Shining a light on eating disorders

By Tanya Cronin
February 6, 2018 - 4:51pm Updated: February 7, 2018 - 11:02am

KAMLOOPS — They suffer in silence, and often succumb to the illness. Eating Disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Anorexia and bulimia in particular deny the body essential nutrients which gradually lead to major health issues. This is Eating Disorders Awareness week, a time to shine a light on a disease that affects people of all ages, and open up conversation.

A silent disease, a silent killer. Eating disorders are considered to be the deadliest of all mental illnesses, plaguing countries all over the world.

"It is very high up there for mortality rate for eating disorders, probably for anorexia nervosa in particular, 10 to 20% of those people will die from it," says Carla St. Germain, Kamloops Eating Disorders Program.

In Canada between 500,000 and 1 million people are suffering from anorexia, bulimia, purging disorder or binge eating. And over the past 30 years, the disease has become more and more prevalent, especially among teenagers.

"There's been a 34% increase in under 15 years old admitted to hospital, under 15 to 24 years old is a 29% increase in hospital admissions, so it's actually getting prevalent, I would say we have a lot more work to do."

Mental health expert Carla St. Germain says the Kamloops Eating Disorders Program is working hard to keep up with demand. She says the illness isn't a choice, it doesn't discriminate, and the disease runs much deeper than food and appearance.

"It's more about trying to avoid emotional pain and trying to find some sense of control in their lives, and that's one of the things we're going to go to because our culture promotes weight loss or looking a certain way, so people are naturally going to go to that place to feel better about themselves." 

Triggers, confusing messages, and unrealistic expectations. It's easy to say society and the media has caused obsessions to be thin and fit. Experts say while the illness is different for everyone, the signs include an over focus on food, weight, shape and exercise, and major shifts in mood.

"Depression, anxiety, those kinds of things are also very closely linked to having the eating disorder, there's also more isolation, we'll see that with people, especially if it's things that involve going out and being social because that usually involves food."

There isn't a quick-fix or one-size-fits-all solution, and it isn't something one can overcome on their own. It's time to reduce the stigma, give a voice to the cause, and give those suffering a glimmer of hope.

"It needs to be out there to reduce the shame and the guilt that's involved there for the people that we see struggling, that's the best thing we can do is have conversations and make this a much more talked about issue," says St. Germain.

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