World Eating Disorders Action Day spreads message of support and awareness
More than a million Canadians struggle with eating disorders yet there’s little help or support, report experts.
Today is World Eating Disorders Action Day , and advocates, health professionals, those affected and their families are highlighting why eating disorders can’t afford to wait.
Waiting is deadly: “Eating disorders kill more than any other psychological illness,” says action day co-founder Amy Cunningham, and the incidence of children with eating disorders is rising at an alarming rate.
They’re a devastating reality. According to Wendy Preskow, president of National Initiative for Eating Disorders at nied.ca , “There are over one million Canadians who meet the diagnostic criteria of eating disorders, plus the loved ones who care for them. That’s almost the entire population of Saskatchewan, like wiping an entire province off Canada’s map! The numbers are increasing daily and we can’t keep up.”
Worldwide more than 70 million people are impacted by eating disorders. “Awareness, treatment and support is severely lacking, particularly in Canada,” says eating disorder survivor and Body Brave founder Sonia Seguin. “We desperately need to take action.”
Seguin, 32, struggled with various eating disorders for eight years. “I came up against barrier after barrier when trying to access treatment and support including long waitlists and stigma. I came close to death many times during these years and my family suffered greatly.”
She was one of the lucky ones to finally access treatment and community support to “finally step out of the shame I had been living in for so long.”
Harmful stigmas abound. Seguin wants people to know that eating disorders are not a choice.
They’re not just about diet culture and caring too much about how you look. “Eating disorders have a strong genetic basis and are influenced by factors such as trauma, identity, life transitions, and systemic oppression.”
Two years ago, Seguin founded livingbodybrave.com with her mother, Dr. Karen Trollope-Kumar, a non-profit that fills a gap in eating disorder services. Body Brave is collaborating with NIED, researchers, and community-based organizations across Canada to drive the development of an innovative national e-learning platform aimed at caregivers, primary care providers and individuals recovering from eating disorders.
For advocate Cunningham, eating disorders run in her family: “My sister developed an eating disorder about the same time I did, even though we weren’t living near each other. I have an aunt, a niece and a great uncle who had eating disorders.” Two of her five children developed anorexia.
Cunningham says she was completely shocked and frightened when her youngest child developed anorexia at age 11, as the symptoms presented very quickly and it was clear she was very ill. She went from being a very happy and healthy child who loved food, her friends and life to “hiding food, skipping meals if I was not present, lying, becoming very angry if I tried to increase her calories. She also decided to become vegetarian which is very often a sign of impending problems with eating disorders.”
Delay in starting effective treatment is dangerous, she says. “Families and health care providers need to act fast to maximize chances for full recovery. Not acting can lead to years of suffering and debt.”
More than one third of people with eating disorders are boys and men, says Cunningham. “The most important thing is for people not to diet at all, especially children. If any signs occur around restricting foods, marked changes in eating habits and other mood changes, parents and caregivers should seek out evidence-based treatment.”
Help raise awareness, wipe out the stigma and advocate for more research, better resources and treatment by engaging today with hashtags: #ShowUsYourPurple, #WorldEatingDisordersActionDay, #EatingDisordersCantAffordtoWait and #WeDoActNow2019.
If food, weight or body image is negatively affecting your life, then seek help. Educate yourself using resources from National Eating Disorders Information Centre at nedic.ca. “You’ll need to advocate for yourself but you are not alone,” adds Seguin, adding that accessing community organizations like Body Brave and NIED can help.
Genetics play a role
Eating disorders aren’t simply about wanting to be thin! “Genetics loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger,” says psychiatrist Dr. Blake Woodside, of the Program for Eating Disorders at Toronto General Hospital.
We’ve become increasingly focused on the notion that lower weights are better, and that it is possible to chose your weight – despite significant evidence to the contrary, says Woodside. The apparent increase in rates of obesity just makes this worse.
“So there are increasing pressures to diet, and those who are genetically at risk of developing an eating disorder are therefore more likely to diet, which is the environmental activating factor for their genetic risk for eating disorders,” adds Woodside, professor at U of T’s department of psychiatry.
7 facts about eating disorders
• Many people with eating disorders look healthy, yet may be extremely ill.
• Families are not to blame, and can be the patients’ and providers’ best allies in treatment.
• Eating disorders are not choices, but serious biologically influenced illnesses.
• Eating disorders affect people of all genders, ages, races, ethnicities, body shapes and weights, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic statuses.
• Eating disorders carry an increased risk for both suicide and medical complications.
• Genes and environment play important roles, but genes alone do not predict who will develop eating disorders.
• Full recovery from an eating disorder is possible.