About Hilary Thomson

I am a journalist and writer based in Kemptville, Ontario. I was diagnosed with anorexia when I was 16 and the past 15 years has been a whirlwind of hospital admissions and treatment attempts. I have been in steady recovery now for three years and while I don’t consider myself fully recovered; I am definitely on my way.

Equine Assisted Self Development – How Horses can Help in Eating Disorder Recovery

Healing from an Eating Disorder is a very individual process and what might work for some may not be effective for others. While traditional talk therapy and dietitian services are a great place to start, there are many other alternative therapies that can complement and bolster traditional Eating Disorder treatment.

Sierrah Acres is a centre located in Oro-Medonte (just North of Barrie, Ontario) that offers Equine Assisted Personal Development (EAPD) to people with all types of mental health struggles. EAPD is an experiential, therapeutic approach that involves being in the presence of, and working alongside horses to help uncover truths about the self. Sessions provide a safe and calming environment to help address emotional roadblocks, build confidence, self efficacy and learn new life skills.

Owner Cindy Hoyda founded Sierrah Acres eight years ago after experiencing the healing power of horses first-hand. With a life-long love of horses she found that spending time in the barn really helped her when she was supporting her own daughter through an Eating Disorder. “It was then when I would find myself even more so in the barn, spending endless hours and realizing the clarity that I would feel afterward,” she remembers.

As her daughter went through her recovery journey Cindy felt compelled to share the healing power of horses to others who were struggling. “I just felt that this was a great combination to be able to offer the experience of the healing and the goodness that horses have to offer to those who are suffering, whether it be an Eating Disorder, or any other mental health or emotional issue,” she says.

Through both individual and group sessions the EAPD coaches at Sierrah Acres help clients interact with the horses, creating metaphors that can be used to highlight patterns that are present in their lives. Cindy says many people with Eating Disorders may be able to resonate with many of the traits that horses have including hypervigilance, sensitivity and their need to feel comfortable in their bodies. “That can also resonate back to self care and self compassion, how to care for a horse and what they do to protect themselves and what their day looks like,” Cindy says. “They want to be comfortable emotionally and mentally as well.”

According to Cindy one of the most important things that horses can teach those suffering from Eating Disorders or any other mental health issue is how to be in the moment. They live their lives 100% in the present and are extremely intuitive, reacting quickly to changes in their environment. “That means energy as well,” Cindy says. “They can hear a human heartbeat four feet away. With that energy you’re going to be getting that type of feedback and lots of times there’s questions. I think that’s maybe the uncanny way of how they can bring us into the present moment.”

All treatment at Sierrah Acres is tailored to the individual’s needs and last for four, six or eight sessions in tight succession. The goal of EAPD is for the participant to take what they have learned from the horses and apply it in their everyday lives. Cindy also says it is a great way to explore that ambivalence that is often present in people with Eating Disorders. “When it’s that type of true suffering, when one wants to change and there’s the devil on one side and the angel on the other pulling you in two different directions, that constant ambivalence that goes on is really what inspired me to be able to take the goodness of this place–nature in its finest form and horses who are honest and empowering–and combine it with helping people in any way, shape or form with their struggles emotionally.”

Have you ever heard of Equine Assisted Self Development? Is it something you or a loved on might be interested in trying as a tool in recovery?

Equine Assisted Self Development – How Horses can Help in Eating Disorder Recovery2021-07-19T09:19:02-04:00

Awareness is key in supporting males with Eating Disorders

Over the past year or so, more and more men have been surfacing in the media revealing that they have struggled with an Eating Disorder. Global pop stars like Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran have given interviews outlining their struggles with food and body image. And earlier this year, UK Cricket star Freddie Flintoff even released a full-length documentary about his almost life-long struggle with Bulimia.

Despite this influx of high-profile men admitting to their struggles with food, Eating Disorders are still often seen as a mental illness that only affects women and girls. Social worker and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, Kyle Ganson, has witnessed this firsthand while working in clinical settings in the U.S. and has now dedicated his research to finding out more about what Eating Disorders can look like in the male population. “Most of my research now is focused on things like excessive exercise or performance enhancing substance use, or muscle enhancing behaviours and sort of those more nuanced behaviours that do occur across the sexes and genders, but particularly among the male population,” he says.

Through his research and seven years of clinical experience Kyle believes that there are definitely more men out there that suffer from Eating Disorders than we think. He says this is because many males don’t present with the typical symptoms that are associated with the more well-known Eating Disorders like Anorexia and Bulimia. “Binge Eating Disorder is certainly pretty common among males and I think it’s probably under-reported,” he says. “I would imagine that there’s levels of Anorexia and Bulimia, like a-typical Anorexia maybe, that’s not as commonly reported as we might want to capture accurate prevalence rates.”

Men are definitely not immune to diet culture with many using diets and disordered eating to gain muscle, reduce body fat and achieve that “perfect” physique that they see in the media and online. Because dieting is so common in our society, Kyle says oftentimes healthcare professionals are not asking the right questions and might miss some tell-tale signs that a male is struggling with disordered eating or a full-blown Eating Disorder. “Males are often trying to gain weight so they might be engaging in a weight gain effort, trying to build more muscle or just in general improve athletic performance or physical performance,” he says. “I think those sort of [focuses] can get wrapped up into disordered eating behaviours.”

Not only is our healthcare system not screening men for Eating Disorders effectively, but it can also be very challenging for a male who is struggling to reach out for help. Often times men don’t even realize they have a problem or don’t know how to communicate that they are struggling. “I don’t think that we in general socialize males to talk about things like body image, talk about things like relationship with food, talk about things like feelings, emotions, experiences with all these different things,” Kyle says. “So I think just mental health literacy…If you don’t know you have a problem you can’t ask for help.”

Kyle says the way our treatment programs are structured can also be a barrier for many men with severe Eating Disorders to get help. As a male, it can be intimidating to enter group treatment with a primarily female patient base, and they may not identify with some of the themes and images that are used in traditional therapy. “That disproportionate sort of gender or sex make-up creates more problems and more barriers.”

Kyle is happy to see that more conversations are happening about males with Eating Disorders, but he believes that more can be done to call out diet culture messages that are fed to males in the media and online. Many men get sucked into stories about people like the billionaire CEO if Twitter, Jack Dorsey, eating only one meal a day…or Will Smith posting on Instagram about needing to get back in shape after his pandemic weight gain. Companies like Dove are creating campaigns geared towards women about the realities of re-touching and filters on social media without realizing that many men and boys are most likely doing the same thing. “They’re probably touching up their face, probably making their shoulders broader, making their muscles more defined or something but you don’t have that same sort of dialogue that’s occurring,” Kyle says.

According to Kyle more education is needed within the healthcare system to alert professionals of what symptoms may be indicative of Eating Disorders among men. The conversation around food and body image should also include young males so that they understand what a healthy relationship with food and their body looks like. Awareness is key when it comes to fighting Eating Disorders in general, but particularly for the male population who often get overlooked. “I think if we can normalize the inevitable experience we have with our bodies, if we can help educate males to have more insight into their own internal experience, that would certainly be encouraging and help move us in the right direction.”

Are you a male who has experienced an Eating Disorder? What barriers have you found to receiving treatment or support?

Awareness is key in supporting males with Eating Disorders2021-06-08T19:06:27-04:00

An Eating Disorder with a disability – A story of recovery

There are many factors that go into someone developing an Eating Disorder. For some a disability might be one of the triggers that influence the development of an Eating Disorder and it may even perpetuate the illness.

Mouna Yassine was born with albinism and a visual impairment. She is very nearsighted and with an underdeveloped iris, glasses don’t help. Mouna says she didn’t really notice she was different until she went to school and kids started bullying her because of her pale skin and hair and inability to see properly. “I started to feel kind of that I was just not right. Something was wrong with me,” she remembers. “I felt a lot of lack of control in my life and my surroundings because of being hurt by others so ultimately I went to food. Food was the only thing I felt that I had control over.”

For 13-year-old Mouna the Eating Disorder felt like an escape. No matter what happened at school, like the bullying or feeling like she was an outsider, she could always go back to Eating Disorder behaviours for comfort. “In a way it just took me to a different world other than my reality,” she says.

Mouna started her recovery when she was 16 but says it was really hard to let go of the Eating Disorder because it had been her comfort zone for so long. Her visual impairment also continued to make her feel like an outcast…even in treatment, where everyone was supportive and welcoming. Because of all the bullying she had endured she felt like she had to keep people at a distance to protect herself. “I think that was a huge factor for me while I continued to go in and out of treatment,” she says. “I kept getting sick again and again because I couldn’t connect with everyone.”

It took Mouna 10 years and 12 rounds of treatment to finally open up about her disability, which she believes was a key component to her recovery. “I think a lot of us with disabilities kind of try to push it away in hoping that’s not the reason why I’m sick,” she says. “It’s not the whole reason for me, of course, but it definitely played a huge role.”

Mouna has been in remission from her Eating Disorder for four years now, and is starting her Masters in counselling psychology in the fall. Sometimes those feelings of inadequacy due to her disability come back, but with the skills she has learned in treatment she is able to move past them and protect her recovery. “I keep pushing through and I keep reminding myself, looking at my life now, every time I feel that way, I am able to go on,” she says. “I have accomplished a lot of things despite my visual impairment so checking those facts was really important for me to keep going.”

Mouna would encourage anyone with a disability who is entering treatment to be open to talking about how their disability has affected their life and Eating Disorder. In her experience there may be a lot of fear and shame involved in opening up, but it is an important part of the healing process. “It really opened my eyes up,” she says. “It made me realize that not everyone is going to judge me because of it. There are really good people in the world.”

In recovery it is also very important to have a support system to validate accomplishments and serve as motivation to keep going.  “Let everyone kind of support you and be there for you because that’s the whole point of treatment,” Mouna says. “Tell everyone that that’s how you feel in the moment and work from there.”

Mouna says that for her, it was important to go through a grieving process in terms of her physical limitations; but in the end she came to a point of acceptance with her visual impairment. She is now very focused on living her life to the fullest and not letting her disability or Eating Disorder get in her way. “Eventually you will get to an acceptance point of accepting yourself for who you are and then once that happens, magical things can happen” she says. “You realize that you are so capable of a lot of things.”

An Eating Disorder with a disability – A story of recovery2021-06-08T19:03:25-04:00

NIED to hold 9th annual Honouring the Journey on World Eating Disorder Actions Day

NIED’s annual Honouring the Journey celebration is just around the corner!

This year it will be held virtually on June 2, to coincide with World Eating Disorders Action Day. This is NIED’s 9th annual Honouring the Journey, which not only recognizes the founding of NIED in 2012, but also pays tribute to those who have lost their lives and provides hope and encouragement to Eating Disorder sufferers, caregivers and healthcare professionals who are all part of the journey to recovery.

The theme for this year’s Honouring the Journey is Voices of Hope, Tribute, Inspiration and Celebration. NIED is very excited to welcome two keynote speakers to this year’s event who have been dedicated to spreading awareness for Eating Disorders for many years. Karen Flello and Kirk Mason are the sister and partner of Michelle Stewart, who lost her battle with Anorexia and Bulimia in 2014. In the final year of her life Michelle wrote a blog where she detailed her lifelong struggle with the illness and her time in palliative care. After she died Kirk and Karen took those blog posts and published a book called Shell:  One Woman’s Final Year After a Lifelong Struggle with Anorexia and Bulimia. “We always knew that one day we would hold a symposium or something to acknowledge and honour Michelle’s voice,” says NIED Founder and President Wendy Preskow. “So that’s why we’ve called it Voices of Hope, Tribute, Inspiration and Celebration.”

The celebration will also include a panel discussion which will be moderated by the Globe and Mail’s health reporter and columnist, André Picard. The panel will include people with varied backgrounds and experiences with Eating Disorders including:

Kirk Mason, who will be speaking from the perspective of a male caregiver;

Zachary Grant, a queer, trans, gender-non binary Sheena’s Place employee where they started the Greater Toronto Area’s first support group for trans, non-binary and gender questioning individuals with Eating Disorders and;

Tierra Hohn, a person of colour, registered yoga teacher and Eating Disorder survivor.

Part of every Honouring the Journey is a candle lighting ceremony to commemorate those who have lost their battle but also recognize all those involved in Eating Disorder treatment, care and recovery. All the panelists will be lighting a candle, relating to their own journey and experience with Eating Disorders. Everyone participating from home will also be encouraged to light a candle or flashlight to pay tribute, inspire or celebrate.

While this virtual celebration will be different from previous in-person events, NIED is hoping that it will draw participants from all over the world wanting to recognize World Eating Disorders Action Day. Wendy says it is important to NIED to hold Honouring the Journey every year because it brings people together and helps acknowledge the wide variety of people who struggle with Eating Disorders and highlight the different ways they have found success. “[We want to] acknowledge and let people be aware that they are cherished and not forgotten and cared about,” she says. “Everybody’s lives matter, and everybody deserves a life.”

This year’s Honouring the Journey will be held on June 2 from 7:00pm-8:30pm. To register visit our homepage or Eventbrite.ca under Honouring the Journey. Registration is free and the first 100 people to sign up will receive a free copy of Michelle Stewart’s book, Shell.

NIED to hold 9th annual Honouring the Journey on World Eating Disorder Actions Day2021-05-25T20:07:42-04:00

More support needed for LGBTQS2+ folks with Eating Disorders

It is no secret that Eating Disorders can affect all people, no matter their race, age, gender or sexual orientation. Today is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia and we thought we would mark the occasion by talking about Eating Disorders in the LGBTQ2S+ community.

Zac Grant is a queer, trans, gender non-binary social worker who facilitates a group for trans, non-binary and gender questioning folks with Eating Disorders at Sheena’s Place in Toronto. They started the group three years ago in response to the lack of support for trans, non-binary and gender questioning folks in the community. “I was part of a lot of online groups and noticed a lot of trans, non-binary and gender questioning folks trying to find Eating Disorder healthcare that was really tailored to them and over and over again the answer was it doesn’t really exist,” they said. “I really wanted to try and figure out how we could meet the needs of some of the folks within Eating Disorder healthcare.”

Zac says they are consistently being told that healthcare providers don’t have enough of a knowledge base when it comes to LGBTQ2S+ folks. They say that in many cases the healthcare system is very standardized and although there are some benefits to that, it doesn’t take into consideration the needs of folks with of different identities, education, class or race. “All of these factors are going to change their ability to access care and what it looks like for them once they do access care.”

While all the data points towards members of the LGBTQ2S+ community having high rates of Eating Disorders, most treatment is not adapted for them. There is also a gap in diagnoses for LGBTQ2S+ folks because some of them don’t meet the strict criteria for Eating Disorders in the DSM-5 (the diagnostic manual for mental disorders). Zac says that particularly trans folks avoid seeking healthcare because healthcare providers often don’t know how to address them, and they’re also often not considered as people who can have Eating Disorders. “There’s this phenomenon of people just getting lost in the system and it never really crossing healthcare professional’s minds to even explore whether Eating Disorder stuff is going on for folks.”

Zac believes that one of the solutions to the problem is more training for healthcare professionals in Eating Disorders and the needs of LGBTQ2S+ folks. They say that often healthcare professionals see LGBTQ2S+ folks through a certain lens that dictates that all health problems are due to their sexual orientation or identity. They say that treating LGBTQ2S+ people need to be integrated into a healthcare professional’s regular training rather than it being a separate unit. “A lot of times the most basic aspects of health can get lost because everyone’s just trying to focus on, oh what was my LGBTQ2S+ training,” they say.

Zac says that healthcare professionals need to make the effort to educate themselves about LGBTQ2S+ folks. Currently the onus is often placed on the individual to educate their healthcare providers which is a barrier to them seeking out care. Zac also believes that there needs to be more LGBTQ2S+ representation within the healthcare and Eating Disorder recovery community. “If you don’t see yourself you don’t exist,” Zac says. “If LGBTQ2S+ folks don’t see themselves in representations of Eating Disorders or in representation of Eating Disorder healthcare it can really play into how the Eating Disorder operates in the ‘I’m not sick enough’ discourse,” they say.

LGBTQ2S+ folks need to be represented in all forms of mainstream healthcare so that they get the treatment they need as early as possible. “We know that treating Eating Disorders sooner leads to better outcomes so if it’s invisible in some populations then it’s going to take longer, or if you have particular populations that are really avoiding healthcare then it’s going to take longer. It’s not to say there won’t be good outcomes it’s just it can be more challenging.”

Zac is currently doing their PhD in social work focusing on trans, non-binary and gender questioning folks and Eating Disorder healthcare. They are a wealth of knowledge when it comes to LGBTQ2S+ issues and Eating Disorders and if you would like to hear more from them be sure to register for NIED’s upcoming Honouring the Journey where they will be on a panel of diverse Eating Disorder voices. The event will be held on Wednesday, June 2 from 7:00pm-8:30pm and you can get your free ticket here.

More support needed for LGBTQS2+ folks with Eating Disorders2021-05-17T13:44:32-04:00

Happy International Dance Day!

High performance body-focused sports have long been associated with the development of Eating Disorders. Dance, particularly ballet, is a discipline that sees a high prevalence of Eating Disorders as the ideal body type is considered as slim and delicate which is out of reach for many. According to a 2018 study published in the National Library of Medicine dancers are three times more likely to develop Eating Disorders (particularly anorexia nervosa and EDNOS) than the general population.

Dr. Blessyl Buan is a Toronto-based chiropractor with a special focus on treating and conditioning preforming artists. She says the prevalence of Eating Disorders in the dance world is largely due to the fact that the industry still lacks representation. “The standard of dance body aesthetic gravitates to white, slim bodies in the classical ballet world,” she says. “This unconscious bias towards ableism, ageism, defined standards of beauty, and selection of bodies that look like the individuals that make decisions in dance institutions, that cast company members and prospective students perpetuate the establishment of Eating Disorders.”

Because of this an immense amount of focus is put on appearance instead of a dancer’s skill and ability to perform. Many dancers who do not fit into the ideal mould fall into unhealthy behaviours in order to survive and be accepted in the dance industry. Dr. Baun says that unfair financial compensation, lack of access to health care and a toxic work environment are all factors that perpetuate the problem.

In order to prevent Eating Disorders in the dance world Dr. Baun says there should be standardized guidelines that every dance educator and institution must follow that supports the healthy physiological, mental and neuromuscular development of a dancer from childhood to adulthood. Education is also necessary among dance health providers when it comes to some of the subtle warning signs of Eating Disorders, including amenorrhea, chronic injury, bone fractures, and longer healing times. This is important as many dancers will not report their symptoms to a healthcare professional. Dr. Baun says she also finds that parents of the dancer are often in denial of their child’s distress and are more focused on their performance than their physical and mental health. “When flags arise, I have a conversation with the dancer as well as the dancer’s training team to find ways to support them in an impactful way,” she says.

Although it is clear that the dance world can be a huge trigger for Eating Disorders, dance and movement can also be a powerful tool for healing. Lea Nasrallah is a dance movement psychotherapist based in Ottawa who is currently working with a group of women with Eating Disorders at Hopewell Eating Disorder Support Centre. She says dance movement therapy is not about learning dance techniques or choreography but using the body to tap into emotions and finding themes in the way the participant reacts with the world. “Every movement that we do, every exercise, every activity or theme that we explore is usually related to the emotional experience of this person and what they’ve been through.”

Lea says that when working with people with Eating Disorders they often concentrate on exercises that will help the person feel more connected to their body. This includes having better body awareness, developing body limits and identifying personal space. When going through the exercises with her group at Hopewell many participants had memories come up about how they interact and move in their everyday life. “People started telling us about, for example, when they are out in restaurants, how they feel they want to be smaller, they make themselves smaller, how they struggle and use this space and they always feel like they’re taking up too much space,” she says.

Dance movement therapy can also help build self confidence, which is something that many people with Eating Disorders struggle with. Lea says they often work on how a person presents in their body and whether they are using body language to hide or disconnect from people. “All of these issues about relationships and how difficult relationships could be is also a big theme when we work in a session,” she says.

All dance movement therapy sessions are set up to provide a safe space for participants to process emotions, while giving them the skills and the confidence to live life in recovery.  “Everything that we do inside the session has the goal of being helpful for your when you’re out,” Lea says.

Many of the people that Lea sees have been through traditional therapy and are finding that they need a different approach to processing their emotions and healing from the effects of their Eating Disorder. She says it is really up to the person to decide whether or not they are ready to engage in this type of body-focused work. “I recommend it to anyone who is interested in finding a new approach, a non-verbal approach, to therapy and anyone who has tried a lot of therapies and now is ready to actually go deep into body work and body awareness,” she says.

Lea says they are preparing to run another dance movement therapy group at Hopewell and they are also looking at offering a session specifically for teenagers. All sessions are currently being held through Zoom. For more information visit www.hopewell.ca.

Happy International Dance Day!2021-04-29T08:29:44-04:00

Body Brave offers Virtual Dietitian Training

Happy National Dietitians Day!

March 17 marks the 12th annual Dietitians Day in Canada, meant to shine a light on the profession and remind Canadians that dietitians are a trusted choice for reliable life-changing food and nutrition advice.

Dietitians play an important role on the care team for people with Eating Disorders. They offer a lifeline to people who often don’t know where to start when it comes to nourishing their body appropriately. Unfortunately, Canadian dietitians don’t get much training in Eating Disorders in their formal education, and many don’t know where to begin when it comes to treating or identifying these complex mental illnesses.

Body Brave is a not-for-profit organization which provides community treatment for those with Eating Disorders and educational programs and training for healthcare professionals. To help fill the gap in education for dietitians Body Brave has created an online course for those wanting to feel more comfortable assessing and treating Eating Disorders in their practice. Training and Education Coordinator at Body Brave, Erin Huston, says this new training grew out of a session they facilitated as part of their annual Body Peace Conference. “Many dietitians attended the conference, participated in that training session and we got a lot of incredible feedback and continued conversation about how necessary this is and how dietitians aren’t really given the tools that they necessarily need in their formal training,” she says.

Taking that feedback into consideration, Body Brave created an asynchronous virtual course meant to give any dietitian the confidence to work with people with Eating Disorders. The training covers the biopsychosocial model of Eating Disorder development, symptoms and warning signs, what recovery can look like, how to build support systems and facilitate referrals, the development of nutrition plans including structured and intuitive eating models, and how to communicate effectively with both their client and other healthcare professionals who may be integral in the person’s treatment team.

Erin says the training is great for any dietitian who wants to learn more about treating Eating Disorders. “A lot of times people are hesitant to dive into these conversations with clients because they are scared of saying the wrong thing or making something worse,” she says. “We really just want to give the tools and language that people need specifically. Dietitians need to be able to communicate well with their clients who are struggling with Eating Disorders,”

Body Brave launched the dietitian training on February 15 and Erin says there has already been a lot of people signing up and taking advantage of the course. The training was developed in consultation with several dietitians who are well versed in treating Eating Disorders however Erin says input about how they can improve it is always welcome. “We’ve been getting lots of great feedback and we’re continuing to improve the course in different ways and add different things as we’re getting more and more of that feedback, which is great.”

Overall the feedback that Body Brave has received from the training has been overwhelmingly positive. “This course was incredible,” one participant wrote in Body Brave’s post-training survey.  “I took a lot of valuable tools and resources from it and I really appreciate how inclusive this course is. I think it is so important that it addresses oppression and racism which is lacking in traditional dietetic education…This is perfect for any clinician who wants exposure to ED and to gain skills to safely support clients.”

Check out this link to get to the Eventbrite page where you can sign up for the course. The cost for the training is reasonable at only $160 and participants have 90 days to go through the roughly 3-4 hour program at their own pace.

Body Brave has also created a similar training for physicians and they are also looking at developing one for other healthcare professionals like social workers. “Hopefully this one is just a jumping off point,” Erin says. “We’re very excited about it.”

Are you a dietitian who would benefit from Eating Disorders training? What skills do you think you are lacking in order to treat Eating Disorders effectively?

Body Brave offers Virtual Dietitian Training2021-03-16T22:17:17-04:00

Share your Story – Parisa opens up about her Eating Disorder and recovery

Last year NIED launched our ‘Share your Story’ guidelines, meant to teach people with lived experience how to share their recovery journey responsibly.

Since then a few people have reached out to NIED wanting to share their story, including B.C. resident and mom of two, Parisa Zaini. Parisa is originally from Iran and battled her Eating Disorder without much support for many years before she came to Canada and was able to receive specialized help.

Parisa says her fear around food probably started in high school. She remembers her classmates bringing in treats for their weekly social hour and never allowing herself to have any. However, her Eating Disorder didn’t get extremely serious until 1997, after the birth of her second child. “I had a very bad delivery,” she says. “It was a life and death situation and I had PTSD after that.”

Parisa says nobody knew what an Eating Disorder was in Iran. Everyone just thought she was weak and not eating because she wasn’t hungry. In 2002 Parisa came to Canada to stay with her uncle to see what the country was like, because it was likely that they were going to immigrate here. Her brother was living in the U.S. and came to visit for a few days during her trip. Having lived in the U.S. for 15 years, he recognized the signs of an Eating Disorder immediately. When Parisa went back to Iran, her brother phoned her parents and husband to tell them what as going on and how dangerous her situation was. “I didn’t even know what an Eating Disorder was,” Parisa remembers. “I went to the dictionary and looked up what is an Eating Disorder and I looked at it and saw the description and thought – yes- that resembles me.”

Parisa’s family found her a psychiatrist who was originally from Germany who knew about Eating Disorders. But things got so bad that she had to be admitted to a psychiatric ward in Iran for 45 days. She says her time in the hospital was horrible with little to no treatment. “It was very bad,” she says. “I was locking my door all the time because there were people that weren’t in a good situation at night.”

Six months after she was discharged from hospital Parisa moved to Vancouver, B.C. with her family. Thankfully, after she arrived in Canada she was able to get proper treatment for her Eating Disorder. She spent two weeks in an inpatient program at St Paul’s Hospital and continued to get treatment on an outpatient basis for many years after that. She had a counsellor whom she saw weekly and she used workbooks and a meditation practice to bolster her recovery. She says awareness was key in her recovery and realizing the damage that her Eating Disorder was causing in her body motivated her to make changes. “Gradually I became better,” she says. “I think those were the tools that helped me.”

Parisa now considers herself to be about 75 per cent recovered. While she is grateful for her recovery she is cognisant of what her Eating Disorder stole from her while she was sick. She is an academic at heart and her Eating Disorder caused her to drop out of a PhD program at UBC because she was too ill to study. By sharing her story Parisa hopes to keep others from suffering for as long as she did. “I have to talk about it,” she says. “It shouldn’t happen for anybody else.”

To read more about Parisa’s story check out the Share your Story section on our website. If you would like to share your own story check out our Share your Story guidelines. We would love to hear from you!

Share your Story – Parisa opens up about her Eating Disorder and recovery2021-03-05T13:07:51-05:00

More representation needed in Eating Disorder recovery spaces

Eating Disorders have historically been pegged as a mental illness that affects affluent, white women and girls. One of the first high profile cases of Anorexia Nervosa was Karen Carpenter, a white American singer who died of the illness in 1983. Since then, there have been many other famous white females who have admitted to Eating Disorder behaviours publicly (think Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift and Portia de Rossi).

While these women have definitely raised the profile of Eating Disorders across the globe, their stories promote that same age-old myth – that Eating Disorders affect white females and no one else.

Julissa Minaya is a 16-year-old mixed race girl from Dallas, Texas who is currently in recovery from an Eating Disorder that started when she was just a child. She was heavily involved in dancing, acting and figure-skating when she was younger, all of which put an immense focus on her body. “My acting coach told me that I would probably be more successful in the career if I was smaller,” she remembers. “So I went on my first diet when I was like 10 or 11 and then it just spiraled from there.”

Julissa says that going to private school in Texas also contributed to the onset and continuation of her illness. “The schools that I’ve gone to have been predominately white, so I was with a bunch of girls that didn’t look like me,” she says. “They were all really thin and tall and I wasn’t.”

When Julissa started her recovery about a year ago, she relied heavily on social media for inspiration. Unfortunately, she couldn’t find anyone in the online Eating Disorder recovery community who looked like her. “I definitely didn’t see a lot of representation, especially being mixed because I’m Dominican, Puerto Rican, Black and German,” she says. “A lot of the time with my identities I feel kind of lost, especially growing up being surrounded by so many white people and so that kind of followed me through the Instagram community. I didn’t see anyone who looked like me or anyone who was a person of colour.”

Instead of giving up Julissa made the brave decision to start her own Instagram account to share her journey through recovery as a member of the BIPOC community. “I think that my voice matters, especially bringing in the perspective of a person of colour dealing with an Eating Disorder and having one so young,” she says. “So, I definitely wanted to share a perspective that is not like everyone else’s.”

Julissa hopes that her account will help other people of colour feel more seen and heard in the Eating Disorder recovery space. She says that if she had seen more representation it would have definitely helped push her towards recovery. “My recovery probably would have started a little sooner or made me feel less alone because when I was following Instagram accounts and watching YouTube videos it was all people that just looked the same,” she says. “I just kind of felt left out because I was like, oh, I don’t identify with these people past the fact that we all have Eating Disorders.”

Julissa believes that the fact that there aren’t as many people of colour talking about mental illness online is a societal issue. As a society we are more receptive to straight sized white females talking about Eating Disorders than fat people, men or people from the BIPOC or LGBTQ+ community. She says that within BIPOC community mental illness is something that isn’t often talked about, even though statistics show that they are disproportionately affected the most. “It’s definitely an issue within our communities and within society,” she says.

Julissa’s experience putting herself out there online has been mainly positive and she is happy that she is able to be a voice in the Eating Disorder recovery space for the BIPOC community. “I love being able to know that my story could be helping at least one person,” she says.

You can find Julissa and learn more about her story on Instagram under julissas.recovery.

Are you a member of the BIPOC community? How do you feel that the Eating Disorder recovery space can better support you in your own recovery?

More representation needed in Eating Disorder recovery spaces2021-02-16T21:28:40-05:00

EDAW 2021: Eating Disorders Can’t Afford to Wait – What Happened While We Waited

This article was written by a volunteer, KC, that addresses the theme – Eating Disorders Can’t Afford to Wait – What Happened While we Waited.  KC is a young adult who has lived under/in/against/with anorexia for nearly a decade. I live in BC amongst big trees, wild ocean, my very special dogs, and my wonderful family and friends. I have a BA in anthropology and am active in paid, volunteer, and community roles related to health research, social justice, and community activism.

When you read the sentence “What happened while we waited,” you may imagine a group of people sitting in a waiting room, signing their names on a wait list, or standing in a line to board a ferry. Waiting is often associated with stillness, patience, and expectation. But when you enter the world of an Eating Disorder, you do not step into anything like an orderly terminal. Instead, you are thrown out to sea.

What happens when you get thrown into an unfamiliar, threatening sea with no land in sight? For the first half a decade of my Eating Disorder, my mom would often tell practitioners that we were just managing to hold our heads above water. For her, keeping afloat was a constant struggle: A struggle to keep me alive and safe, to bear with the litany of challenges and pain, and to find understanding and help.

For me, I had forsaken any expectations of reaching something better. I was not in a place of active waiting for return or arrival. In this metaphorical sea, I was swimming just “to get out,” all while other people screamed at me that I was going into deeper, rougher waters. I no longer wanted to get to the land I had left or to any new land people tried to promise me, I just wanted out of the sea I was in.

People do many things when they are thrown out to sea – metaphorical or real. They may cry out, search, fight, try, give up, try again…But they don’t wait.

We are being told to wait: Wait for assessments, appointments, beds, funding, better research, better treatments. Many of us are forced to wait even when it may seem that adequate supports exist: wait for your weight to change so you can meet eligibility criteria, wait for available providers to take you seriously, wait some length of time until those providers realize the current approach is not working at all, wait in the ER while one practitioner tells you you’re close to dying and the next tells you you’re overreacting, wait until the caring nurse relieves the punitive one, wait a requisite time and duration of weight gain to be discharged from a harmful system, wait in worsening psychological and physical decline until something might change and work.

Eating Disorders don’t wait. You can’t put an Eating Disorder on hold like we have in this pandemic with social contacts, working in the office, going to the gym, or travelling. An unmanaged eating disorder rages and infiltrates a person’s brain, body, life, family, and community.

So, as we are told to wait and as policymakers, health authorities, and practitioners look at case files and available beds, people with Eating Disorders and their loved ones are grappling, flailing, striving, suffering, and trying to survive.

There is immense suffering in life with an unmanaged Eating Disorder that cannot be captured in needs reports or wait lists. Eating Disorders tear at relationships, commitments, bodies, and even a person’s own sense of self. While people focus on weight loss, there is an underappreciation for the loss of one’s passions, physical abilities, competencies, ease in the world, caring mutual relationships, and vitality. A person with an Eating Disorder may experience utterly foreign sensations, urges, and feelings, which can be terrifying and distressing. There can be rage, fear, and despair at a level the person did not know was possible. Loved ones often feel the wrath of this rage, the harmful consequences of this fear, and the heavy blanket of numbness from the despair. As we continue to wait for meaningful understanding and support, those with Eating Disorders and their loved ones continue suffering.

The vast complexity and value of the lives that we all continue living with Eating Disorders is likewise not captured by reports and statistics.

The deep pain and fleeting times of relief, moments of pure joy and dark despair, meaningful victories and devastating defeats, daily habits and absurd coincidences, moving new connections and tragic losses continue to exist. As individuals, with diverse and rich attributes beyond “anorexic” or “bulimic,” we continue to be and interact with the world (albeit often more restrictedly) as our unique selves. In the depths of an unmanaged Eating Disorder, I have seen people kiss a newborn niece, graduate from university, tenderly care for seniors as a volunteer in long-term care, and speak articulately at an event for a cause that mattered to them. We are not BMIs to increase, beds to empty, diagnoses to resolve, and checkboxes to tick off.

As we continue to wait, people with Eating Disorders often resort to what has been done for decades, even centuries: lacking an available, accurate, and usable understanding of the disorder or any treatments, we and our loved ones guess, try, fail, try again, and hope to reach a point of sustainable life. There is such a lack of recognition of the important ways people with eating disorders and our loved ones create our own ways to cope and live meaningfully with this illness. This is one of the most important things we are doing right now while we wait: We stop waiting on the system.

But endurance, trial and error, and sacrifice as the status quo is unreasonable and dangerous. It took 8 years of my life, significant costs and damage, and incalculable suffering to get afloat. It was only because of immense support and privilege that I reached a place of stability. And, stability in the Eating Disorder sea can still be precarious.

In the absence of accessible, suitable, compassionate, effective services, people with Eating Disorders will continue to be thrown out to sea. Without acknowledgement of these gaps and inadequacies in the current understanding, treatment, and support of eating disorders, people will continue to suffer and to die in that sea. We can’t afford the pain, all the losses and sacrifices, all the damage, and all the life being lost that is incurred as we are told to wait. So, as EDAW underlines, we simply can’t afford to wait. https://nied.ca/the-history-of-eating-disorders-awareness-week-edaw/

EDAW 2021: Eating Disorders Can’t Afford to Wait – What Happened While We Waited2021-03-03T20:19:04-05:00
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