Southlake reaches out to over 500 teens with eating disorders


Southlake Regional Health Centre is recognized nationally for the successful treatment of teens suffering from severe eating disorders. In 1997, the hospital was designated by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care as the site of a Regional Eating Disorder Program serving teens in the Central East Region of Ontario, which includes York Region, Peterborough, Haliburton, Durham Region, Simcoe County, Kawartha and Pine Ridge.

Eight years later, the program’s model of care and its experienced multidisciplinary team have helped more than 500 teens and have earned a stellar reputation across Canada for providing the highest standards of care.

A major factor in Southlake’s success is a Day Treatment Program running Monday to Friday, from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The Eating Disorders Team is comprised of 14 professionals from psychiatry, social work, nutrition, psychology, child and youth work, and education. Their goal is to help teens resume normal eating, restore their weight, eliminate dangerous weight loss practices, and resolve underlying psychological issues. All meals and snacks are eaten during program hours and generally the teens participate in the program for three to six months. While in the program, students continue their studies with the help of a qualified Board of Education teacher.

“Southlake was the first hospital in Ontario and one of the first in Canada to have a Day Treatment Program specifically designed for adolescents with eating disorders. Staff in our program developed a psycho-educational manual for teens and their families that has been adopted by other hospitals across the country,” states John Schmelefske, M.A. R.S.W. and Program Team Leader.

“Before the Day Treatment program clients in the community would continue to lose weight until they required admission to the hospital. Day treatment is a less intrusive and more cost effective way to prevent weight loss. Unfortunately, hospital admission will be necessary for some patients, but the vast majority of our clients can be helped without admission to the hospital.”

In addition to the Day Treatment program and Inpatient services, Southlake offers an Outpatient program for those teens that can manage on their own in the community but will benefit from counseling to provide emotional support and nutritional information. Family and peer support are key to the success of any patient, no matter which program they are using. Parents or guardians are expected to actively participate in the treatment process by joining a group program that uses peer contact as a powerful agent of change.

Southlake also relies on the generous support of the community to continue offering this renowned, life-saving program closer to home for the people of Central East Ontario. G.I.F.T. (Grocery Industry Foundation Together) is a major corporate supporter who recently made a donation of $57,500 to outfit the Eating Disorder Program’s classroom, education resource centre and therapeutic group room. This builds on G.I.F.T.’s previous donation of $30,000 to help support renovations to establish a permanent home for the Program within the Hospital.

“G.I.F.T.’s goal is to help children in need and help them lead happier, healthier and more productive lives,” says chair of the GIFT Board Mr. Duncan Reith, “We are very pleased to continue with our support for Southlake’s Eating Disorders program. It is making such a difference for the young people who suffer from this sometimes tragic disease.”

Statistics on Eating Disorders

There are three main manifestations of eating disorders:

  1. Anorexia nervosa results when an individual refuses to maintain a body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for age and height because of an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat.
  2. Bulimia involves a pattern of binge eating followed by either self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives or excessive exercise in order to lose weight.
  3. Binge Eating Disorder occurs when one binges without the compensatory behaviours noted above and often results in obesity.
    • The overall prevalence of eating disorders is approximately 1% of the general population
    • 1 in 10 are males
    • 1 in 4 are females, aged 12 to 18 years
    • 60% of Grade 7 and 8 girls are dieting to lose weight (source: McVey, 2002)
    • By Grade 6, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 10 boys have been on a diet (source: Northern Regional Health Board, Nova Scotia)
    • Since 1987, hospitalizations for eating disorders in general hospitals have increased by 34% among young women < age 15 and by 29% among 15 - 24 year olds
    • Recent study of 16,000 9 to16 year olds found that dieting was linked to weight gain


“We were at the point where we feared for our daughter’s life and we feel the program has given her back to us and we will never, ever forget all the wonderful people who have made this possible. It is hard to put into words the gratitude we feel and the joy we are experiencing having our daughter back.”
Father of a client of the Day Treatment Program

“I’ve never known people like the one’s here. The staff are strong and caring, and will be in my heart forever.”
17 year old female, client of the Day Treatment Program