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.

Recovery is possible.

Sarah Thomson was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa when she was 16 years old. Her Eating Disorder developed quite quickly, and she soon found herself lost in a world of weight loss and restriction that seemed impossible to escape. “At first I was protective and got some thrill out of ED,” she remembers. “I knew using it wasn’t an effective coping strategy, but I didn’t know how else to cope.”

Despite numerous treatment attempts, Sarah couldn’t seem to kick the Eating Disorder mindset. It seemed unlikely to her that she would ever be able to live her life in a way that didn’t revolve around calories, food and her body. “It was like an abusive relationship that I couldn’t seem to cut ties with,” she says.

In March 2010 she was admitted to Homewood Health Centre for the last time. This was her second time at Homewood, and she was desperate to make it work. “My heart was like if this doesn’t work this is the end,” she says.

Sarah made it through the program at Homewood and was discharged in the summer of 2010. She says she did well in the artificial setting of treatment; but once she was back in the real world she started to struggle. “I went back to university and I didn’t relapse per se in my head, but I lost a lot of weight again,” she says. “But I think what kept me going is I still really wanted recovery.”

Sarah remembers trying to be as engaged in life as much as she could, while still in a place of quasi-recovery. She kept herself afloat by using all her supports, like seeing a doctor, dietitian and counsellor regularly, to remind herself of what she wanted.

In the summer of 2011, she decided to take a huge leap out of her comfort zone and take a job teaching English at a camp in Spain. At first Sarah says it was terrible. Her Eating Disorder was raging, and her other mental illnesses rose to the surface. “I was not in a good place at all,” she remembers.

She saw a doctor, talked to her boss and her father was even ready to get on a plane and take her home. But Sarah knew that wasn’t what she wanted. “It was sink or swim,” she says. “I knew I could continue down this path or I could choose something different because I knew if I came back to Canada it would be just terrible. I knew I would be so disappointed my myself and it would further reinforce the Eating Disorder place in my head that I’m not worthy and I can’t do things and I’m going to be sick my whole life.”

So Sarah swam. She leaned into the structure of the camp and ate the food that was placed in front of her at every meal. “I had a hard time but then I got into a stride of just not even focusing on the food kind of thing, focusing on the other stuff and that just kind of flew by,” she says.

The momentum that she picked up in Spain didn’t waiver when she got back to Canada. She had a renewed sense of confidence and the feeling that she could rely on herself to make the right decisions when things got tough. “That was really important for me. Even though it was so uncomfortable to rely on myself and my own choices I realized I can get through things without anybody,” she says. “It gave me a good sense of myself.”

Sarah continued on with recovery while finishing a degree in microbiology at Guelph University. She also started speaking publicly about her experience with an Eating Disorder which helped her make peace with her past while also giving her motivation to continue on with recovery.

Sarah says she attributes her recovery to the small choices she made every day that pushed her towards the freedom she now has around food. Meeting her husband was another turning point for her as she was able to make the decision to prioritize her relationship with him over the Eating Disorder. “I was taking ownership of my recovery but asking for support when I needed it,” she says. “Life had already really opened up and so life essentially become more important than the restriction and the rules and the body image.”

Sarah now lives in Guelph with her husband and two children. While she sometimes still hears the Eating Disorder voice in the background, it is largely drowned out by the “Sarah” voice that she has worked extremely hard to strengthen. “I’ve learned to listen to my body about what my body wants,” she says. “That’s such a better relationship than following all the rules and everything.”

If she could give advice to someone who is in quasi-recovery, it’s not to stop half-way. “[Full recovery] is possible, but you have to take steps,” she says. “When you’re given opportunities to step outside your comfort zone, take them and try and take steps every day to make your life worth living because if you do that then eventually your life might be just more important than your Eating Disorder.”

Recovery is possible.2021-01-19T20:32:02-05:00

Holidays and Eating Disorders

Holidays can be a tricky time for many people with Eating Disorders.

I know for me Christmas when I was 16 was the time when my family really noticed something was wrong. My grandmother used to do all this wonderful baking, shortbread cookies, mince meat tarts (very British), lemon curd and rum balls were some of our family favourites (still are). I love pastry and as strange as it may sound to some, my grandmother would often bake up the extra and save it especially for me. She has told me since then that she knew something was wrong when my extra special piece of pastry went uneaten for the first time in history.

For a long time, Christmas was stressful. I desperately wanted to join in on the festivities; but was also petrified of all the food. When I met my husband and started going to his family’s Christmas dinners, I found them chaotic and difficult. I tried to act normally while still calculating every morsel of food that I ate, often still feeling incredibly guilty after the holiday meal. Last year I celebrated with both my family and my husband’s family, which meant four holiday meals (Christmas Eve and Christmas Day x2) and even though I consider myself to be farther along in recovery than I have ever been I still found that challenging. Eating Disorders thrive in isolation and rigidity and the holidays are all about connection, flexibility and celebrating by straying from your normal routine. These things can be hard to reconcile for anyone struggling with an Eating Disorder, no matter how far along they are in their recovery journey.

My experience is with Christmas, but I know there are holidays in other faiths that can also put a huge strain on those with Eating Disorders. Chanukah, like many Jewish holidays, is celebrated with food. Although it differs from many other holidays in the Jewish faith in that there aren’t any set rituals around food, the types of foods eaten can be challenging for people with Eating Disorders. Jewish people celebrate Chanukah to commemorate a miracle of oil lasting eight days longer than expected, so it is traditionally celebrated with fried foods like latkes and jelly doughnuts.

Jewish dietitian, Bracha Kopstick says eating theses foods can become even for challenging for people with Eating Disorders because of the comments made around the Chanukah table. People often comment on how unhealthy these foods are and how much weight they are going to gain over the holiday. Recipe developers make up “less guilty” and “low-carb” versions of traditional foods, while others say enjoy the holiday and “make up for it” afterwards. “Parties and get togethers can be quite toxic with diet talk fueled by belief of these ‘bad’ foods, while simultaneously eating them to celebrate the holiday,” Bracha says.

Many western holidays like Christmas and Chanukah are triggering for people with Eating Disorders because of the abundance of food and diet talk. However, holidays that involve periods of restrictive eating can be just as triggering for people with Eating Disorders. Ramadan is the most sacred time of year for those of the Islamic faith, observed according to the lunar calendar at a different time each year. Muslims observe Ramadan by fasting during the daylight hours for an entire month, to remember the month that their holy book, the Qur’an, was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad.

Researchers have studied that affect of Ramadan fasting on the presence of disordered eating behaviours and the development of Eating Disorders. A study in the International Journal of Eating Disorders found the monthlong fasting caused an increase in adolescent hospitalizations during or shortly after Ramadan. Of those admitted 50 per cent were diagnosed with an Eating Disorder.

The results of the study confirm that this drastic change in eating patterns might trigger the development of Eating Disorders in already vulnerable populations, and/or exacerbated symptoms of a pre-existing Eating Disorder.

Holidays in any culture or religion are difficult for those with Eating Disorders. If you or a loved one is struggling don’t be afraid to reach out. The National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) website is a great resource for those looking for help in Canada. www.nedic.ca

Holidays and Eating Disorders2020-12-17T10:52:35-05:00

Hand Knit Hope gives back

NIED is giving back to the wider community this holiday season and beyond through their Hand Knit Hope initiative.

Hand Knit Hope was started by one of NIED’s early volunteers, Alex, who realized the therapeutic nature of knitting and crocheting through her own Eating Disorder treatment in Toronto. “I started the program because I was inspired by the women I met in treatment,” she says. “We starting knitting in the kitchen together after mealtimes and gifting finished items to new patients coming into the program.”

When Alex started volunteering with NIED she asked founder, Wendy Preskow if they could start the Hand Knit Hope program under the NIED umbrella. “She came up with a logo, created a website and started hosting circles of friends and family just to start knitting or crocheting,” Wendy says. Over the years people ages 6 to 90 have been involved in the program.

The ultimate goal was to donate finished items to people in treatment centres, support groups and anyone on their recovery journey who needed a bit of warmth and love on their path to wellness. The initiative has only grown from there with Wendy and some of her friends and family members knitting hundreds of items a year. The Hand Knit Hope program also expanded into doctors’ and dentists’ offices, with Wendy leaving a knitting basket in waiting rooms, encouraging patients to knit a row while waiting for their appointment. “When we were hosting in-person symposiums we would also speak about our little Hand Knit Hope project and I would take baskets of knitting needles and wool and give to it anybody there who wanted to take it to their doctor or dentist,” Wendy says.

Since the start of Hand Knit Hope Wendy has not stopped knitting and many of her family members and friends have also continued to be dedicated to the initiative. Up until 2019 Wendy was able to send loads of headbands, scarves, neck warmers, and even gloves to treatment centres and programs in Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, British Colombia and Quebec. “It’s amazing to see how the sentiment has grown Canada-wide with NIED,” Alex says.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on many Eating Disorder treatment programs across the country. Since the COVID-19 shut down Wendy and another friend of hers have made 100 items each; but they were having a hard time finding a place to send them with many programs closed down, operating virtually or at a limited capacity. “I was sitting with all this stuff and not knowing what to do with it because programs have shut, there are no more outpatient programs, and inpatient programs are collapsing,” she says. “Even in B.C. I spoke to the Looking Glass Foundation the other day and they can accommodate 14 clients in the residential program, however  because of COVID only  up to 6 in order to keep people apart. So then what?”

Fortunately, Wendy was able to reconnect with the Eating Disorder Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador where she sent another parcel of 60 items for them to distribute to the programs that were still running for people with Eating Disorders needing support in their province. Inspired by the season of giving Wendy decided to do something different with the rest of the Hand Knit Hope items and donate them to charities in need outside of the Eating Disorder recovery space. Through NIED’s Executive Director, Michelle D’Amico, she sent 20 items to an organization in Ottawa called Restoring Hope Ministries, which provides a safe space for street-engaged youth aged 16-25.

Wendy then donated over 135 items to Ve’ahavta, a Jewish humanitarian organization that gives food and clothing to homeless people in downtown Toronto. “I don’t want to stop doing do this just because programs are closed, because I just love doing it,” Wendy says. “This is our way of giving back.”

Wendy says Hand Knit Hope is an ongoing project and it is clear that COVID-19 will not stop her or any of the other dedicated volunteers. “As long as I, and a handful of others can continue and create it will not stop,” she says.

If you’re interested in participating, or are in need of a warm comfortable item contact wendy@nied.ca.

Hand Knit Hope gives back2020-12-12T08:03:13-05:00

“It affects everyone” – Highlighting male Eating Disorders throughout Movember

Movember is a worldwide initiative to raise awareness for men’s health which is run throughout the month of November every year. Many men all across the globe grow mustaches to raise awareness for men’s health issues such as prostate cancer, testicular cancer and men’s suicide.

This Movember NIED would like to shed some light on another men’s health issue that isn’t widely discussed. Eating Disorders have historically been labelled as a young women’s disease and the idea that men can be just as affected by these deadly disorders is something that is only now making into the mainstream. The National Eating Disorders Organization (NEDA) states that 1 in 3 people struggling with an Eating Disorder is male, but due in large part to cultural bias, they are much less likely to seek treatment. In a recent BBC documentary called “Living with Bulimia” famous cricket player, Freddie Flintoff, shares his experience with an Eating Disorder, which he kept hidden from his family, friends, and the world for decades.

Chris Vallee knows the stigma attached to being a man with an Eating Disorder all too well and is glad that male Eating Disorders are now being discussed more in the media. Chris was only 12 years old when he developed Anorexia Nervosa. He was a shy and anxious child which he believes contributed to the development of his Eating Disorder. That, and the stress of moving from elementary school to high school and the realization of the different societal norms that were at play as he got older, which included pressures around weight and judgement about food. “There wasn’t one specific cause of it,” he says. “It was just a multitude of things combined. But the ultimate goal, obviously, was to gain happiness by losing weight.”

Chris was first admitted for treatment when he was 12 and cycled in and out of hospital and treatment programs until he was 18. He says that up until he was about 16 or 17, he definitely felt the stigma of being a boy with an Eating Disorder, and he kept it hidden from most people. “That was extremely challenging until I was mature enough to know that no matter what gender you are, you can be affected by anything in life,” he says.

While Chris says he couldn’t always relate to all the girls he met in treatment as an adolescent, he does believe that many of the things that trigger an Eating Disorder, like depression, anxiety and societal pressures, are the same for men and women. “It’s just like depression,” he says. “The Eating Disorder sort of gets triggered by different things as well. So, whether you are a man, woman, non-binary or whatever you identify as, it affects everyone.”

He also believes that the idea of Eating Disorders being a feminine illness is detrimental to men who are suffering. Chris identifies as a gay man; but emphasizes that there are many straight men that struggle with Eating Disorders as well. “I know someone who I was in treatment with and he is doing great. He has a girlfriend, and he is very proud; but he struggled with that a lot,” he says.

Chris believes that male Eating Disorders are more prevalent than most people realize. Today’s unrealistic beauty standards don’t just touch women. There are many men out there that manipulate food and their body to try and achieve what society dictates as ideal. “I think people need to start looking around them and see that there are tons of guys who are very obsessed with the way they look,” he says. “It’s not just girls who buy full length mirrors and pose and stuff. Guys are the exact same.”

Chris says acceptance is key for any boy or man who is finding themselves struggling with food. Eating Disorders are hard enough to deal with on their own, without the added stress of fighting a diagnosis because it is a “girl’s disease.” Everyone deserves the same access to non-judgemental support and treatment, no matter their gender.

Chris has now been recovered for 3.5 years and is a mentor at Hopewell in Ottawa. He credits his recovery to his great treatment team and his very supportive family. He is adamant that everyone should find a support system in recovery, whether that be paid professionals, family or friends. “It’s really, really hard to do it on your own,” he says. “You need someone as a backbone, or someone to talk to.” He also found a lot of motivation in his friendships, hobbies and career aspirations and goals. He definitely remembers a time when he thought he would never recover; but now he believes that full recovery is possible for anyone. “There are many people out there who have fully recovered and just know that it won’t be a perfect journey and there will be slip ups here and there,” he says. “The ultimate goal is to know it is possible and to try your hardest to get there.”  For more information and resources for support check out www.nedic.ca

“It affects everyone” – Highlighting male Eating Disorders throughout Movember2020-11-23T09:09:34-05:00

5 reasons why caregivers are real-life heroes

Caregivers are so important. For many, including people with Eating Disorders, having someone to lean on for support means the difference between life and death. Caregivers are hard working, selfless, brave and unwaveringly kind. That is why, on World Kindness Day we are outlining 5 reasons why caregivers are real-life heroes.

No task is too much

For caregivers no job is too difficult or mundane. Whether it be helping a loved one with grocery shopping or sitting with them as they complete their first full meal in months, caregivers are always there to provide resolute support. Some people with Eating Disorders have a hard time expressing their gratitude, especially if they are deep in the throws of their disorder; but caregivers continue to show up no matter how difficult it was the day before. This takes immense strength, bravery and perseverance. They know that the person in their care is suffering and they are willing to do whatever it takes to help them get through the day, and hopefully further towards recovery.

They provide emotional support

Caregivers are often the first line of defense when it comes to their loved one’s emotional needs. They are there to comfort and support when times are tough and provide encouragement when motivation wavers. They often act as a strong, steady force, ready to take on whatever the Eating Disorder throws at them. Many people with Eating Disorders have deep emotional needs and caregivers often have to learn how to address them, while remaining a constant reminder of recovery. It can be a steep learning curve; but one that caregivers remain committed to time and time again, showing their strength and tenacity in the face of hardship.

They become experts in medical care

Eating Disorders can come with many medical complications, many of which are life threatening. Caregivers often become experts in their loved one’s medical care, especially if they are unable to make sound decisions for themselves. Learning how to talk to doctors and address the medical issues that can arise from an Eating Disorder is like learning a new language. Yet caregivers take it on in stride knowing that being educated is the best way they can help the person in their care.

They take care of business

While caregivers provide lots of emotional support, they also keep things organized and on track. They maintain eating schedules to ensure their loved one is getting everything they need at each meal and snack. They often help handle daily living tasks like cleaning, putting garbage out and grocery shopping. These tasks can be difficult to do for some people with mental illness and caregivers are always there to help take some of that burden away.

They are unwavering advocates

Caregivers are the most dedicated advocates. They make phones calls, send emails and even knock on doors to get their loved one the help they need. They are their voice when they can’t advocate for themselves. And that…right there is priceless.

Caregivers truly are heroes; but sometimes they need support too. If you are a caregiver who is giving everything you have to support someone with an Eating Disorder, don’t be afraid to reach out. Check out F.E.A.S.T (www.feast-ed.org) or NEDIC (www.nedic.ca) for resources on how to help your loved one and to also get support for yourself.

5 reasons why caregivers are real-life heroes2020-11-13T15:18:45-05:00

Introducing NIED’s Educational Programs!

Over the past eight years NIED has been committed to helping to disseminate quality information about Eating Disorders to caregivers, healthcare professionals and those with lived experience. NIED’s educational efforts began with symposia, which touched on everything from Eating Disorder signs, symptoms and treatment modalities, to putting a spotlight on Eating Disorders in underrepresented groups. Over the past few years, the symposia have also been broadcast online, reaching people affected by Eating Disorders all over the world. “We’ve heard so much amazing life changing impact from individuals about what it’s meant to them being able to participate in a number of these symposia either as participants, in terms of audience, but also in terms of co-presenters as well,” says NIED Chairman Mark Ferdinand. “We received feedback from people in the Middle East and Japan with regard to these symposia with people asking for support.”

Through the symposia and other outreach efforts, including a caregiver survey done in 2018, NIED has now consulted with over 10,000 people looking for help, support and guidance related to addressing Eating Disorders. Through this engagement NIED has learned that there are many ways that Canada can do better in supporting recovery within our healthcare system. With the groundwork created by our symposia, and a recent partnership with Body Brave, NIED has committed to creating several educational programs meant to help bolster the treatment of Eating Disorders across the country.

NIED Communication

Through this engagement with so many people with Eating Disorders and their caregivers, NIED has found that negative interactions with healthcare professionals is a key barrier for many getting the help they need. NIED Communications is meant to not only teach primary care providers what to say when talking to someone with an Eating Disorder but also how to say it in a way that will support recovery. So many resources and standards explain ‘what to do’ to support better communication or collaboration in care, but few, if any, resources clearly explain ‘how to effectively implement these standards’ in different settings, with different people and in different situations.  Learning how to apply various communication and collaboration skills during very different, individual recovery journeys takes patience, good training and adaptability.

Conversely, NIED Communications will also focus on helping those with Eating Disorders navigate the healthcare system while teaching them things like what to do when meeting a care provider for the first time and how to navigate transitioning between different levels of care. “We’re really focused this year on improving people’s ability to communicate in a much more empathic way with people seeking care, as well as with their caregivers and other professionals,” Ferdinand says.

NIED Collaboration

Given that Eating Disorders are a mental illness that can also affect every organ of the body, it is very important that various healthcare specialities know how to work together. This also includes caregivers and people with Eating Disorders themselves, both of whom play an integral role in the recovery process. “Having an ability to collaborate effectively is associated with higher chances of recovery and improves well-being,” Ferdinand says. NIED Collaboration is focused on teaching key skills and approaches that help establish and maintain a productive therapeutic alliance between care providers, individuals and their caregivers.

NIED Connections

When it comes to helping those with Eating Disorders, Canada’s healthcare system is disjointed at best. Many primary care providers face challenges in referring patients to specialists or further treatment, and even then, the wait times are often months long. This is why NIED Connections is focused on helping people learn how to navigate health and social services to get effective, evidence-based and evidence-informed care and support. This includes things like: what to do/how to cope when waiting for a specialist appointment or higher level of care and what to do when navigating health care, social services and community care and how to do it. “We know that not everyone’s recovery journey is the same and so people require different types of supports and different types of relationships, potentially across different providers,” Ferdinand says. “Helping people better connect with the right levels of care and support is extremely important to us.”

NIED Quality

Inspired by feedback that NIED has received regarding experiences with care from people with Eating Disorders, caregivers, professionals and providers over the past 4 years, NIED is committed to preparing a set of guidelines meant to standardize the quality of care for people with Eating Disorders across the County.  “NIED Quality is about improving programs and services for people affected by Eating Disorders so that’s more of a system level and possibly an organizational level type focus,” Ferdinand says. “We know it’s going to take that many more stakeholders and collaboration in order to establish what we think is needed in Canada, which is higher quality standards of care for people with Eating Disorders.” NIED will begin engaging with stakeholders in 2021 to create Quality Eating Disorders Care and Support Standards for Canada, which will then form the NIED Quality programming in late 2021.

NIED Communication, NIED Collaboration and NIED Connections will be disseminated in both informational materials and online courses aimed at healthcare professionals, caregivers and people with Eating Disorders. Download our new fact sheets based on these three initiatives here.

Introducing NIED’s Educational Programs!2020-11-11T10:47:08-05:00

3 important signs your loved one is developing an Eating Disorder

Eating Disorders are extremely hard to detect. With many different diagnoses including Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, Orthorexia, Otherwise Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder (OSFED) and Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID), there are a variety of signs and symptoms which might signal that someone is starting to struggle with an Eating Disorder. This can make them particularly hard to diagnose, especially in a world that is rife with diet culture.

For parents and caregivers this can be extremely unnerving. Looking back at the start of my Eating Disorder there were definitely some indicators early on that I was developing an unhealthy relationship with food. My experience is with Anorexia, although I did develop some bulimic behaviours over the course of my Eating Disorder. That being said, from my experience to onset of many Eating Disorders is quite similar, no matter what the diagnosis ends up being. Here are some of the signs I wish my family had been aware of when I was a teen developing an Eating Disorder.

Food obsession 

This is an easy one to fly under the radar. I come from a family that enjoys food, so it wasn’t odd for us to be talking about what we were going to make for dinner at breakfast time. However, when I was first developing Anorexia, the food obsession was incessant. I got much more interested in cooking for the family and my sister, who also developed an Eating Disorder, even decided she wanted to become a chef and asked for cookbooks for Christmas. The food obsession thing is tricky. There are many people that have a healthy relationship with food who find a passion for cooking. But I would say that if your teen or someone in your family suddenly seems to become obsessed with food, when they weren’t as interested in it before, it is a cause for concern.

Food control

Not only did I become obsessed with food, I became extremely inflexible with it as well. I stopped letting my parents make my meals, except for dinner. Dinner was the holy grail of my day and if plans changed at all I would get extremely upset. I remember one time throwing a tantrum because my Dad decided to make something different than the tofu stir fry I was expecting. This type of inflexibility is a common sign of an Eating Disorder and can manifest in many forms. Maybe, like me, your loved one is suddenly the only one who can prepare their meals; or they get extremely upset about any changes of plan surrounding food. Others may be more deliberate in their choices, like suddenly becoming a vegan out of the blue. Any significant change in diet; or change in the way someone interacts with food can be an important early sign of an Eating Disorder and should be addressed.

ANY weight changes

This may seem like an obvious one; but if someone isn’t aware that it may be an early sign of an Eating Disorder, this one can also go unaddressed. When I was first developing my Eating Disorder I lost some weight; but because my family was going through a difficult time with my sister I chalked it up to stress. My parents, friends, family and even my doctor seemed to accept this excuse and only caught on to the fact that I was struggling with food when I continued to lose weight, despite being told I needed to eat more. As someone who was in a naturally smaller body to begin with, it didn’t take much for me to enter into the underweight category; but for many who suffer with Anorexia, they are never clinically underweight. People developing Bulimia or Binge Eating Disorder may even gain weight as a result of their issues with food. This is why ANY change in weight should be considered a possible symptom of an Eating Disorder and should not be overlooked.

This is only scratching the surface of the possible Eating Disorder signs and symptoms and is largely based on my own experience as someone who developed Anorexia in my teens. For a more exhaustive list of Eating Disorder signs and symptoms for all of the diagnoses check out this list on the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) – https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/warning-signs-and-symptoms. If you want to talk to someone who has been there – check out FEAST at https://www.feast-ed.org/i-need-help/.

3 important signs your loved one is developing an Eating Disorder2020-10-29T10:31:18-04:00

What is intuitive eating – how to know when you are ready

Intuitive eating has become a bit of a buzz word in health and wellness community over the past few years. Many people believe that it is as simple as eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full, but this is only one piece of  more complex puzzle that makes up the practice of intuitive eating.

Coined by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, intuitive eating is a ten-principle mind-body self-care eating framework. It takes into consideration nutrition as well as the emotional and social aspects of eating to help people make peace with food and live a healthier, happier life. These principles include:

  • Reject the diet mentality
  • Honour your hunger
  • Make peace with food
  • challenge the food police,
  • Discover the satisfaction factor
  • Feel your fullness
  • Cope with your emotions with kindness
  • Respect your body
  • Movement – feel the difference
  • Honour your health with gentle nutrition

As a dietitian who specializes in Eating Disorders, Dina Skaff believes that many of the principles of intuitive eating can be very helpful for those in recovery. She sees it as an important framework for making peace with food and body. “It’s that framework that really allows us to become in tune with our body signals and cues in order to fill our biological and psychological needs,” she says. “It also helps us identify external obstacles from being able to nourish ourselves intuitively.”

For people in recovery these obstacles can be the Eating Disorder itself but also diet culture which is everywhere in our society. Dina says sometimes diet culture can event coopt intuitive eating into a new diet that solely focuses on hunger and fullness cues and doesn’t take into account all of the other aspects of the process. “True intuitive eating is a weight inclusive health at every size approach,” she says. “It’s really about giving yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods in you’re here and now body. Not with the intention to change your body or your weight.”

One of the key principles of intuitive eating is not seeing any food as “good” or “bad.” Dina says that some people in recovery from an Eating Disorder they may find that they are craving the foods that they previously deemed off limits. This is a completely normal part of the process and it doesn’t need to be judged or scrutinized. Mental health plays a huge role in physical health and for many people eating a chocolate bar may be much healthier in the log run than another apple or handful of carrots. Following the rules of an Eating Disorder takes up a lot of mental energy which can in turn heighten anxiety and stress levels.  “When we start to remove these [rules] and recognize that these obstacles are there, then we can start to remove the walls and the kind of rigidity that can happen with either following a diet or the rules of an Eating Disorder and allow that unconditional permission to eat,” she says. “Foods don’t hold a moral value. It may temporarily increase anxiety; but it actually opens up that mental space for more peace around food.”

Dina says it is important to note that for many people in recovery the “feeling your fullness” aspect of intuitive eating can be quite difficult, and it can be important to rely on a more structured way of eating at the beginning to get hunger and fullness cues on track. “It is self care to be incorporating that type of a structure when you need it,” she says. That doesn’t mean however, that you can’t implement other aspects of intuitive eating into your life like “rejecting the diet mentality” or “challenging the food police”. “There may be bits and pieces throughout the journey where you would be incorporating bits of intuitive eating without even really noticing it,” she says.

Dina is adamant that if someone with an Eating Disorder is thinking about experimenting with intuitive eating, they should always consult with a professional to make sure they are medically stable and getting the nutrition their body needs. Intuitive eating is an extremely personal journey and really diving into it requires a lot of self awareness in terms of bodily cues and the Eating Disorder voice. She stresses that some people with Eating Disorders may always need some sort of structured plan to safeguard their recovery. “Some people may be able to eventually move completely away from a meal plan and tap into their internal cues, but if there are others who can’t that’s OK,” she says. “I think there might be a lot of pressure in the Eating Disorder community in hearing about intuitive eating that it is the end goal of recovery and it is important to note that it is really individual.”

If you want to learn more about intuitive eating there is more information at www.intuitiveeating.org about each of the ten principles. Remember that everyone is on their own journey and it is important to take what will serve you and leave the rest. Intuitive eating can be a great way to make peace with food and your body; but nothing can replace the advice of a professional who knows your unique case. Check out the NEDIC website to find a service provider in your area.

What is intuitive eating – how to know when you are ready2020-10-13T21:35:05-04:00

Shine a light on Eating Disorders during Mental Illness Awareness Week

It’s Mental Illness Awareness Week in Canada. Established in 1992 by the Canadian Psychiatric Association, it is a national public campaign meant to help open the eyes of Canadians to the realities of mental illness.

During Mental Illness Awareness Week, it would be remiss not to highlight the significant impact that Eating Disorders have on approximately one million people (Stats Canada 2016) across the country. Eating Disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. It is estimated that 10-15% of individuals with Anorexia Nervosa will die within 10 years of the onset of the disorder.

Twenty percent of people with Anorexia and 25-35 per cent of people with Bulimia Nervosa may attempt suicide in their lifetime. For females age 15-24, the mortality rate associated with Anorexia is 12 times greater than all other causes of death combined.

These statistics are frightening to be sure, but they are just statistics. They highlight the seriousness and prevalence of Eating Disorders but do little to show the significant and lifelong impacts they can have on both the sufferer and their friends and loved ones, even more so now with the isolation and lack of face-to-face support because of COVID 19.  Throughout my many years of treatment I have met people who have lost jobs, relationships and even their freedom as a result of their Eating Disorders. The effect of Eating Disorders on a person’s physical body can cause irreversible damage, leading to lifelong medical issues and, as mentioned, death. This really hit home for me last year when three people whom I met through my journey in treatment died from the effects of their Eating Disorder within a few months. I already knew the statistics; but it can be hard to face the reality until a person who you once sat next to waiting for an appointment suddenly isn’t there anymore.

Eating Disorders are extremely complex as many people with Eating Disorders also suffer from other types of mental illnesses including Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, addiction and more. I have never met someone who didn’t have some underlying mental illness that played a role in the development their Eating Disorder, disproving the myth that Eating Disorders are just about being thin. Although Eating Disorders can be triggered by diet culture and a desire to lose weight, they are much more complex and need to be treated by a multidisciplinary team that can look after both the physical affects of the Disorder, as well as the underlying issues that drive a person’s desire to manipulate food and their body. This makes Eating Disorders notoriously difficult to treat as there often needs to be a period of nutritional rehabilitation before a professional can even attempt to help the person with the Eating Disorder cope with any other mental illnesses. In fact, intensive inpatient treatment, which may help save someone’s life in the short term, often ends with nutritional rehabilitation without even scratching the surface of the underlying issues that caused the Eating Disorder in the first place. This can set the stage for relapse and can cause a “revolving door” effect that is common in many treatment programs across the country.

Eating Disorders can affect anyone, no matter their race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or socio-economic background. The statistic is that one million people in Canada are suffering from an Eating Disorder right now; but I would argue that that number is low. I believe there are many people in Canada that have Eating Disorders that have not been diagnosed, as symptoms can often fly under the radar, especially with how pervasive diet culture is in our society. Most people have had a brush with some type of disordered eating in their lifetime, whether it turned into a diagnosed Eating Disorder or not.

Eating Disorders are not a phase, a diet, choice or a lifestyle. They are serious mental illnesses that need highly qualified professionals to treat. They are deadly and need to be addressed and taken seriously. Not just during Mental Illness Awareness Week, but every day.

Shine a light on Eating Disorders during Mental Illness Awareness Week2020-10-05T22:38:51-04:00

Save the date for Body Peace 2020!

Revolutionizing Recovery. That is the focus of this year’s virtual Body Peace conference coming in November.

Body Peace is a first-of-its-kind international virtual body image and Eating Disorders conference. In its second year, Body Peace creates a space where people can gather and learn about Eating Disorders and recovery through engrossing keynotes, knowledgeable speakers, accredited trainings and pertinent panel discussions. The conference is unique in that it brings together Eating Disorder survivors, caregivers and medical professionals in a supportive atmosphere where they can not only learn from the conference materials, but also from each other.

This year’s theme ‘Revolutionizing Recovery’ will highlight the vast array of experiences people with Eating Disorders have dealt with on their recovery journey. Participants will hear from those representing the Black, LGBTQ+, indigenous, fat acceptance and disabled communities, all of whom have very different perceptions when it comes to Eating Disorders and recovery. Body Peace also aims to review the mistakes different treatment modalities and professionals have made in the past, and how healthcare systems across the globe can  actively advance in a way that is more supportive and inclusive of all people needing support.

This year Body Peace will also be offering accredited trainings for family physicians, dietitians and psychotherapists who want to learn more about how they can support people with Eating Disorders in their practice. For caregivers there will be an opportunity to attend a training focused on Emotion Focused Family Therapy (EFFT) which will help them both practically and emotionally support their loved one’s needs in recovery.

Body Peace 2020 will be held on November 19 and 20 over Zoom.  It is open to anyone who is interested in learning more about Eating Disorders and is a non-profit event organized by charitable organization Body Brave, and with support from NIED, Eating Disorders Nova Scotia and Bridgepoint Centre for Eating Disorders in Saskatchewan. All proceeds from the conference go towards life-saving treatment to those affected by Eating Disorders. Registration is offered on a sliding scale, and group rates are also available.

To register and learn more about the jam-packed schedule and thought-provoking speakers visit the Body Peace conference website.

Save the date for Body Peace 2020!2020-10-05T20:51:46-04:00
Go to Top