Eating Disorders: Faces of Recovery

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

  • Eating disorders affect mostly women

    Eating disorders affect mostly women

Faces of Recovery

The room was a full, despite the bitter winds last night, at the Guelph Community Health Center (176 Wyndham street north.) It was packed with people who came to listen to panelists discuss eating disorders (ED's) in an event called Faces of Recovery. The speakers were six women who were recovering or in the process of recovering from ED's.

Eating Disorders can be broken into 4 general categories:
1.)Anorexia: restriction of food intake, refusal to maintain minimum to normal weight and an intense fear of gaining weight.
2.)Bulimia: binge eating (sometimes upwards of 2,000 calories at one sitting) followed by purging food through inducing vomiting, laxative use, or exercise.
3.)Binge eating: A sense of lack of control over eating, bingeing regularly with no compensatory behavior.
4.)Eating disorder non specified: A catch all category for those who exhibit disturbed eating behavior but don't fit into any category perfectly.

According to the Guelph based website whatseatingyou.com ED's affect as many as 1 in 10 women in North America (about 10 percent of people with ED's are male.) Candy S. MacNeil, a family and ED therapist and the author of the site writes; "Eating disorders are a very complex mental illness - and like many illnesses, an eating disorder can be fatal if untreated." Candy was present to introduce the event and address two important issues before the speakers commenced. The first was that no one should mention numbers, in the form of calories, lowest weight, length of an exercise session etc. The idea is that talk of numbers could trigger some people, or encourage competition. Like panelist later said, it misses the point. People who want to know about number do not want to know about the real person, it perpetuates the idea that people must qualify and prove their ED to others. The second issue was to make sure the event did not give the impression that recovery is easy or that ED's are normal. Candy referred to those who recovery as the lucky few.

Each panelist gave a passionate speech about their own personal tale of illness and the long road to recovery. Speakers ranged in age from 21 to over 40. Most had spent time as inpatients and had been hospitalized for their illness in the past. One woman who had been through two inpatient rounds of treatment at Homewood Health Center in Guelph described the process as "complicated and difficult". One spoke of a love-hate relationship with sports corresponding directly to a range of disordered eating behavior. From her therapy she "learned to reach out to family and friends."

One woman who had struggled with anorexia from age 6 said the ED "controlled my mind heart and body. It isolated me from everything, everyone... everyday problems became insurmountable"

During the last hour, two family members of panelists came in to speak as well. A daughter spoke of having to look after the house as a 10 year old in the absence of her mother (who was an inpatient at that time). Another mother spoke honestly about her relationship with her eating disordered daughter; "There is no perfect way to deal with this. As parents we love them so much and we want to make it better but we can't".

Although the women came from different backgrounds common threads tied their stories together. They all benefited immeasurably from treatment. Treatment meant different things for each one, but the process of working though some sort of program helped them all. They also clearly stated that the initiative for change must come from the sick individual, it cannot be forced upon them.

When asked for advice, they encouraged finding a counsellor who works. The first one a person encounters might not be right for them, so that person should keep looking. They extended this sentiment to those who love/care for an ED person: encourage them not to give up or discount therapy because of a bad experience.

Many of the panelists shared helpful coping mechanisms, during crisis and beyond. These included journaling, writing articles or making media, forcing oneself to actually feel their feelings instead of using the ED as a way to suppress emotions. Most, though not all, found it helpful to strengthen relationships with family and find people they could confide in. One panelist will be channeling her reclaimed energy into a Guelph Free School course beginning in February focusing on size and body image.

This event comes just before February 4th, the beginning of Eating Disorders Awareness week on campus. For a look at events during that week click here.

For people struggling with an Eating Disorder you can call student counselling services where they can provide immediate counselling. They also have access to many resources and can tell you about treatment programs offered on and off campus.

- www.thecannon.ca

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