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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Awareness is key in supporting males with Eating Disorders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Early Intervention is not Enough

In recent years, there has been increasing acknowledgement on the importance of early intervention for Eating Disorders. This is so important, given that the recognition, diagnosis, and treatment of an Eating Disorder can be a slow, difficult process. And those who receive treatment early can benefit significantly. Programs like FREED (First Episode Rapid Early Intervention for Eating Disorders) through the NHS in England are exciting for me to see.

And they are also painful for me to see.

As someone who received early intervention before crashing into a decade-long acute Eating Disorder, I am aware that an “intervention” in and of itself is not sufficient. And being a person and loving people for whom “early” no longer exists, I am likewise aware how pressingly necessary it is to have more than that.

Prioritizing early intervention presumes that we have ready to go, evidence-based treatments to offer those who need them. This is not the case. There are no strongly evidence-based treatments for Eating Disorders. And the somewhat evidence-supported treatments that do exist are often not offered in Canada or are very inaccessible – Eating Disorders are severely underfunded across Canada. There are significant gaps in training, services, and capacity; with the services that do exist tending to be patchwork, inaccessible, and inadequate. And many who are in need will not be recognized for these treatments. Misunderstandings of Eating Disorders and size stigma, sexism, and racism combine to make it difficult for those other than white, thin, cisgender girls to receive a diagnosis.

Prioritizing early intervention and championing its success can then, I believe, risk misrepresenting the current, dismal realities of Eating Disorders research and care. Of course policymakers, researchers, and practitioners want to centre and champion success. And looking at how young patients who are brought to treatment early respond well will look more promising than looking to adult patients returning again and again. But this is, in some ways false promise. Take anorexia as an example – estimates of relapse rate range from 25%, up to 54% (and these are often using bare minimum criteria like BMI), and many cases of anorexia last decades to lifetimes (1). A survey of caregivers suggested only 21% of people with anorexia make a full recovery (2). Even if early interventions do exist and help some people, we lack enough effective options for the significant number of people for whom they do not work. And with $2.41 in research funding for each person affected by an Eating Disorder in Canada (3), that lack is unlikely to be filled any time soon.

The second concern I have with the prioritization of early intervention is that as early intervention becomes a priority; repeated intervention or late intervention can become de-prioritized or even devalued.

If early intervention is framed as the priority, then it becomes intuitive to conclude that those who did not receive or did not respond to early intervention are not the priority. If early intervention is evidence-based and effective, then patients whose symptoms relapse or persist have now failed their best shot. This is not hyperbole. When I encountered practitioners at 15, I was met with urgent concern, active responses, and promises of full recovery. As I continued to encounter practitioners at 18, 20, or 23 I was met with resigned nodding, requisitions for bloodwork monitoring, and mentions of adult programming miles away if I wanted to try again. As a newly presenting person with an Eating Disorder, practitioners felt equipped with diagnoses, medications, treatments, supports, and promises. As a returning patient, all practitioners had were the same diagnoses (now with qualifiers of disengaged, uncompliant to tack on); but fewer if any treatments, supports, or promises. Meanwhile, funding and research for prevention, early identification, and early intervention continue apace.

Patients do not fail treatments; treatments fail patients. But rather than receiving compassionate, better suited, new care options, returning patients are too often blamed, sidelined, and neglected. When care is offered, it is often the singularly prioritized and championed early intervention type care.

What we have to offer in terms of diagnoses and treatments tends to be the same, regardless of whether someone has a two month-long or two decade-long Eating Disorder.

Two years ago, I was privileged and lucky enough to be provided with care and support outside of the limited, narrow, harmful treatment of the public Eating Disorder care system in Canada. I have not reached full recovery (back to that 21% thing…) but I’m living fully and well in a place beyond intervention or attrition, early or late, evidence-based or ineffective, success or failure. Meanwhile, I continue to see friends and loved ones with Eating Disorders hit up against our limited, inadequate system over and over again.

Early intervention is important. And so are accessible, supportive, tailored, effective “at this moment now, better late than never, from here on out” interventions. Taking Eating Disorders seriously means facing up to the current gaps in knowledge and services and providing enough research dollars, program funding, practitioner education, and treatment options across the spectrums of illness, experience, and identity so that everyone can be adequately cared for.

1 – https://jeatdisord.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40337-017-0145-3#Sec7

2 – https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/eat.23200

3 – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5608830/

Early Intervention is not Enough2021-05-25T18:14:49-04:00

More support needed for LGBTQS2+ folks with Eating Disorders

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy International Dance Day!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does Media Perpetuate Eating Disorder Stereotypes?

With the tragic passing of Big Brother UK star Nikki Grahame after a long battle of anorexia on Friday April 9th, 2021, Eating Disorders are once again in the media spotlight. This news headline has been trending all over Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok since the news of Nikki’s passing became public the day after she lost her battle with her Eating Disorder.

This led me to think about how Eating Disorders are often described in the media – or how they are often not portrayed. Although no two battles are the same, the media has historically documented and focused on women’s battles with anorexia and bulimia, leaving out other genders and the myriad of so many other Eating Disorders.

For the Love of Nancy is a documentary directed by Paul Schneider that came out in 1994. This was a groundbreaking film as it was one of the first films documenting a woman’s battle with anorexia. This film does an excellent job depicting the mental and physical anguish anorexia can cause, as well as the struggles that families ensue as they desperately seek treatment for their loved one. When viewing this film, it was triggering as it showed Nancy close to death refusing life-saving medical treatment at times. I wonder if a film like this should warn the viewers of the content they are about to see. I also can’t help but ponder if this documentary would have received the same acceptance in the media if it were about an ethnic male struggling with a Binge-Eating Disorder.

Another film similar to For the Love of Nancy is the 2006 documentary Thin, directed by Lauren Greenfield, that follows four white womens’ journeys as they seek treatment for their anorexia or bulimia. This film provides an honest look inside the battles one may face whilst in treatment, but has a few points that need to be addressed. The first is that this film may be triggering for those suffering as it shows explicit disordered eating behaviours and extremely ‘thin’ women. For those with Eating Disorders, this can be extremely distressing as Eating Disorders can be highly competitive and comparative, leaving me with the question as to whether or not this documentary should also have had a trigger warning on it. Another downfall to this film is that it can be viewed as very one sided – the side of the white, cisgendered female struggling with anorexia or bulimia. This film does not include alternative perspectives or insights into the lives of people from different walks of life who are suffering from other Eating Disorders such as the most common – Binge-Eating Disorder. Although this film does a great job at what it set out to document, it may perpetuate the stereotype that Eating Disorders only affect ‘thin’ white females which is very untrue.

For those who haven’t heard of the 2017 Netflix movie To The Bone directed by Martu Boxon. It is simply about an emancipated young white female’s unusual journey seeking treatment for her anorexia. As derived from the name of the film, the main character is merely skin and bones which can be hard to watch for some. This film stands out against the two previous ones mentioned as it also depicts a young white male’s journey to recovery as well. However, this film only highlights anorexia and bulimia and does not depict the struggles those suffer from other Eating Disorders. As triggering and controversial as this film has been, I wonder if it should have a higher viewing rating/be less accessible to younger people who have a Netflix account.

Have you noticed similarities in the three films mentioned above? Take a moment to reflect on this question: When you think of Eating Disorders, who comes to mind? For many, it will be ‘skinny’, white females similar to all those battles depicted in the films above. This is often an engrained stereotype perpetuated not only in films, but in magazines, billboards and celebrities – for example Nikki Grahame. Media consumers and producers need to recognize how harmful this stereotype can be as it can diminish the struggles of those who don’t fit inside this narrow view of Eating Disorders.

There is a positive change though that I want to mention. Two currently popular TV shows are breaking the mold, though the mention of Eating Disorders are not the focal points of either. The first TV show is ‘This Is Us’  which is popular on CTV, NBC and Netflix. After a few dramatically successful seasons, we get insight into Kate Pearson’s (Chrissy Metz) life-long battle with Binge Eating Disorder. This show does a great job showcasing Kate’s struggle with health, weight, self-esteem and control over food in the more recent seasons. This is a welcomed perspective as it depicts the trials of someone’s battle with an Eating Disorder that is not often portrayed in the media.

The second show that is challenging the typical Eating Disorder stereotype perpetuated in the media is ‘New Amsterdam’. This show, similar to the previous one, is currently airing new episodes on CTV, NBC and has previous seasons on Netflix. In the end of season three of this medical drama series, we gain hints into the potential struggles of psychiatrist Dr. Iggy Frome (Tyler Labine). It isn’t until early on in season 4 that Dr. Frome’s struggles with his Binge-Eating Disorder are solidified. Despite being a male, head psychiatrist at a world class hospital, Dr. Frome struggles with Binge-Eating and is in the cycle of bingeing followed by restriction. It isn’t until one of his close co-workers recognizes that he is very weak and light headed that his Eating Disorder comes to light. As seen in real life, Dr. Frome tried to hide his Eating Disorder as he was filled with shame. In the midst of this season, we are experiencing the beginning of his road to recovery which started with acceptance and seeking professional help. Without a doubt, this portrayal of a male professional with Binge-Eating Disorder is a very refreshing change that challenges the cis-gendered anorexia stereotype in the media. To find out how his journey progresses, we will have to wait and watch!

In the end, I hope this encourages you to critically analyze how Eating Disorders are often portrayed in the media and the pros and cons of such portrayals. As well as challenge your own stereotypes/perceptions of Eating Disorders and who they affect (which by the way, is everyone and anyone).

Does Media Perpetuate Eating Disorder Stereotypes?2021-04-26T09:20:20-04:00

Social Media and Eating Disorders

Does social media promote Eating Disorders? Or can it actually be a useful tool to help in recovery? This is a really important topic especially during the pandemic as people are spending more and more time online and on social media.

Research shows that there is a correlation between time spent on social media and increased risk for Eating Disorders, however there is no direct causation. Social media has its pros and cons in terms of Eating Disorder support, and it is important to be aware and informed of both in order to gain a balanced perspective and make decisions that are best for your own recovery.

On the one hand, social media can serve to promote wellness, health and inspiration for individuals with Eating Disorders who are seeking recovery. On the other hand, it can also lead to an obsession with healthy eating as young women and men post about their “clean”, impractical diets. Social media is also linked to negative body image, as people compare themselves to unrealistic, often photoshopped bodies and feel badly that they can’t live up to an impossible standard.

Those who use social media regularly tend to form strong connections to influencers, even though they really don’t know the individual. These connections are actually stronger than what a person might feel towards models or athletes on TV. Social media makes it seem like you are privy to a person’s personal life which creates a strong bond and connection. So, when an influencer looks fit and toned, it can cause people to focus increasingly on their own appearance and their negative feelings towards it.

With all of the potential negative aspects, it seems easy to suggest taking a break from social media. However, it is important to understand that this can be extremely difficult for some people, especially during a pandemic when social media might be a person’s main source of social interaction.

When used effectively, social media can be a really positive source of support and healing for individuals combatting Eating Disorders. For example, it can be a great way to share resources, messages, and images that are healing or affirming. Many social media apps have begun to adopt a greater emphasis on true health, nutrition and wellness, promoting evidence-based nutrition and health messaging and encouraging positive viewer engagement, which counters some of the misinformation. There has also been a positive shift towards promoting diverse body types, shapes, sizes and colours. Social media groups can provide a social support system for people who may need that connection to others who they feel understands what they are going through.

Here are some tips to make your social media a recovery-based space:

  • Unfollow accounts that make you feel badly about yourself.
  • Intentionally search for accounts that promote body positivity and body diversity.
  • Follow positive social media accounts that spread joy, acceptance, and who choose to lift others.
  • Take small social media breaks from time to time.
  • Give non-appearance related compliments. For example, instead of commenting on how good your friend looks in their most recent Instagram photo, comment on how artistic the photo looks.
  • Remember, it’s YOUR feed. You have the control to cultivate it to make it positive and supportive to your healing journey instead of negative and triggering.

With the increased use of social media during this pandemic, it is crucial to be mindful of whether using it is helpful for you and your mental health. All in all, social media can be a negative influence for those with Eating Disorders, but it is possible to cultivate your feed into a more positive and supportive space for your healing journey.

Do you find social media triggering for your Eating Disorder? How can you curate your own feed to make sure it is a recovery focused space?

Social Media and Eating Disorders2021-04-17T10:46:23-04:00

The History of Eating Disorders Awareness Week (EDAW)

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)2021-01-27T09:35:57-05:00

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
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