Baccalieu Collegiate sets precedent
Old Perlican school first to host presentation on eating disorders
“While we have broken down barriers to some degree, there’s still a stigma attached to having an eating disorder.
But talking about it, especially amongst students, brings awareness.” Vince Withers, Eating Disorders Foundation of
Newfoundland and Labrador
Over the past three years Vince Withers, has spoken to hundreds of people and organizations about eating disorders. But Wednesday, Nov. 18 was the first time the chairman of the Eating Disorders Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador had the opportunity to share his expertise on the disease with a group of students in their school.
“ This is the first opportunity we’ve had to get the message on Eating Disorders across to the people who are affected most by it, our adolescents,” said Withers. “By extending the invitation for me to come here and speak about the issue of Eating Disorders, Baccalieu has set the precedent for other schools. It was their actions that caused us (Eating Disorder Foundation) to be here, as opposed to us knocking on their doors and asking if we can come in and that’s really important. It shows they are interested and concerned about this issue.”
Appromixately 213 Grade 7 to Level 3 students from Baccalieu attended the presentation. The schools AWARE group, spearheaded by Guidance Councellor Krystle Mercer, organized the event.
“ I was anxious to do the presentation because it was my first time speaking in a school setting and I wanted to find out if our message on eating disorders was being conveyed properly,” said Withers. “I needed to find out if this was an issue they could relate to and if the kids found it interesting. Fortunately they were extremely attentive. Many of them had a good understanding of an eating disorder and how it affects the body, some of them also know people who have it.”
According to Withers, eating disorders affect close to 8,000 families in this province.
“At least 10 per cent of adolescents between the ages of 13 and 22 have some form of an eating disorder and at least one in five post secondary students,” he said.
No one knows how to spot the signs of an eating disorder better than Withers.
His daughter Renata, Elizabeth Withers passed away Aug. 30, 2005 from Anorexia Nervosa. At the time of her death, Renata, 27, weighed less than 70 pounds.
Since then Withers and his wife Delores have been helping other families across the province in similar situations.
In 2006 Withers founded the Eating Disorder Foundation of Newfoundland and
Labrador and this past June was instrumental in opening the Renata Withers Centre for Hope. The clinic, which is run through the Eastern Health Regional Authority, allows people with eating disorders to be treated locally, instead of having to seek help outside the province.
The retired CEO of Newtel Communications and his board of directors are educating the public and supporting families who are dealing with the disease.
“An eating disorder is a coping strategy, something a person uses to deal with a deeper problem,” Withers told Baccalieu students.
“It isn’t simply about eating or vanity. There is no clear definition of what triggers it. However genetics, low self-esteem and poor body image, inability to cope, sexual and physical abuse and family issues are just some of the contributing factors.
“ Eating Disorders are also common among high achievers and people who tend to be perfectionists, he continued. “ Whatever the cause, it’s important that families and friends show compassion for the pain the person is experiencing. Part of the problem can be attributed to TV and society constantly reinforcing the idea that in order for a person to be happy, successful and healthy, they must be thin.”
In the three years since the Eating Disorder Foundation has been in operation Withers has seen an increase in the number of people and families seeking support and advice.
“No one should be dying from this disorder,” he said. “ But early diagnoses and proper treatment is critical. Once we can determine at the family doctor level that the characteristics of an eating disorder are present, the person can be referred to a specialist and to the Centre of Hope. If not the disease takes over a person’s life.”
Early detection critical
Withers feels the more the message on Eating Disorders gets out, the easier it will be to identify and address. He commended students at Baccalieu for wanting to do their part.
“ While we have broken down barriers to some degree, there’s still a stigma attached to having an eating disorder,” said Withers. “But talking about it, especially amongst students, brings awareness. There are probably students here at Baccalieu who have an eating disorder or know someone with it, but that’s not unlike other schools across the province. Fortunately they are willing to be educated on the issue and are trying to do their part to reach out to help others.”
Withers encourages anyone with an eating disorder or who know someone with it to call the Centre of Hope in St. John’s.
“ We will help, but first the person with the eating disorder needs to go to a doctor for proper diagnoses,” said Withers. “ Support is the key to recovery and families and friends need to work together. I’ve found when a family receives support and becomes stronger, the person with the eating disorder does better. Early detection means early treatment and the greater the chance for recovery”
Treatment for an eating disorder at the Renata Withers’ Centre of Hope includes individual counselling, group assistance and help for family and friends.
Denise Pike/The Compass AWARE - From left: Baccalieu Guidance Counsellor Krystle Mercer, along with students Kyle White, Sammi Basha, Mitchell Barrett and Johnathan Lander show Vince Withers, chairman of the Eating Disorders Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, the bulletin board they created to inform students in their school about eating disorders.
Denise Pike/The Compass EDUCATING - Vince Withers, chairman of the Eating Disorders Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, talks to Grade 7 to Level 3 students at Baccalieu Collegiate in Old Perlican about eating disorders. The Nov. 18 presentation was Withers’ first time speaking in a school in the province.