Dying to be thin: Raising awareness about eating disorders
BY ANGELA BROWN
Staff Women and girls are likely more apt to worry about their weight in an effort to appear slim and attractive but at what point does a desire to look good become an obsession that can put their health at risk?
That is one of the issues health promoters want to highlight during Eating Disorder Awareness Week, which ends February 7, after observing an increase in the number of women and girls diagnosed with eating disorders.
The “Report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women” latest study “Eating Disorders Among Women and Girls in Canada” of November 2014 indicates the issue is more of a problem for women than men, with 80 per cent more woman identified.
Some of the alarming statistics indicate 10 per cent of individuals diagnosed with anorexia nervosa will die within 10 years of diagnosis. The overall mortality rate for anorexia nervosa is estimated at between 10 and 15 per cent, while mortality for bulimia nervosa is estimated at about five per cent. These two disorders kill an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 Canadians per year.
Personal trainer and weight loss specialist Roxanne Lauzon, who runs fitness and healthy eating programs in Glengarry, said eating disorders are connected to the fast-paced lifestyle.
She gave a talk one evening about anorexia and had a young teen in attendance share her story.
“What I noticed most that evening is that people, with reason, thought it was so sad that this pretty young lady was killing herself to be thin,” she said. “My message that night was: What is the difference between someone that is anorexic and someone that is obese? None. Both are heading in the same direction. Both have an eating disorder.”
Ms. Lauzon added that people would be best to have a healthy approach about their lifestyle and simply eat nutritious food, and exercise, in moderation.
“There is no magic solution to achieving optimal health; there is no magic pill or shortcut,” she said, adding the most important thing individuals can do for themselves is invest in their body’s wellbeing.
Champlain East Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) mental health promoter Angele D'Alessio said the CMHA visits schools to speak to Grade 9 students about the importance of having a healthy body image. Children learn unhealthy attitudes towards food and weight at a very young age.
In a study of five-year-old girls, a significant proportion of girls associated a diet with food restriction, weight-loss and thinness. As many as 37 per cent of girls in Grade 9 and 40 per cent in Grade 10 perceived themselves as being too fat.
She recommends teachers and parents look into the Dove SelfEsteem Project available online that discusses the issue in more detail.
Ms. D’Alessio added eating disorders are often connected to depression and anxiety. With depression affecting one in 10, and eating disorders as many as one in 200, eating disorders remain a significant problem. People with anorexia are obsessed with restricting their caloric intake and severe dieting, while bulimia involves binge eating and self-induced vomiting. Both cases often start with an unhealthy preoccupation with dieting.
Ottawa-based Hopewell helps people in Eastern Ontario who have eating disorders and offers support groups and online support. Some clients are as young as 13.
“Our numbers are up from before. We would get requests from people, both men and women,” said executive director Kathleen Cummings. “It’s a serious mental health issue and people that are close to someone living and struggling with an eating disorder are affected by it.” Wait times for treatment may also create challenges for people suffering from eating disorders. “There is so much stigma still around eating disorders,” she added. An Ipsos Reid study shows 95 per cent of eating disorders can be lifethreatening and as many as 50 per cent of Canadians know someone who has an eating disorder, based on the poll conducted on behalf of the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC).
Between 600,000 and 990,00 Canadians suffer from an eating disorder. NEDIC offers information to anyone needing help about what is available in their area. NEDIC also has a help line: 1-866-NEDIC-20.
“Eating disorders are not necessarily preventible,” NEDIC outreach and education coordinator Marbella Carlos said. “There are a lot of different factors that can influence a person’s behaviour that might lead to disordered eating, including genetics, psychological, and socio-cultural factors.”
She said what’s important is to show children they are fine the way they are and to do “everything we can to help our children build selfesteem.”