From February 1-7, Canada’s National Eating Disorder Information Centre is set to mark Eating Disorder Awareness Week. If the words “anorexia nervosa” immediately came to mind when you read that previous sentence, you’re certainly not alone. After all, the disorder has had plenty of media coverage in recent years.

While anorexia (where sufferers will refuse to eat) and bulimia (a condition where sufferers feel compelled to eat and then quickly vomit before they can receive any nutrition from their meal) are less common than binge eating disorder, there also tends to be more awareness of these illnesses.

This week, Toronto-based addiction treatment clinic Bellwood Health Services plans to expand the public’s knowledge of eating disorders to include awareness of conditions like binge eating disorder.  This disorder leads to uncontrollable bursts of over-eating and affects its sufferers for around 8.3 years on average.

Lauren Goldhamer, an eating disorders therapist at Bellwood, acknowledges there is confusion and even shame surrounding this condition.  “Most people feel shame, and hide the problem from others.  In fact, in front of others, they may eat normally or even appear to be dieting to conceal the problem,” she said.

Sadly, binge eating is not as uncommon as it may seem. According to the clinic, this disorder can strike 3.5 per cent of women and 2 per cent of men.

            As the clinical director of Bellwood Health Services, Susan McGrail agrees that more awareness is needed to educate the public about all eating disorders. With the right intervention programs, she believes that stereotypes about body type and image can be reduced.  

“These programs could address the normality of weight gain after puberty for girls and dispel myths about dieting, compensatory behaviors and caloric restriction,” she says. According to McGrail, studies have shown that these intervention programs can assist girls who may be at risk for developing an eating disorder.

Of course, eating disorders are also about far more than just food. Often, sufferers struggle with low self-esteem, negative thinking or emotional issues. While fitness is obviously part of a balanced lifestyle, over-exercising plays a role for some men and women with anorexia and bulimia, who strive to keep weight off at any cost.

Then there is the next step, the daunting road to recovery.  Sheena’s Place, a community-based outpatient centre for eating disorders in Toronto, focuses on support for anyone waiting for hospital treatment. As well, it helps those in recovery with making their return to their usual routine.

Deborah Berlin-Romalis, the centre’s executive director, believes that balance is key when overcoming an eating disorder. From staying fit to sleeping well, it’s a long journey for women and men who are battling a disorder.

“Exercise needs to be approached differently, seen as part of a routine that promotes wellness, like adequate sleep,” she says.

While Berlin-Romalis would also like to see increased awareness in schools, colleges and universities, she places focus on access to support services. “Holistic services and supportive services for people struggling with eating disorders and body image issues need to be delivered to people of all ages, to men and women,” she adds.

Featured Photo Credit: National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) on Instagram