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news: winnipeg program will provide free services to people battling eating disorders

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Title/Topic: Winnipeg Program Will Provide Free Services to People Battling Eating Disorders
Posted On: 10/1/2009
Oct 1 2009, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada (Uptown Magazine Online) – Alyssa Stevenson was 12 years old when she developed anorexia. She battled it for 12 years before dying of it at the age of 24.

“At first, like many parents, I had no idea what we were going to be getting involved in,” recalls Alyssa’s mom, Elaine Stevenson.

“The only reason people had eating disorders back then was because their mother was either too strict or not strict enough; it was this mother-blame crap – and I truly believed it.

“And then you start meeting families in the hospital (Alyssa was hospitalized throughout her teens, sometimes for months at a time), you notice them because they keep coming back and you keep coming back, and you wonder, well, maybe there’s a better way. There has to be a better way.”

Targeted treatment services for Manitobans suffering from eating disorders did not exist in the 1990s. However, thanks to the tireless advocacy of people such as Elaine (who founded the Eating Disorder Association of Manitoba in 1998 with other parents) and Alyssa – who went public with her story six years before she died, talking about her illness on local TV and radio shows in hope of breaking down stigma and helping others understand it – that’s changed.

In 2001, the Health Sciences Centre opened an adolescent treatment centre offering in-patient, out-patient and day treatment programs.

“That was the first thing we fought for like crazy,” Stevenson says. “We were so worried about the people who didn’t have the benefit of time on their side. They were ill. They needed to have a special unit that could work with them.”

Now Manitobans who are struggling with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating or compulsive eating have another resource.

On Sept. 28, the province launched a community-based eating disorder prevention and recovery program. Run out of Winnipeg’s Women’s Health Centre, 419 Graham Ave., the $238,000 program will offer assessments, group and individual counselling, and consultations with dietitians and nurses. Post-hospital follow-up support and ongoing support to families of those suffering from eating disorders will also be available.

All services are free, available to anyone 16 or older, male or female.

Lisa Naylor has been a teen counsellor at WHC for 10 years and will be one of two counsellors involved with the new program.

“For an agency that focuses all our work on women’s health, there’s no way to avoid the issues of disordered eating, body image dissatisfaction and weight preoccupation,” Naylor says, noting the new program will help fill the gaps in services identified by medical practitioners and community members alike – such as treatment for binge eating and services for men.

Eating disorders are very common, particularly among young women, who comprise an estimated 90% of those with diagnosed illnesses such as anorexia or bulimia. According to the Canadian Paediatric Society, eating disorders are now the third most-common chronic illness in adolescent girls.

Eating disorders are also very dangerous; anorexia, in particular, has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness.

“It’s a very complicated illness and it’s difficult to treat – especially if it’s been going on for a long time,” Stevenson says. “Plus, it’s very sad because often people feel so ashamed, and they suffer in silence.”

The causes of eating disorders are varied, and can include everything from genetics to low self esteem to sexual abuse.

Unrealistic social expectations can also play a role, Naylor says.

“If you. read the criteria to have an eating disorder, many of the things that are listed are considered normal everyday activities, especially for women,” she says.

“These things aren’t shocking anymore because we’re given a whole different view of what is normal and healthy for females in the culture – by mass media, of course, but I think it’s more complicated than that.

“Someone can be in their so-called healthy weight range and yet be practicing all kinds of self-destructive behaviours and have all kinds of self-destructive feelings about their body,” she adds.

“You can’t just assume because they appear to be a healthy weight that they’re a healthy person.”

“We need to let people understand and know that if they are feeling not well from any kind of illness, it’s OK to ask for help,” Stevenson says.

“You don’t have to be alone. You don’t have to be ashamed. Please – come and get help.”

For more information on the new program or to make an intake appointment, go to or call 947-2422, ext. 506.

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