A plate of fear – a bowlful of hope

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We all have fears. For some it may be staggering heights while for others it could be a small, dark room. For Elizabeth James fear was a plate of food.

“I was terrified of being fat,” says 26-year-old Elizabeth (not her real name). “I would fear food and sometimes go for days without eating and then I would binge and purge by forcing myself to vomit after eating. Until recently, this was my life.”

And it has been a life of secrets, of shattered dreams, of trying to live up to an impossible ideal. Not even close friends and family were aware of Elizabeth’s constant battle, a war in fact, between her body and her unattainable ideal of thinness. Her weapons in the war included pills, scales, denying her body food then binging followed by purging. For most of her life the war continued with her body as the battlefield, the scars hidden deep inside her. But like all wars, Elizabeth’s finally came to an end. And it was William Osler Health Centre’s Eating Disorders Clinic that helped Elizabeth pick up the pieces and begin the long journey to recovery.

“It was Christmas 2001 when I saw a flyer advertising the new Eating Disorders Clinic at the Brampton Memorial Hospital Campus,” she recalls. “I thought I could get help there to lose weight. That they could help me eat better so I could lose the extra pounds I gained while spending a year in Europe.”

Elizabeth is one of a large number of people living with secrets about their unhealthy relationship with food. It is estimated that up to one per cent of adolescent and adult females suffer from Anorexia Nervosa, while Bulimia Nervosa occurs in two to five per cent of adolescent and adult females. Up to 50 per cent of adolescent and adult women engage in some form of disordered eating and weight control behaviors. Although eating disorders are more common among females, they are increasingly being identified among males (between five per cent and 10 per cent of the diagnoses are made among males).

Within the Regions of Halton and Peel alone, it is projected that over 10,000 individuals between the ages 12 to 20 have some form of eating disorder and require services of an eating disorder clinic.

“Eating disorders are psychiatric disorders, which may have serious medical consequences,” explains Sylvia Kerr, dietician with the Eating Disorders Clinic.

“They are characterized by preoccupation with body size, or size of specific parts of the body, idealization of thinness, dissatisfaction with body size, intense need to control weight and intense fears of weight gain.”

For many years the community was concerned about the lack of service in the area for eating disorders. William Osler Health Centre listened and answered.

“No similar service existed in Brampton and the surrounding area so people had to access treatment services in Toronto,” explains Alemka Mahalec, manager for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services of which the Eating Disorders Clinic is a part. “The community needed a more accessible service and to help provide early identification and intervention.

William Osler Health Centre played a key advocacy role in bringing the eating disorders program to the community and in coordinating the key players.”

William Osler Health Centre is a partner in the Central West Eating Disorders Program that covers the Regions of Peel, Halton, Dufferin, Waterloo, and Wellington. Similar programs exist now throughout these areas to provide consistency, support and accessibility in the treatment of eating disorders.

“We deliver outpatient treatment for eating disorders to children, adolescents and adults residing in Halton Hills (Acton and Georgetown) and North Peel (Brampton and Caledon),” explains Christine Arbic, social worker. “We also are responsible for the treatment of children and adolescents in Dufferin County.”

The friendship, and the sense of not being alone with her secret was a great comfort to Elizabeth who has been part of a group of young women who have been fighting similar wars.

“I knew I had to do something and as difficult as it was for me to come to terms that the life I had been leading was not right as far as my attitude toward food was concerned, I had to get help. It was very encouraging for me to know that there were people like me going through similar experiences. Now I am much happier and the chaos that had been part of my life for so long is gone. I was so glad to have this service available to me in Brampton. There really is a need for this service and I only wish I had come to Christine and Sylvia sooner. This is a sad thing to go through. But the best advice I can give others who may be struggling with food is to live day by day and learn to say it’s OK – I can do this.”

Elizabeth didn’t find a weight loss clinic when she entered the doors of the Eating Disorders Clinic at 30A Kennedy Road South, Suite 201. She found a new life.