Eating Disorder Awareness week is recognized in Canada this year from Feb. 1-7, and is focusing on changing the misconceptions surrounding eating disorders, while also encouraging those with a disorder to seek help.
Ally Geist is a Dalhousie student who is an ardent advocate for mental health. She believes Eating Disorder Week is important for many reasons, and said the week “gives a voice to people who are so often ignored.”
Geist said it also focuses on rejecting diet culture, which is important to her.
In 2006, Health Canada did a study on boys who were enrolled in grades nine to ten in Ontario. They found four per cent of those boys had tried body-altering drugs, such as steroid products, to change their bodies.
The culture of harmful body-changing supplements was also brought to Canadians attention in the media recently, when the number of liver failures recorded due to ingesting green tea extract were shown to be abnormally high.
Geist said that with eating disorders, “People tend to, as I once did, see eating disorders as the extremely thin white teenager who just wants to be ‘beautiful’. In reality, eating disorders can affect anyone, and are so much more than wanting to be beautiful.”
She added, “Eating disorders are about wanting a sense of control, and I just hope that the conversations that happen this week will help validate for someone that if they don’t fit into the media’s box of what an ED looks like, they are still sick and they still deserve help.”
Some of the ways to recognize an eating disorder in yourself or in others, Geist said, are “are not feeding your body when it’s hungry, getting anxious around meal times, or days when you skip the gym, and of course if you make yourself sick or abuse laxatives.
“If you find yourself thinking that you can ‘stop any time you want to,’ that you’re ‘not sick enough,’ or that your habits have changed recently, it might be worth talking to a doctor.”
One of the ways to face challenges to your mental health is practicing self-care, which can be done in a variety of ways.
When it comes to self-care for those with an eating disorder, Geist said practices can be anything from “taking a long bath, finishing those dishes that have been piled up for weeks, or snuggling with your dog. In terms of those struggling with eating disorders, caring for your body can be really powerful.”
If you or a loved one are struggling with an eating disorder, please call the National Eating Disorder Hotline at 1-866-633-4220 toll free.