World Eating Disorder Action Day 2019
June 2 is World Eating Disorder Action Day and as the tagline goes, “eating disorders cannot afford to wait.”
It’s easy to get lost in a slough of awareness weeks and days when our attention and empathy is asked of us at what seems like every corner we turn, but these are also some of the most meaningful gifts we can ever give to another person or group of people: our focused and thoughtful attention and our openness to empathize. These are perhaps the things that make us most human and generating more of these things over cynicism and detachment is one of our greatest human endeavours. That said, it can be challenging to find the time and the understanding if an issue doesn’t directly impact you or someone you love, so we’ll keep this brief and to the point.
With that said, let’s delve into the importance of World Eating Disorder Action Day for those who struggle, their loved ones, and the hardworking professionals who do the most honourable work of supporting people in their recovery.
For those who are in recovery, the following contains some personal experiences of people struggling with (or who have struggled) with eating disorders. Care has been taken around trying to eliminate potential triggers, but everyone finds different things triggering so this is just a gentle reminder to assess where you’re at and read with some care. You can always message us if you find something triggering or have any feedback for us.
Why An “Action Day”?
Because aside from the overdose crisis, eating disorders have the highest mortality rates of all psychiatric illness. One study found that women with anorexia nervosa are 57 times more likely than women in the general population to commit suicide (Harvard 2003 study).
“Because I was told by a psychiatrist, the very person I needed help from in my darkest moment, that my attempt on my life was “stupidity.””
Because eating disorders are not a choice.
Because stigma towards eating disorders and other mental health issues is still rampant, even in healthcare settings.
Because eating disorders affect people of all weights, ages, genders, sexual orientations, socioeconomic statuses, and ethnic backgrounds.
Because beyond mortality, eating disorders contribute to significant morbidity and quality of life loss. Eating disorders and other mental illnesses belong to a category of conditions (neuropsychiatric) that make up one of the leading causes of global disease burden (WHO 2001; GBD 2016; Our World in Data).
Because eating disorders are very commonly associated with other mental illnesses/mental health problems.
“Because eating disorders are a symptom of a larger problem for people.”
Because the earlier treatment starts, the better the chances of recovery.
Because recovery - living a more authentic and valued life - is ALWAYS possible for everyone, no matter how long they’ve struggled.
“Because “chronic” feels like a sentence of hopelessness.”
“Because when I finally reached out for help I was met with doubt.”
Because eating disorders don’t have “a look.”
Because someone needing support cannot wait 3 months or more to start treatment.
“Because I’ve had to put everything on hold while I strive towards my recovery.”
Because having to leave one’s community to get the help they need is very challenging for individuals and families.
Because according the the Canadian Psychological Association’s own report in 2014 “Canada has fallen behind other countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia, the Netherlands, and Finland” in pursuing innovative and cost-effective methods for treating eating disorders.
“Because I don’t feel sick enough to deserve help” and healthcare’s focus on physical symptomatology often reinforces this widespread belief among people struggling with eating disorders.
Because diet culture is rampant in our culture and weight stigma is rampant in healthcare and it costs people their lives (Ellen Bennett obituary).
“Because I once met a woman who I knew would die from her illness completely unnecessarily and two years later she did at age 40, leaving behind a teenager who is now growing up without a mother.”
Because there are many more stories like this and every person struggling knows at least a handful of people who’ve lost their lives to their disorder either through medical complications or suicide.
Because we should not be turning people away from seeking help simply because they don’t fit our inaccurate stereotypical expectations of an eating disorder.
“Because I base my self-worth on my weight despite having more important and meaningful attributes.”
Because the research and recommendations by the previous B.C. government exist and some progress has been made, but there’s still much farther to go. In 2012/2013 An environmental scan of services and recommendations and subsequent set of clinical guidelines were put forward by the B.C. government, but many of these recommendations still do not exist in actual practice. (MCFD Action Plan for EDs, 2010).
Because no one should be praised for losing weight when the truth of the matter is they are exacting violent self-harm against themselves and their bodies.
Because everyone deserves equal opportunity for accessible, adequate, and timely support.
Because Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is by far the most common eating disorder and Anorexia Nervosa (AN) is the least common, but receives the most representation in the media. Articles on eating disorders almost always use images of emaciated bodies to grab readers attentions thus often circumventing the very purpose of raising awareness. We don’t just need any awareness raised, we need thoughtful and accurate awareness of what eating disorders actually are.
Because health is a broad definition and the medical model is limited in attaining that, especially when it comes to mental health.
“Because whilst surrounded by lost relationships, time, and opportunities I was still told “I wish I had a bit of an eating disorder. too””
Because mental health is just as important as physical health and this needs to be reflected in the funding we allocate to it and our approaches to treatment in healthcare and society.
Because private treatment options are important, but not accessible to many. Because even the best insurance plans often don’t cover residential treatment costs or adequate therapy so imagine what it’s like for anyone without that support.
Because oftentimes parents have done more to advocate and create positive change for their children with eating disorders than the healthcare system.
Because upstream approaches aimed at supporting individuals in their own community, especially when transitioning out of higher levels of care are often more effective and cost-saving (Upstream, 2017; CMHA, 2019). A 2004 US study compared the cost of the limited-intensity, ―usual care model of treating anorexia nervosa with a more comprehensive approach, consisting of inpatient weight restoration followed by treatment of gradually diminishing intensity (e.g., partial hospitalization followed by outpatient psychotherapy with medication management). The study found that comprehensive treatment of anorexia resulted in a cost per year of life saved of US $30,000 (Crow & Nyman, 2004).
Because treatment should be based on the patient and their needs not on limited funding.
Because a proper picture of eating disorders in B.C. and the rest of Canada is limited and we need more comprehensive statistics and research to help shape better treatment; to understand what is working and what is not.
Because our culture is disordered in its attitudes toward nutrition, activity, and our bodies and this makes recovering from an eating disorder and seeking a “normal” relationship with these aspects of our lives more challenging.
Because eating disorders, especially in certain populations (e.g. men, those in larger bodies, persons of colour, etc.) are under-diagnosed and underrepresented.
Because an extremely limited number of eating disorder psychiatric specialists compared to a wider selection of general psychiatrists is not good enough and creates silo-ed care.
Because hardworking clinicians can only do so much without inadequate resources and funding.
Because while we’re grateful for what there is, we can and need to do better for people.
From the public, we ask for a moment of your attention and your empathy if you have the chance to offer it.
From the media, we ask for care and thoughtful attention to these stories, but also the simple goal of not using images that perpetuate stereotypes for those struggling.
From politicians, we ask for your commitment to help us create positive change for individuals and families struggling with these issues.
From the healthcare system, we ask for ambition to improve and expand services.
For clinicians who work with eating disorders, we thank you for all the life-saving work you do.
For individuals and families struggling with these issues, we send our love and remind you to keep hope alive.
This World Eating Disorders Action Day some may want to engage more with action and advocacy and others may want a quieter kind of reflection on what this day means for them. In all cases we suggest a day where you do something kind for yourself.
We will be hosting a rock painting event in Beacon Hill Park on June 2 from 1:00-3:00 PM and all are welcome to attend, to gather together and spend some time with nature and creativity. See our events page for more details if this sounds like something that interests you.