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.
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 TrainingHilary Thomson2021-03-16T22:17:17-04:00
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 recoveryHilary Thomson2021-03-05T13:07:51-05:00
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 spacesHilary Thomson2021-02-16T21:28:40-05:00
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 WaitedHilary Thomson2021-03-03T20:19:04-05:00
The year was 1986. Around 40 people gathered from all over the United States, Canada and the UK to talk about organizing an international Eating Disorders Awareness Week (EDAW). NIED Co-founder Patti Perry was at that meeting along with three other Canadians, Dick and Mary Moriarty, who would go on to found the Bulimia Anorexia Nervosa Association (BANA), and the first Executive Director of the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC),. “The idea was to increase awareness, to identify people who were struggling and to look at the needs of individuals in terms of treatment, because in 1986 there wasn’t a whole lot going on [in the Eating Disorder community], or people were just getting started,” Patti remembers.
At the meeting it was decided that attendees would go back to their cities, states and provinces to push to get EDAW recognized. Unfortunately, they found that getting even a day declared as EDAW was not as easy as they had hoped. “In 1986 it really wasn’t simple at all,” Patti says.
In 1988 NEDIC became the national coordinator for EDAW and various Eating Disorder advocacy groups, professionals and treatment centres in Canada started recognizing it yearly during the first week in February. Through the advocacy of NEDIC and other groups across the country EDAW slowly started to be officially recognized by municipalities, provinces and territories across the country. The Yukon, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland & Labrador, and most recently Ontario have all proclaimed EDAW.
Suzanne Phillips of NEDIC says it was an almost six-year journey to get EDAW proclaimed in Canada’s largest province, Ontario. The first thing they focused on was creating set dates nationally for EDAW, because previously they were floating dates starting on the first Sunday in February. “We had to build a case with everyone across the country to say look, we’ll have an easier time getting something [proclaimed] federally, provincially, if we can have set dates for EDAW,” Suzanne says. “We got everybody on board with that, so that was the first hurdle that we passed.”
In July 2015 both NEDIC and NIED started writing letters to MPPs and getting letters of support for the proclamation in Ontario. “It was a lot of calls, a lot of emails building up the number of people in Ontario and other community groups to also get on board with posing this ask,” Suzanne says.
Co-founders of NIED, Wendy Preskow and Lynne Koss, met with many MPPs to try and get them to take on the proclamation of EDAW as a private members bill. Although meetings went well, it seemed like all the MPPs had other priorities and EDAW never made it to the house. “It was very hard to find an MPP who did not already have a private member’s bill in the works,” Wendy says.
In 2018 Jill Andrew was elected to provincial parliament. Jill had been a long-time supporter of NEDIC and is the Co-founder of Body Confidence Canada, an organization that advocates for equitable and inclusive images, messages, practices and policies supporting body diversity. In 2018 Jill first championed Bill 61, to get EDAW proclaimed officially in Ontario, however it didn’t make it through the house. “There was that disappointment of getting things so far and then having what felt like a bit of a step back,” Suzanne remembers.
However, Jill didn’t give up. She brought Bill 61 back to parliament in 2020 and it passed unanimously across party lines on December 3, 2020, almost 35 years after the first meeting in Baltimore. “I believed EDAW would help bring attention to the diversity of people who experience Eating Disorders, including Black, and racialized women and girls, queer people, transgender people, disabled people and fat people,” Jill said in a press release after Bill 61 received Royal assent on December 8, 2020. “It will promote the ongoing need for culturally responsive resources for the treatment and prevention of Eating Disorders.”
Both Wendy and Suzanne agree that the proclamation of EDAW in Ontario from February 1-7 every year was a fantastic moment for Eating Disorder advocacy in the province. “It felt like everybody’s hard work was recognized.” Suzanne says. “It felt like individuals who are impacted by Eating Disorders had what they rightfully deserve, which is recognition. It’s a first step, and I think it was a very necessary good first step to give us the energy to keep going.”
For more information and/or support visit www.nied.ca
The History of Eating Disorders Awareness Week (EDAW)Hilary Thomson2021-01-27T09:35:57-05:00
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.”
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
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 email@example.com.
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 MovemberHilary Thomson2020-11-23T09:09:34-05:00
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 heroesHilary Thomson2020-11-13T15:18:45-05:00