said while the Butterfly Foundation has had the vision for 13 years, it has been “extremely challenging” to move forward. 

“We’re a not for profit. And when you look at the modelling, the staff rations and the type of treatment we give, it’s not a model that’s built to make money. To be sustainable, we need to be innovative, try different approaches and prove our success in stopping the cycle of re-admission,” she said. 

The government has so far contributed $6 million towards the construction and operation of the centre, but ongoing support via public and private donations is integral to ensuring the facility can continue to help as many Australians as possible. 

Wandi Nerida’s place in the treatment cycle

Ashworth said there’s an obvious gap in the health care system for Australians living with an eating disorder. 

“Hospitals save the lives of people affected by eating disorders. They restore weight and they are a primary requirement in the treatment phase. However, the length of stay can be quite short,” she said. 

“They also don’t have the time or resources to invest in the intensive psychological support that’s required to break the cycle and lead someone on a successful path to recovery.” 

Ashworth explained that while hospitals are needed to save lives, Wandi Nerida aims to be the place for people who have been trying to access community treatment and found that, for whatever reason, that support is not enough. 

“We do believe that recovery is possible but we are very conscious that we are part of a bigger system of care, we can’t do it on our own,” she said. 

“We need the hospitals doing the weight restoration, we need the community models that set a clear pathway to recovery. We’re providing another part of the pathway.” 

The centre’s approach to recovery

The average stay at Wandi Nerida is expected to be around 60 days with participants receiving a phased treatment structure addressing both symptoms and behaviour, as well as the underlying psychological factors causing the eating disorder. 

The entire program is built around three meals and three snacks a day and made up of mindfulness, yoga, exercise, core group therapies, family therapy and complementary therapies such as permaculture and equine-assisted psychotherapy.

“Participants also have weekly one-on-one therapy with dieticians and psychiatrists and there is a post-meal reflection session after every meal,” Ashworth said. 

You can find out more about Wandi Nerida here

If you, or someone you know is struggling with body image issues or an eating disorder, call The Butterfly Foundation’s free national helpline on 1800 33 4673, open seven days a week, 8am AEST – midnight. 

Nikki Stefanoff  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Nikki Stefanoff is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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One comment

  • Nirelle Fairfield says:

    Hi, My sister has been suffering from eating disorders for the last 10 years with no sign of improvement. I was wondering what the length of waitlist is? and what the cost would be (ballpark figure) for treatment.

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