Karen Wall knows all about disordered eating. A co-ordinator and director of the Vancouver-based non-profit Looking Glass Foundation, an open non-judgemental online forum for people struggling with eating disorders, Wall also suffered from eating disorders and anorexia for eight years, beginning at the age of 13.
“After I went through recovery and treatment, I started volunteering with Looking Glass with fundraising and promoting, putting up little booths at my university,” Wall said. “When they started the online support group I volunteered there for four years.”
As a facilitator she talks to people from age 16 to mid 60s who are dealing with disordered eating, whether diagnosed or not.
“It was a combination of support groups and counselling that helped me,” Wall recalled.
She was one of five people who participated in a panel discussion held during National Eating Disorders Week hosted by the Women’s Contact Society in Williams Lake on Feb. 28.
Dr. Glen Fedor, also part of the panel, said he first became interested in eating disorders because he had a sister-in-law who was bulimic in the 1970s when there wasn’t much help.
“She kept phoning me for advice and I started learning a little bit more.”
He arrived in Williams Lake 32 years ago and about 20 years ago he acquired a contract to work with children and youth involved with eating disorders.
“The basics of health are eating, exercise and sleep. They are all connected,” Fedor said.
Tracey Lee, a child and youth therapist with the Ministry of Children and Family Development, works with high risk young girls.
“Often whether it’s a parent that has an eating disorder or a child, you don’t really know until you get involved,” Lee said. “We’re starting to see a lot more kids coming to our attention at the ministry with child and youth that have disordered eating.”
Sue Peterson has worked at MCFD and at Thompson Rivers University.
“Most of my work in counselling has been around trauma,” she said. “I think we’re living in a more complex society than we ever were before and families are under more pressure.”
Molly Yochman, a health and addictions counsellor at Soda Creek, personally struggled with eating disorders, but wouldn’t classify them as anorexia or bulimia. Hers would be more about over exercising and under eating to different extremities.
“In regards to education I’ve taken a few different courses regarding eating disorders specifically and have worked with some individuals also struggling with disordered eating.”
Robyn Rekunyk of the Women’s Contact Society put together the panel, and posed three questions for each panel member to answer.
The first was whether eating disorders are becoming more of a problem because of media?
Holding a stack of women’s magazines, Fedor said he’d done his homework to see what people are faced with.
“These are strategically placed at the checkout counter.”
He read out some of the headlines: “Lose weight eating five foods you can have a whole bowl of. The three words you must never say to a guy, ‘I am fat.’ Love carbs and lose 15 pounds. Look slimmer without dieting. Mindful eating, you should know it and try it so here’s how. Suddenly slim. Your dream body in three weeks. Lose 12 pounds this month, fast, safe for good.”
Lee said media is out there and most people on TV are size five weighing 100 pounds.
“I wasn’t that in Grade 4,” she recalled. “I don’t buy magazines and I don’t own a scale. It starts young with our babies and us telling them how fabulous they are.”
Wall said so often girls in magazines are portrayed with their heads down, their eyes closed, or the mouths covered.
“They are portrayed very shy and cut off, unable to speak their mind. Again even for men in the magazines, you see guys who have zero hair on their body, or look like they’ve been in the army for years, with tight little underwear. I think a large increase in the eating disorders of males has had an impact from media,” she suggested.
A second question asked about treatment options to which Wall said there are options, but often those depend on location. There are beds at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver and the Looking Glass has opened up a treatment centre on Galileo Island but it’s very expensive, she added.
Yochman said Overeaters Anonymous is a good support and is open to everyone – all eating disorders.
Peterson said proper assessment and seeing a doctor are key, and seeing a nutritionist is a good start.
The final question asked if it’s possible for someone with an eating disorder to recover on their own without professional help.
Everyone agreed that was possible, but said it would depend on severity and a variety of factors.
“People out there have their own resiliency and their own support networks. Professional help may not be what that person needs. Their strongest support might be their peers,” Peterson said.
“I don’t know if you ever completely recover. You make ground, but I believe it’s something that you have for life and I believe with some helpful tools you can manage it,” Yochman said.
Wall disagreed and said she thinks people can be fully recovered.
“For me I would say I’m fully recovered. I have days that are more difficult than others, but other days when I don’t even think about it. I eat food because I’m hungry. Part of the fact I can say I’m fully recovered come from the resources I received when I was in therapy with a nutritionist and my doctor.”
Through that she learned how to structure her life so it doesn’t revolve around food and food doesn’t become an emotional issue she has to attack every day.
Fedor said he strongly believes that many people need to learn how to eat and enjoy a meal.
“You go out there and notice how many people are eating standing up, in their car, in front of the TV,” he said. “A few years ago at Children’s Hospital one of the first things doctors did was sit down and teach children how to eat. They didn’t do any therapy or drugs, just teach people how to eat again.”