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.
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!Hilary Thomson2020-09-23T01:57:14-04:00
Recovery from an Eating Disorder is hard. It takes a lot of dedication, perseverance and, often, a team of professionals. This can typically include psychiatrists, psychologists, dietitians, nurses, social workers and even occupational therapists who all have a unique role to play in guiding a person on the road to recovery.
Many of these professionals work within the confines of scheduled appointments. While these appointments are integral, the vast majority of the recovery process happens in everyday life, beyond the four walls of a therapists of dietitian’s office. In fact, this is when many people in recovery need the most support. It is one thing to agree to a plan in a one hour scheduled appointment, but completely another to actual follow through with the stressors and pressures of everyday life.
In recent years a new field of Eating Disorder support professionals has opened up to fill that gap. Mia Findlay is an accredited Eating Disorder Recovery Coach based out of Sydney, Australia. She suffered with an Eating Disorder for six years before starting her recovery in 2013 and has now been fully recovered for six years. Findlay started off as an advocate, using her very successful YouTube channel called, What Mia Did Next, to raise awareness for Eating Disorders, speak out against diet culture and promote body neutrality and acceptance. Through her channel she also became an ambassador for Australia’s leading Eating Disorder charity, The Butterfly Foundation.
Findlay says that it was through her work with the Butterfly Foundation that she found her way into the recovery coaching field. After speaking on a panel, a couple of mental health professionals asked her if she worked in the recovery space for a living. At the time Findlay was working and finance and was finding her passion and drive in her advocacy work, never thinking that she would be able to make it a career. “They made me aware that coaching had opened up as a field, much like in sobriety and addiction treatment,” she says. “That’s been a really important part of that model for so long, and it’s only recently been adopted in Eating Disorder treatment.”
Findlay did some research, and, after doing some general coaching courses found the Carolyn Costin Institute coaching certification, which focused completely on training Eating Disorder coaches. “It was incredible, and I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to go into the coaching field,” she says. “I just loved the concept of it because it was using my lived experience for something really constructive.”
Findlay has now been running her business as a recovery coach, called Beyond Body (https://www.beyondbodycoach.com/), for 2.5 years. She says she often works within a treatment team, usually with a psychologist and/or dietitian. “I’m kind of like the last step in the chain,” she says. “[My clients] are given all this great direction and information and understanding of their eating disorder and we actually turn that into actionable goals.”
Findlay sees clients on a weekly basis where they make very specific and flexible goals to help them move forward on their path to recovery. For example, if a client is consistently pushing off eating breakfast in the morning, she will help them set a goal to have breakfast 40-60 minutes after they wake up in the morning and implement it 3-5 days in the week. “It’s really flexible. We want to get away from that black or white thinking and that perfectionistic type of goal setting,” she says. “It’s more about trying to learn and get data out of how their eating disorder responds when we set these goals and we’re working on them.”
Findlay also encourages her clients to reach out to her via email of WhatsApp if they are having a hard time between sessions. “We’re strategizing in real time when difficulties pop up,” she says. For clients she sees in person, she also helps with things like grocery shopping, clothes shopping, going out to meals and cooking at home. “We’re trying to help them recover in the real world,” she says. “It’s really working on their resilience and helping them see that they can survive things that feel impossible to do.”
Findlay’s approach is very specific to each of her clients, who often have very different needs. Some may need to work on things like calorie counting and getting off the scales, while others may be struggling more with their relationship with exercise and movement. “There’s not like a formula or a set program or anything,” she says, noting that she does use the 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder by Carolyn Costin with all her clients.
As beneficial as recovery coaching can be Findlay admits that they whole coaching field can be a little bit of the “Wild West” because it is not a protected title like other healthcare professionals. Firstly, she would recommend people make sure that any coach they hire is actually fully recovered. “I even had one yesterday sent to me who is actively recovering and also coaching, which I just don’t think is a responsible avenue to take,” she says. “It’s really important that you are able to demonstrate what [your clients] are aiming for.”
From Findlay’s perspective another important thing to look for in a recovery coach is proper accreditation. She says there is a huge difference between having a general coaching certification and one that is specific to Eating Disorders. “The difference in your preparedness, quality of your coaching and yourself as a professional is just worlds apart,” she says.
Findlay says being able to use her lived experience to help others with Eating Disorders is one of the most rewarding things about being a recovery coach. “The fact that I am able to help other people out of the same trap feels almost like a big middle finger to my Eating Disorder,” she says. “To have connection and purpose come out of that is incredible.”
Like many recovery coaches Findlay works with people all over the world. Sarah Rzemieniak (https://sarahrzemieniak.com/) is another Carolyn Costin Institute-certified Eating Disorder recovery coach, based out of Vancouver, Canada who also works with clients worldwide. Meg McCabe (http://www.meg-mccabe.com) is another a Carolyn Costin-trained Eating Disorder recovery coach, based out of Denver, Colorado.
Recovery coaching is still an up and coming field but if you are looking for a coach be sure to check out Findlay, Rzemieniak or McCabe’s websites for more information about what they offer.
What is an Eating Disorder Recovery Coach?Hilary Thomson2020-09-23T01:38:07-04:00
It is no secret that Eating Disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. According to the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) website, a 2002 study showed that 10 per cent of individuals with Anorexia Nervosa will die within 10 years of the onset of the disorder.
Most people assume that this death rate has to do with all the physical ramifications of being extremely malnourished. However, suicide is actually the second cause of death among people with Eating Disorders, after cardiac arrest.
Sara L. was diagnosed with Anorexia when she was 14 years old and says that she has suffered with suicidal thoughts for as long as she has had her Eating Disorder. She says she first thought about suicide when she was feeling abandoned and alone in the hospital. As she got older, she found that her suicidal ideations became much more prevalent in response to an intense feeling of hopelessness about her Eating Disorder. “I was feeling like a huge burden and really stuck; like this was never going to get better,” she says. “And if it was never going to get better, I didn’t want to live that way.”
Sara attempted to take her own life on three separate occasions. She says a lot of what lead her to act on plans to end her life had to do with that intense sense hopelessness and feeling of being a burden on those around her. She also says the fact that her brain and body were severely malnourished played a role in exacerbating her depression and made ending her life seem like the only option.
Sara acknowledges the fact that it can be extremely difficult to help someone who is having suicidal thoughts. She says that even though she expressed how constant her suicidal ideations were, it was really hard for her support system to know when those thoughts were turning into an attempt to go through with ending her life. “There was a lot of secrecy when it came to actually going forward with that,” she says. “That was just the point that I was at and I wasn’t willing to accept help from anyone.”
Sara now has some distance from her suicide attempts and works in the mental health field. She says that while suicidality is hard to address, there are some warning signs and things that caregivers can do to help support and protect their loved ones. She says some of the most common things to watch out for are low mood, withdrawal, isolation and verbalization that they’re tired of dealing with their mental illness, are feeling hopeless or that life is pointless and meaningless.
Keep the dialogue open
Sara says it is very important to keep the dialogue open with the person who may be suffering with suicidal ideation. “Suicidal thoughts wax and wane and as long as that conversation is ongoing, they’re going to catch people when they are more willing to open up,” she says.
What helped for her is having someone who she knew she could talk to about her suicidal thoughts, without judgement. She found comfort in the fact that, when she was willing, she could reach out to her sister for support and know that she would listen, without telling her that she shouldn’t feel the way she was feeling. “I could even just say it out loud and have her offer suggestions as to what to do in that time, knowing that she would only offer empathy and not get mad at me for having those thoughts,” she says.
Don’t assume you understand
Sara also says she always advises people not to say they understand what the sufferer is going through. “You really absolutely have no idea what it is like for that person, regardless of whether you have experienced suicidal thoughts before,” she says. “When I hear that it’s very invalidating.”
Make sure they know you want to support them
In Sara’s experience it is also important to meet the person where they are at, while also telling them that you are there to help them get to a better place. “Having people, even if it becomes a broken record, tell you that you are not a burden,” she says. “Because that’s the trick of the mind where your depression or suicidal thoughts tell you that people would be better off without you when actually that is not the case.”
If you have a plan – wait
Sara says that if she could give any advice to someone having suicidal thoughts or making a plan to end their life it would be to postpone their actions and reach out if they can. “Those thoughts wax and wane and in 12 hours you might feel differently,” she says.
Suicide is not an easy thing to address and it is often veiled in a lot of secrecy. Whether you are someone suffering with suicidal ideation or a caregiver, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Counsellors at Crisis Services Canada are available 24 hours a day at 1-833-456-4566. Links to suicide crisis hotlines can also be found on the Open Counselling (https://www.opencounseling.com/hotlines-ca) and Teen Health and Wellness (https://teenhealthandwellness.com/static/hotlines) websites.
How to support a loved one who is struggling with suicideHilary Thomson2020-09-10T06:46:51-04:00
Body image is a huge issue for people with Eating Disorders, especially at this time of year. Nothing is more terrifying that spending the day at the beach in a bathing suit or wearing shorts and a tank top to a family BBQ when you are fighting against your body.
Sarah K. knows these anxieties all too well. For eight years she struggled with anorexia which led her to have a deep hatred of her body. What’s more is that for six of those years no one knew because she didn’t fit the typical image of anorexia. “Though my body was suffering as result of my behaviours, my body didn’t drop below the weight identified by the DSM-IV,” she says. She eventually reached out for help and was admitted to Homewood Health Centre for treatment. “Homewood saved my life,” she says.
Sarah is now in solid recovery and has created a very popular Instagram account (sar.thrives) where she talks about Eating Disorder recovery, body acceptance and self love. She hopes that being vulnerable on social media will keep other girls from living with a devastating Eating Disorder as long as she did. Here are the top five things that has helped Sarah in her journey to body acceptance.
Redefine your values
Sarah says that a big part of her recovery and body acceptance journey was identifying her values apart from her Eating Disorder. Her Eating Disorder made her believe that if she could make herself more appealing to look at, she would be more successful. Once she started aligning her actions to her true values, she saw that her body had nothing to do with living a fulfilling and happy life. “I started being successful and it had nothing to do with what I looked like,” she says.
Radical Acceptance and Self Compassion
Radical acceptance is a dialectical behaviour therapy tool that was essential in Sarah’s body acceptance journey. She says she had to radically accept what her body looked like and realize that most people struggle to an extent with body image. The key is to be compassionate with yourself. You don’t have to love your body all the time. In fact, that is unrealistic. Sarah recommends the work of self compassion guru Kristin Neff who wrote a book on the subject and also offers guided meditations, self compassion exercises and tips for practice on her website. “[Body] acceptance isn’t far off once you consistently practice these things,” Sarah says.
Dress for the weather
Sarah says her body acceptance journey started in treatment. She was there over the summer so she would purposefully wear summer attire like shorts, dresses and t-shirts to get herself used to dressing her body appropriately. She also says it was very important for her to wear clothes that felt comfortable, which meant not covering up her body in big sweaters that would make her hot and cause discomfort. “I challenged the notion of what I thought I couldn’t wear,” she remembers. “It catapulted me into a region where I feel more comfortable with my body and myself.”
Notice different bodies around you
Sarah says that for a large part of her Eating Disorder she only noticed people who were smaller than her. A useful exercise that she used in treatment was purposefully noticing everyone around her when she was in public. “I started to realize there is more than one body type,” she says.
Surrounding yourself with all different bodies is also important online. Make sure you are following a variety of people and unfollow those who make you feel bad. Be an active participant in your recovery and mute ads and people that don’t serve you. The more you fill up your feed with positive messages and body diversity the more you will be bolstering your own body acceptance journey.
Engage in life
Sarah says one of the key pieces of her body acceptance journey was not letting her bad body image stop her from engaging in life. No matter how hard it is, go to the beach, family BBQ or friend’s birthday. She says the more she engaged in life the less she thought about her body and the less important it became. “Go all in with body image. Do the opposite of what the ED wants you to do,” she says, “You can’t grow without discomfort and the more uncomfortable you feel the more growing you are doing.”
On July 8, 2020 the government of Manitoba announced an additional $1.1 million to fight Eating Disorders in the province. The funding will help reduce wait times for intensive treatment in Manitoba and ensure that more people with Eating Disorders in the province are able to access treatment closer to home.
This is a big win for Elaine Stevenson, who has been advocating for better treatment for Eating Disorders in Manitoba for the past 30 years. She began her career as an advocate when her daughter Alyssa was diagnosed with an Eating Disorder at only 12 years old. “It was a deeply personal need to find Eating Disorder treatment in Manitoba for our daughter,” she says. “And after talking to some parents it quickly became evident to me that the need was much much wider and stronger than just our own individual needs as a family.”
Stevenson has played an integral role in achieving several other big wins for Eating Disorder treatment in Manitoba, including the creation of the Child and Adolescent Eating Disorders Service at the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg in 2001, and the Provincial Eating Disorder Prevention and Recovery Program at the Women’s Health Clinic in Winnipeg in 2009. She was one of the founding members of the Eating Disorders Association of Manitoba and she served as their Vice President for seven years before she left to start the Alyssa Stevenson Eating Disorder Memorial Trust in memory of Alyssa who lost her battle with her Eating Disorder in 2002. “My husband and I really wanted to just concentrate on advocacy,” she says.
With a long career in advocacy under her belt Stevenson has a lot to share about how to advocate and raise awareness for Eating Disorders in Canada. Here are some of her key tips for being a sustainable and successful advocate.
Stevenson says the first step to becoming and advocate is to get educated. Stevenson had lots of first hand experience with Eating Disorders because of Alyssa, but has also relied heavily on the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) over the years to provide her with up to date information and statistics that she could use in letters and bring to meetings with elected officials. “If I asked for pertinent statistical information to back me up on a certain cause they were fabulous,” she says. She also makes an effort to keep on top of the news, current research and what it going on in Eating Disorder treatment across the country. “It’s keeping abreast of what’s happening and when it’s pertinent and it’s information that I can use I am going to take that to the key decision makers,” she says.
According to Stevenson one of the most important things to do if you want to be successful as an advocate is to align yourself with like-minded organizations and people. For Stevenson that was other Eating Disorder organizations like NIED, FEAST and The Looking Glass Foundation; but also, other groups and people that were supportive of women’s causes like the Provincial Council of Women and various cabinet ministers. She also made a point to get to know some of the Eating Disorder program coordinators and organizers in both Manitoba and the other provinces to get their perspective on things. “It’s so important to extend yourself,” she says. “I don’t have all the answers.”
Stevenson also loves to celebrate the wins of other Eating Disorder groups and organizations across the county. She was even in Toronto to support NIED when they announced the National Eating Disorder Strategy last year. “It’s that respect for what they’re doing and respect for what I’m doing,” she says. “You get all these people together across the country and what a powerful voice.”
Figure out who to talk to
Stevenson says that while it is important to get in front of ministers of health both provincially and federally, there are also other people that need to be on your radar. For her it’s getting her message across to senior healthcare staff who are the ones making recommendations to the ministers. “It’s important to make contact with the minister to establish yourself as an advocate for what your needs are,” she says. “But it’s also good to follow up with the key senior staff that are in charge of mental health and addictions in those departments.”
Have a vision
Once you have figured out who you want to get in front of Stevenson says it is important to be targeted with your message. “Don’t be all over the place,” she says. “If you keep coming every time with a different message they are not going to take you seriously.” One of her key messages has been how unacceptable and dangerous long wait lists for treatment are in Manitoba. Consistent messaging played a key role in the government’s most recent funding announcement which will cut wait times for outpatient treatment in Winnipeg from months to weeks.
Stevenson says that as an advocate you need to have a lot of patience but also persistence. She says she is constantly pushing to get her cards in the game. “You’re competing with so many other causes,” she says. “You’ve got to do whatever you can so that they don’t forget about you.” Getting to know local media can be one way that can help you remain relevant, especially if you are giving them interesting things to talk about. However, Stevenson warns about being too pushy. “Be respectful because if you’re always just bothering them, then they’re not going to think it’s really newsworthy,” she says.
Stevenson says that as an advocate it is important to speak up if there is something that is detrimental to your cause, especially in the media. She says she has written many letters to the editor expressing her opinions about what look like well researched news articles but are really ads promoting a certain diet or weight loss. “As an advocate I feel very strongly about speaking up about that kind of stuff,” she says. “There’s a plethora of information out there that is not healthy, inaccurate and potentially very dangerous.”
Take care of yourself
Being an advocate can be exhausting and Stevenson says it is extremely important to recognize when you are getting burnt out. It is not uncommon to feel inadequate and like you aren’t doing enough, especially if it seems like no one is listening. “Sometimes you just have to put the computer down, don’t answer the phone and take time for yourself,” she says. “Renew, relax and just take care of yourself because your own mental health is so important.”
The newly upgraded site highlights important new sections covering Help & Support, the launch of NIED’s new Education Programs and our new Blog. The Home Page carousel banner highlights topical information and events, without the need to scroll through the page. The Home Page features Amy Preskow’s powerful poem My Eating Disorder is Not, key facts about Eating Disorders in Canada, the Canadian Eating Disorder Strategy launched last year, our Annual Report, worldwide Eating Disorder studies, and how to support NIED in our vital work.
“It’s all focused on helping NIED fulfill our mission to assist people in coping with the effects of Eating Disorders by providing educational, informational and other resources relating to recovery, mental illness and Eating Disorders,” said Len Preskow who, along with art director Richard Ponsonby, are NIED’s Communication Team volunteers responsible for the NIED site.
The updated site is easy to navigate and is an in-depth and relatable resource for anyone touched by Eating Disorders. NIED is committed to helping support those affected by Eating Disorders in Canada, and we hope this website redesign helps us spread awareness, and reach and support more people across the country.
Click here to access the home page and explore the site for yourself!
Today is International Youth Day and NIED would like to acknowledge all the teens and young adults in Canada who are struggling with mental illness. You are not alone.
Eating Disorders are mental illnesses that often (but not always) show up in adolescence. Although Eating Disorders can affect people of all ages, genders, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds, many often report pre-occupations with weight and shape starting around puberty. This is usually while they are still in school and living at home with their parents, who may not know what to do if their child is showing signs of an Eating Disorder.
Dr. Shari Mayman has been working in the field of Eating Disorders for 15 years. She started her career as psychologist in the Children Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) Eating Disorder program where she worked with many children and teenagers struggling with Eating Disorders and their families. At CHEO parents were heavily involved in their children’s care, as the program used a family-based approach. Dr. Mayman says that family-based therapy is an approach that is proven to work well, but it didn’t have a strong enough focus on the multitude of emotions that come up during the recovery process, both for the patient and their caregivers.
About ten years ago two psychologists, Dr. Adele Lafrance and Dr. Joanne Dolhanty, filled that gap with the creation of Emotion Focused Family Therapy (EFFT), a modality on which Dr. Mayman’s current practice, at Anchor Psychological Services in Ottawa, is focused. It was created to support parents of children of any age support their loved ones in recovery (both emotionally and practically), and to address “emotional blocks” that may be getting in the way of a them providing this support. Dr. Mayman says these “emotional blocks” are normal and expected, and often show up in the form of guilt, with parents wondering what they did to cause their child’s Eating Disorder. “Shame and self blame often come up,” Dr. Mayman says. “If you think you are the problem, then it is hard to be part of the solution.”
EFFT is focused on breaking down that self blame, as well as other emotions such as fear, anger, resentment, and grief, and giving caregivers the tools they need to support their own and their child’s emotional needs. Through a process called emotion coaching, parents and caregivers are taught how to coach their children through difficult feelings, which are often at the crux of the Eating Disorder. “Emotional avoidance is central to all mental health issues,” Dr. Mayman says. “Restricting, bingeing, purging and over-exercising are all emotion-numbing strategies.” EFFT also focuses on teaching caregivers strategies to facilitate symptom reduction, and to deal with the intense emotions that arise when symptoms are reduced or eliminated.
Another impactful component to EFFT is the repairing of any relational injuries, both past and present. This is not to place blame, but to create the trust that is needed in order for parents to effectively support their child through the recovery process. “Caregivers have this tremendous healing power when they have compassion and empowerment holding them up,” Dr. Mayman says. “Then they are also more ready to repair things that need to be repaired.”
By instilling parents with the confidence and tools they need to support their children, they are more likely to help them make change in a way that is sustainable and effective for everyone. Dr. Mayman says their goal is to have parents and caregivers acting like a Saint Bernard, with sensitivity for their child’s struggles; but also a steady and assured response to emotional stress. “It’s focused on empowering caregivers and giving them the ability to act as healing agent.”
Dr. Mayman wants to stress that the tools that are the foundation of EFFT are learned, and no parent should feel badly about not having the knowledge to heal their child’s Eating Disorder in their back pocket. This is why Dr. Mayman and her partner at Anchor Psychological Services, Dr. Katherine Henderson, offer workshops for parents three to four times a year, to help teach the EFFT skills in an immersive setting. Even though their practice is based in Ottawa, Dr. Mayman says there are EFFT practitioners all over Canada.
While EFFT is fairly new on the scene in the treatment of Eating Disorders it has spread like wildfire in treatment spaces across the country because of its effectiveness. For more information about EFFT or to find a practitioner in your area visit. www.efftinternational.org.
Emotion Focused Family Therapy (EFFT), and how it can really help you and your struggling teenHilary Thomson2020-08-12T12:40:56-04:00
July 24 is National Self Care Day and here at NIED we couldn’t let it go by without talking about this important part of recovery. Self care can be challenging for anyone with mental illness, but we know that it is particularly hard for those with Eating Disorders.
Many people see self care as doing things like putting on a face mask or getting a pedicure. While these things definitely fall into the category of self care, there are lots of other ways that you can take care of yourself without breaking out a gooey face mask or the nail polish. Here are 5 ways to practice self care that are accessible to anyone with an Eating Disorder.
Have a shower or bath
This may sound simple but those who struggle with depression (like many with Eating Disorders do) it can be a real challenge to keep up with their personal hygiene. Simply stepping into the shower can take a huge amount of effort for someone who is finding it hard to get out of bed in the morning. Taking a shower or bath when you are feeling down may not fix everything, but you would be surprised how much better you feel with freshly washed hair. If you are struggling with bathing because you are avoiding your body, consider taking a bath with bubbles. That way you can still bathe without being focused on how your body looks.
Take your medication
This is another one that may sound simple but can be incredibly hard to do when you are in the depths of an Eating Disorder. It is not uncommon for people with Eating Disorders to stop taking medication that has been prescribed to them when they are feeling low. If this is your pattern there is nothing to be ashamed of. However, not taking your medication can have uncomfortable side effects that can seriously affect your mental and physical health. People who go on and off their meds regularly often experience huge highs and lows which is not good for anyone’s wellbeing. Committing to taking your medication as prescribed is an act of self care and it definitely can be achieved if you put your mind to it.
Accepting help in itself is an act of self care for those with Eating Disorders. People with Eating Disorders often tend to push people away and refuse treatment because they don’t believe they are sick enough or deserve the care of others. If a friend, family member or treatment professional is offering their support, take it no matter how hard it is. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable and accept help from those around you is the most caring act you can do for yourself, especially if you are just starting out on your recovery journey. Eating Disorders thrive in secrecy and the more you can accept help from those around you the better it is. Recovery still won’t be easy, but having support is one of the keys to recovery and it is the ultimate act of self care to let people in.
Practice self compassion
This is a tip you will want to apply to all aspects of your recovery and life. People with Eating Disorders are often perfectionists and can be very rigid in the goals they set for themselves. There is no such thing as a perfect way to recover and realizing that is an act of self care. Be compassionate with yourself and don’t beat yourself up if you feel like you messed up. Recovery is hard and holding yourself to an impossible standard will only make it more challenging. Allow yourself to breathe, rest and take breaks. Recovery is a marathon, not a sprint and showing yourself care and compassion along the way will only bolster your recovery in the long run.
Find what works for you
When it comes to the more typical acts of self care, find what works for you. You don’t have to throw yourself a spa day if that is not what makes you feel good. There are so many options to choose from when it comes to self care – it is really about finding what feels good to you (outside of your Eating Disorder). Simple things like watching a TV show that you like or reading a good book are great options. Spending time with a good friend or playing with your dog in the backyard are also possibilities. A lot of times people with Eating Disorders have fallen out of touch with the things that bring them joy because they have been wrapped up in the Eating Disorder for so long. Take some time to play around with it. That exploration can be self care in itself.
5 simple ways to practice self careHilary Thomson2020-08-10T19:11:12-04:00
Eating Disorders can be very difficult to diagnose and often go unnoticed for years by friends, family and healthcare professionals.
Many family doctors, who are the first point of contact for people with Eating Disorders, have no idea what to look for because they get very little training in Eating Disorders throughout their medical education. Program Director at Body Brave (www.bodybrave.com), a support centre for those with Eating Disorders, Dr. Karen Trollope-Kumar says this is an issue because most family physicians don’t feel comfortable diagnosing or treating Eating Disorders, allowing them to fly under the radar.
Trollope-Kumar encourages all physicians to take the typical signs and symptoms of an Eating Disorder seriously. This includes:
Sudden change in weight (either up or down)
Changes in mood (like heightened anxiety or depression)
Changes in eating patterns like going on a restrictive diet (paleo, keto, vegan)
Even if these symptoms seem benign at first, ask more questions. Someone who says they are going vegan to protect the environment may still have an underlying motivation to manipulate their body size or shape in an unhealthy way.
Trollope-Kumar says another issue is that family physicians often don’t know where to turn, even if they expect that their patient has an Eating Disorder. Many areas across the country do not have specialized care for people with Eating Disorders, and even those that do (usually in larger city centres) have waiting lists that are months long.
Many family physicians will find themselves supporting a patient who is waiting months for a higher level of care. In this situation Trollope-Kumar says communication is key. Be supportive, non-judgemental and understand that Eating Disorders are complex illnesses, not a fad or lifestyle choice.
It is also important to understand how to properly monitor patients while they are waiting for treatment. The National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) (www.nedic.ca) has some great resources on their website outlining what to check and monitor in an Eating Disorder patient. NEDIC is also a great place for any physician who wants to learn more about diagnosing, treating and caring for a person with an Eating Disorder.
Trollope-Kumar says in an ideal world doctors would get more information on Eating Disorders during their medical training. However last year Body Brave and NIED co-hosted the first-ever virtual annual e-conference on Eating Disorders called BodyPeace and together with other organizations across Canada will be launching be launching Eating Disorders University (edU) – another first for Canada. As part of its new education strategy NIED (ww.nied.ca) is focusing on providing skills-based educational programs and resources through this new learning and engagement platform. Check this space for more information as it becomes available.
As a primary physician what would you like to learn about Eating Disorders? If you are a patient, what do you wish your doctor knew?
What you need to know about Eating Disorders as a family physicianHilary Thomson2020-07-20T13:44:40-04:00
It is not easy to support someone with an Eating Disorder.
Kirk Mason was the partner of Michelle Stewart, the former head of communications for the B.C. Ministry of Health, who suffered from a devastating Eating Disorder for 32 years before it eventually claimed her life in 2014.
Mason met Stewart when she was in her mid 30s and had already been living with an Eating Disorder for 17 years. It wasn’t until they had been living together for four months that Michelle sat him down one day and told him about her history. “She said I completely understand if you don’t want to be with me, if you want to walk away from this,” Mason remembers.
But Mason didn’t want to walk away. He started educating himself about Eating Disorders and how to support Stewart as best he could. He even started going to a support group in Victoria for caregivers of people with Eating Disorders. He says it was shocking for many people in the group, who were parents of teens with Eating Disorders, to hear the story about a grown woman who was still struggling with her Eating Disorder after so many years.
Mason supported Stewart through many emergency room visits and a short stay in an inpatient treatment program but nothing seemed to be able to shake the illness that was deeply ingrained in her life. Mason says Stewart was very good at making it seem like everything was going well. “Everyone thought she was quite normal,” Mason remembers. He says her position at the Ministry of Health was sometimes difficult for her because she had to address files of people with Eating Disorders while keeping her own secret alive. “Cases of people with anorexia and bulimia would be put right on her desk,” Mason says. “There were some really tough times for her.”
Mason says he sometimes wishes he had been more upfront with Stewart about her Eating Disorder. He says he always avoided her triggers and they never got into arguments about her illness. “I became complacent,” he says. “I wish I had been more communicative with her, more involved.”
That being said Mason stayed by her side, a constant support through her diagnosis with end stage renal disease and eventual death. He says it was important to him to remain committed to Stewart and show her kindness, compassion and understanding both in her illness and end of life. “It’s something I never thought I would experience but I am glad I did because it opened my eyes,” Mason says.
Stewart’s older sister Karen Flello also played a key role in supporting her throughout her long battle with her Eating Disorder. Flello remembers Stewart first exhibiting signs of an Eating Disorder at 16 in the 1980s when very few healthcare professionals knew how to treat the illness. “We were given a lot of bad advice,” she remembers. “It completely ignored the root causes and biological connections.”
There is not doubt that supporting her sister through over three decades of an Eating Disorder was hard for Flello. All she ever wanted was for her to see how smart, loved and worthy she was. Flello said she had to realize that she was not to blame for not being able to heal her sister’s Eating Disorder. All she could do was focus her energy on being there for her when her illness would let her accept help. “It’s no different than if the person has a physical illness that you can’t cure,” she says.
Flello says if she could give any advice to people supporting a loved one through an Eating Disorder it would be to educate yourself, talk as openly about it as possible and encourage them to seek treatment early. She also says it is extremely important to set boundaries and make sure you are creating your own practice of mindful self compassion. “Whenever things got bad I went to counselling,” she says. “I needed to know how to cope.”
Mason agrees that educating yourself as a caregiver is key to being able to adequately support someone with an Eating Disorder. The desire to be thin is just scratching the surface when it comes to these complex illnesses. Mason says every part of Stewart knew that what she was doing was dangerous and that it would most likely eventually claim her life. “For her it was all about control,” he says.
Mason also encourages caregivers to seek support for themselves. Whether that be through a support group, individual counselling or family and friends. This is something that Stewart herself talked about in her blog, where she documented the end of her life. “Remember and acknowledge your own need for a helping hand and don’t be afraid to reach out,” she wrote in a post on December 5, 2013. “You will lead by the example of your own willingness to acknowledge there is no prize for suffering alone.”
“Lead by example” – How to support someone with an Eating DisorderHilary Thomson2020-07-13T15:19:52-04:00