What is an eating disorder?
An eating disorder is a mental illness that goes beyond food and diet, as it encompasses distorted thoughts and behaviours towards food, weight, as well as body image1. According to Statistics Canada, current prevalence rates of eating disorders remain around 3%, as approximately 1 million Canadians meet the diagnostic criteria2. Living with an eating disorder is physically and mentally exhausting, and it is difficult for an individual to accept that they may have one. Multiple factors can contribute to the development of an eating disorder such as media, family environment, socio-cultural values, and personality traits1.
What do you see when you look in the mirror? It’s common for most people to see at least one part of their physical appearance that they may not like. Constant exposure to media may intensify the perception of a physical flaw, which can lead to a fixation of constant negative thoughts. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are the two most commonly diagnosed eating disorders. Anorexia nervosa is a life-threatening eating disorder, which is often distinguished by extreme restriction, leading to nutrient deficiencies within the body and a low body weight. Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by repeated occurrences of eating, followed by activities to prevent weight gain such as fasting, diuretics, self-induced vomiting, or excessive exercise1. Binge eating disorder is another serious eating disorder that exists when an individual experiences a loss of control while eating an amount of food that would be in larger quantities than most people would eat in similar circumstances, including a similar timeframe1. It’s important to note that disturbances in behaviours occur on a continuum, as harmful behaviours range from as simple as going on and off diets, to extreme behaviours such as restricting fat from the diet1.
Often times, eating disorders remain invisible depending on weight, as they can exist within many body shapes and sizes. Eating disorders that exist at a young age may cause severe impairment in development and growth, as well as overall mental and social well being1.
It is important to understand some of the common physical, physiological, and behavioural warnings and signs of an eating disorder:
Physical warning signs3
- Accelerated loss in weight
- Loss or infrequent menstruation in females
- Decreased energy levels
- Irregular sleeping patterns
- Signs of potential damage due to vomiting (such as swelling of the cheeks or jaws, or corrosion of the teeth)
Psychological warning signs3
- Unhealthy body image
- Restricting food as self-punishment
- Experiencing anxiety or irritableness during mealtimes
Behavioural warning signs3
- Dieting behaviour (for example, counting calories, fasting, or avoiding macronutrients such as fats or carbohydrates)
- Eating alone and avoiding group meals
- Evidence of behaviours of binge eating
- Evidence of behaviours to prevent weight loss (such as laxatives, self-induced vomiting, or excessive exercise)
- High sensitivity to comments regarding body-image, eating, weight, and exercise
If you feel you have recognized one or more of the signs and symptoms listed above, it is suggested to seek help immediately. If you feel you may have an eating disorder, there are many different treatment plans available which vary depending on your needs.
How do I get help for my eating disorder?
Tell someone you trust about your struggles. Accept support from your loved ones. This is not something you need to go through alone. The next step is to see your family physician and share what you have been experiencing. If they do not suggest it first, request a referral to a local eating disorders program.
Oftentimes, individuals may not meet the admittance criteria for a program but that does NOT mean you don’t need or deserve help. In these cases, look for a private practice therapist and dietitian to help support you in your journey to recovery.
Below are some resources that may be of assistance as you start to navigate your recovery from an eating disorder.
NEDIC is a Canadian non-profit organization which aims to support those dealing with eating disorders. If you are unsure if whether or not you have an eating disorder, NEDIC provides a toll-free helpline that is open Monday-Friday from 9AM-9PM EST. The number is 1-866-NEDIC-20. You can also call the helpline for support, resources and treatment options. They list competent providers of eating disorder services across Canada in their Service Provider Directory.
Local Support in London, Ontario
The Adult Eating Disorders Service (AEDS) is a community based program provided by London Health Sciences Centre and the Canadian Mental Health Association Middlesex. This program delivers treatment to adults living with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and other specified feeding or eating disorders. Programming may be delivered in an outpatient, day treatment or residential setting.
The Eating Disorders program is a part of the London Health Sciences Centre Children and Adolescent Mental Health Care Program. This program delivers treatment to children and teens living with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and other eating concerns such as bingeing, excessive exercising and low body weight. Programming may be delivered in an outpatient, day treatment or inpatient setting.
Hope’s Eating Disorders Support provides support for those with eating disorders and strives to assist individuals on the pathway to recovery. Locations exist within London and Sudbury. Through their programming, they provide a safe and supportive space for individuals to discuss eating disorders.
change.creates.change Nutrition Counselling offers services with a Registered Dietitian that specializes in disordered eating and eating disorders. Located in London, change.creates.change offers eating disorder services which include individual and family counselling packages, group education classes, as well as meal support therapy. Our dietitian works with clients in the outpatient setting with treatment focused on recovery and engagement. Patients who are unable to access community and tertiary programs can also benefit from their services. change.creates.change is unique in that they offer evening and weekend appointments and have a short wait time of 1-2 weeks.
- Thompson J, Manore M, Sheeshka J. Nutrition: A functional approach 3rd edition. Toronto: ON: Pearson; 2014. 768 p.
- National Eating Disorder Information Centre [Internet]. Toronto, ON: Nedic; 2017 [updated 2017; cited 2018 Apr 21]. Canadian Research on Eating Disorders; [about 16 screens]. Available from: http://nedic.ca/sites/default/files//Canadian%20Research%20on%20Eating%20Disorders%20-%20Formatted.pdf
- National Eating Disorders Collaboration [Internet]. Australia: Government of Australia; [cited 2018 Apr 21]. Understanding the warning signs; [about 5 screens]. Available from: http://www.nedc.com.au/recognise-the-warning-signs
- National Eating Disorder Information Centre [Internet]. Toronto, ON: Nedic; 2018 [cited 2018 Apr 21]. Contact the Helpline; [about 2 screens]. Available from: https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/help-support/contact-helpline