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 DisordersHilary Thomson2021-05-17T13:44:32-04:00
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.
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?Brittany Burtis2021-04-26T09:20:20-04:00
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?
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
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
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!
In an article published in the Globe and Mail earlier this year, journalist Erin Anderssen explored the lack of psychiatrists across the country, particularly in small and remote areas. According to the Globe’s analysis half of all Canadians live in parts of the country where the number of psychiatrists fall below the ratio recommended by the Canadian Psychiatric Association and 2.3 million Canadians live in areas with no permanent psychiatrist at all.
The article did a great job outlining the areas in Canada that are most underserved by the psychiatric community. While the gap lies mostly in small, remote and northern communities it does note that there are exceptions to this rule. For example, Brampton, one of the fastest growing and youngest communities in Canada, is extremely lacking in services. The city has about one psychiatrist for every 24,000 people, which is one of the worst ratios in the country.
As someone who has been struggling with an Eating Disorder for over a decade, I have seen this gap in the mental healthcare system first-hand. I have been put on many types of medication over the years meant to try and help me with my anxiety and Eating Disorder. Usually medication changes would come when I was in residential treatment or hospitalized in an inpatient setting. In those situations, I would have access to a psychiatrist who would give me a prescription based on their assessment of my needs.
However, once I was out of an inpatient setting it always fell to my family doctor to manage my medication, something that was clearly out of her wheelhouse. When I decided that my current prescription wasn’t working for me anymore, I did the responsible thing and asked for her help to either ween off the medication or find something that would work better. I could tell that she didn’t feel like she had the expertise to make recommendations, yet she also had nowhere to refer me to where I could get specialized help.
I live in Kemptville, just outside Ottawa and go into the city every week to get specialized treatment for my Eating Disorder. However, even with the roughly 20-30 psychiatrists per 100,000 people in Ottawa, on the higher end of the spectrum, my doctor still wasn’t able to refer me to someone who could help. I ended up doing some research myself and basically winning the lottery in finding a psychiatrist in Brockville who agreed to see me. Even so I waited about three months for an appointment.
Unfortunately, it is not just outpatient services that are lacking in Ontario, specifically in the world of Eating Disorder treatment. Two of the most well-respected treatment centres for Eating Disorders in Canada at The Ottawa Hospital (TOH) and Toronto General Hospital (TGH) are currently sharing a psychiatrist. Dr. Geneviève Proulx splits her time between the two programs, which makes having access to her difficult for even the most acute patients. TGH used to have five Eating Disorder specific psychiatrists on staff, all of whom left the program when it underwent restructuring last year. Both TOH and TGH have had to cut valuable therapy groups in their programs because of a lack of qualified staff.
We need more specialized care in this country for those suffering from mental illness. We live in a society that is slowly accepting the fact that mental health is just as important as physical health and the services available need to catch up. The system is broken and we need to train and recruit young, forward-thinking doctors into the field of psychiatry. Whether it be ensuring that psychiatrists are paid the same as their counterparts or shaking up the way they see patients, it is important for the health of our country that we take this issue seriously. The stigma around mental health is melting away and the field of psychiatry needs to catch up and change with the times. It is important for the future health and well-being of the country.