Eating Disorder Awareness Week 2016

Today is the start of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, a campaign that seeks to raise awareness of eating disorder prevalence and their deadly consequences.

In Canada, roughly 600,000-990,000 people have eating disorders1 at any given time. 80% of those with eating disorders are women and girls. Factors contributing to these mental illnesses include genetics, social, biological, and cultural factors1. Eating disorders can affect anyone, female, male, any and all ethnicities, all ages, and all sizes.

While it is very important to not reduce eating disorders to being about weight (which they honestly are generally not about, instead often the focus on weight, food and eating is actually a coping mechanism for other larger issues in the person’s world) living in the weight and food obsessed culture that exists definitely doesn’t help. Many people go for years without diagnosis because their BMI does not match criteria for anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa, or their eating habits simply seem “strong” and “controlled” rather than the unhealthy obsessions that they are. In fact someone who is obese and engages in dangerous eating disorder behaviours that result in weight loss is more likely to be rewarded and praised for their efforts rather than cautioned or questioned.

Eating disorders also have a reputation of being a rich white girl’s issue, but they are most certainly not. Men, women, girls and boys of any nationality, ethnic background, and social  can be suffering from this mental illness. I have seen eating disorders strike all ages; from children to adults. Some people will live their whole lives with an eating disorder, some will recover, and some will die from their illness.

Treatment of eating disorders is an area the province of BC is attempting to reform, because of the lack of services available and a growing need. In-service treatment facilities (where clients stay for treatment) are minimal and have constant wait lists, and services provided outside of these facilities are also vastly underfunded and difficult to access (mostly because there are too many people seeking treatment, and too few people working in this area). Many health professionals also do not feel comfortable working with this unique population (of course this is not unique to eating disorders, any “specialty” area can mean most general health practitioners do not feel confident in knowing the ins and outs of that issue).

Fortunately there are some resources available to folks who might be looking to find out more. If you or someone you know has, or might have, an eating disorder here are some of the helpful websites you can access to find out more or what to do to help:

Kelty Mental Health

Looking Glass Foundation

NEDIC

And never forget to talk to your health care practitioner, doctor or nurse practitioner, because they will help you find services in your area as well.

Meanwhile you can also participate in the Provincial Eating Disorder Awareness Week campaign #Purple4PEDAW and don’t forget to wear purple (and check out the purple landmarks across BC) on February 5th to help raise awareness of this difficult disease.

1. Eating disorders among girls and women (2014). Report of the standing on the status of women in Canada. Accessed January 31, 2016 from: http://www.parl.gc.ca/content/hoc/Committee/412/FEWO/Reports/RP6772133/feworp04/feworp04-e.pdf

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Ok, we can round down to 91. 91 days of photos I have taken and shared with the world. I am officially over one quarter of the way through a year long photo project I started shortly after my twenty-eighth birthday. It was a bit of a spontaneous decision to start it, but something I’d been thinking about doing for some time. I’d seen several bloggers and friends do similar projects, and always thought it might be fun to try.

In the months proceeding my birthday I went through some big changes; starting a graduate school program and moving to a new town. Yup big stuff.

And I’m not sure why, but I’d always looked forward to being twenty-eight; call it wishful thinking, call it being hopeful but I just always had the number twenty-eight as a good age. So when I hit that particular birthday I thought maybe I should see if twenty-eight is as awesome as I’d assumed it would be. So far? Pretty darn good.

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While it wasn’t my intention this project also fits well into aspects of my school program. The program I am in is the St. Francis Xavier Master of Adult Education. At first this might seem like an odd fit for a dietitian, but if you think about it, I spend my day educating adults about food, health and nutrition, so it actually makes sense to have a better understanding of how adults actually learn.

A very prominent part of some of many adult learning theories is critical reflection; when you go through an event or experience you reflect on it to learn and come to new understandings or perhaps reinforce things you already knew. If you don’t reflect on the events, your learnings or your beliefs, you don’t really learn, grow or change. Many of us do some reflecting (I believe) unconsciously, but actually taking time after critical events, major learning evens, your beliefs, thoughts and feelings can be a huge way to grow.

Another theory around adult education is that adults learn much better by doing then by simply learning by rote or being lectured to about a topic. The St. FX program practices what it preaches; so much of program are hands on assignments and not lecture based courses (also? Completely self-directed! LOVE IT!!!). So it is that we have a large critical reflection assignment near the end of the program. And they encourage these to take on a more creative aspect if we wish. It can be a large written assignment, or something else with a brief explanation.

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So will my assignment be a photo project? I don’t know yet, but I can see how this project is making me reflect on each day; on what was a highlight, what was worth creating a memory of on social media. Despite only being 25% of the way through, I can see a shift as I try to have more photographs of nature, and challenge myself to stop on the highway on my daily commute, or take a photograph that makes me feel self-conscious in it’s importance to me.

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I like that I’m more inclined now to get outside and take a walk during my lunch hours to find new scenery and places for photos. I’ve also had to do things I’ve always wanted to do, but feel self-conscious doing, like pulling over on the highway and taking pictures during my commute. Another aspect I’ve reflected on is the fact that I am doing this in the social media world. Does knowing people will see the photos affect what I post? The thought of “will someone like this” definitely passes through my mind, but I try to mostly focus on what I want to take photos of and not what the reaction will be, or how many likes it will get (though I’d be lying if I said those thoughts never cross my mind). I’ve also tried to challenge myself to have fun and experiment with photography a little bit. Most of my photos are taken with my phone, but I do take a few with my DSLR (uploaded to instagram via dropbox). While I feel mostly positive about this experience, there are days when I go oh sh*t what am I going to take a photo of today?!

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Lastly this project has helped me find the little things that make me happy, and has even turned into what you might call a gratitude practice. After all, if I can find one bright spot (even if it’s just my fur baby Marina) on those days where it’s hard to feel any kind of gratitude, it helps remind me that I have a pretty darn good life for the most part.

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I’m curious to see how it progresses and changes as time goes on. I think that it will be very interesting to look back on a year and see all the photos (much like I find it interesting to revisit some of my personal journal entries from time to time).

Have you ever done a photography challenge? Did it make you stop and think or help you get out of your box around what you take photos of?

EDAW

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Before the week is out, I wanted to touch on a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Eating Disorders. For those of you who haven’t heard, February 1-7 is eating disorders awareness week (#edaw). Eating Disorders are a growing mental health issue, and something that I believe has touched many of our lives. I have encountered eating disoders both personally and professionally, and it seems in ever growing numbers.

No one knows why exactly eating disorders are growing in numbers, and it is likely that there are many different factors contributing. Sure our fatphobic and constantly dieting society could be contributing, but as many health professional working in this field can tell you, eating disoders are never truly about the weight. Yes the weight focus is often there, but mostly eating disoders are a mental health issue, and are very often a way for people to cope with stress and/or negative emotions/events in their lives.

This year for #edaw, NEDIC wants you to remember that talking saves lives. Like many mental health issues the biggest barriers to truly finding solutions and better management is not talking about it. Silence keeps myths alive, stigma alive, and just generally brushes things under the rug. The more people talk and discuss eating disorders and the many consequences of them, the more awareness there is of this issue. So let’s talk, because even if all you have are questions, it gets the discussion going.

For more information on eating disorders you can check out the following sites:

NEDIC

Kelty Eating Disorders

Book Review I

I like to read. I read every day. I read blogs. I read books. I read magazine articles. And lots of books. In fact I don’t think I’ve gone to bed  without reading at least a few pages of a book I enjoy for as long as I can remember (and before I read to myself my parents read to me, so I have literally been falling asleep with a story in my head for as long as I can remember).

After finishing university I stepped away from reading about food and nutrition in my spare time. But since rediscovering the library I’ve found myself drawn to books about food more. Especially books about eating, and our relationship with food (something I believe to be fundamentally messed up in our society). And since our relationship with food can be a large barrier to sustainable changes, as a dietitian I’ve really worked to seek out methods, and ideas for change that seem to work for others.

Enter this book.

I actually first heard about it years ago when Oprah still had a talk show. I can remember the author being on the show, but wasn’t all that drawn to the discussion of anything spiritual (believing most of it to be mumbo-jumbo).

And this book is really about spirituality and how a person’s eating can be a gateway to finding what’s missing in their life; or what stories they tell themselves about their inadequacies. It’s geared towards female compulsive eaters specifically, but really anyone who feels they might use food for purposes other then physical nourishment might benefit from reading it.

What about the science? Us dietitians (being health professionals and all) are all about Evidence Based Advice. “What does the evidence say? “ we might often ask ourselves before relaying some diet advice to a client. Or my favourite response to some of the nutrition beliefs people have (but are not ready to hear are false) well the evidence doesn’t support that idea but…  This book doesn’t claim any sort of scientific background, there’s no research or evidence mentioned. Instead Geneen Roth draws on her own experience as a compulsive eater, and that of her many clients and retreat attendees.

While she threads the idea that eating is a connection to our spiritual selves (and thus compulsive overeating, the constant cycle of dieting and binging is a sign that we are missing something spiritual in our lives) what she really gets at is that we need to listen to our bodies.

Seeing as this is the idea behind things such as Mindful Eating, Intuitive Eating and HAES based philosophies (all of which are based on research) in a roundabout way Women, Food and God is right in line with the evidenced based books that are out there.

Overall? It’s a nice quick read and if you’ve ever struggled with binge eating or compulsive eating, it’s worth a read. For health professionals? It’s always good to see what’s out there being sold to the masses.

Internship: The Things You Will Learn take II

So having left my alarm set for yesterday’s wake up time (5:15am) I find myself with a little extra time on my hands this morning. Yup I feel silly, I didn’t realized I was up so early until I was showered, sipping coffee and eating a bagel with almond butter.

Yep.

So now I’m bright eyed and bushy tailed and have extra time to do something, like write a blog post.

Yesterday with my preceptor I attended a workshop called Waisting Away run by a dietitian Helene Charlebois who has been in the weight loss industry (both through government positions and her own private practice) for 20 plus years. She works with other obesity experts such as  Dr. Arya Sharma.

I found the workshop very interesting, as private practice is an area I’m interested in. Her theory is that dieting is simple, but ever so complex and difficult, and really its true, the realm of weight management is confusing, full of grey areas and a myriad of possibilities (whether you are the “dieter” or the professional trying to help this dieter). She had lots of studies, evidence based research, as well as practice based strategies for helping clients lose weight (when they want to). It’s not about shaming, not about telling anyone they are not right at their weight, it’s about helping them choose if and what changes they want to make.

She discussed all the different things people do to lose weight, from bariatric surgery, to weight loss pills, to diets. She didn’t poo poo anything, but she did say consequences of these choices and how well or how not well they work. While she said the ideal is of course to have everyone eating a real whole foods diet, this might not be realistic.

One of my favourite slides showed a study that recorded 84 hours of primetime TV and another 12 hours of Saturday morning TV (meant for children). This study from the Journal of American Dietetics Journal observed the food advertisements during this time. They compared the nutrient content of the observed advertised food, and compared it to the Daily Values recommended at the time (study observed the television from 2004, and the study was printed in 2010). The following was found:

  • 2,560% of recommended daily sugar intake
  • 2,080% of recommended daily fat intake
  • 40% of the recommended daily vegetable intake
  • 32% of the recommended daily dairy intake
  • 27% of the recommended daily fruit intake

If you go by this, you can see most of us would not be meeting our daily recommendations for fruits, vegetables, dairy products, but would be eating far too much sugar and fat.

This is something I’ve always felt really contributes to the way we eat. I believe that while final food choices are (perhaps) up to the individual you can in no way say that the environment does not affect what a person eats. After all, we tend in all aspects of life to like what we know, and what is familiar and with screen time always growing, how can we not be more familiar with a big mac and fries than with a carrot?

What do you think? Does the environment influence us? Do we live in an “obeseogenic society” or is it really just “up to the individual”?

Reference

M Mink, A Evans, C G Moore, K S Calderon, S Deger (2010) Nutritional Imbalance Endorsed by Televised Food Advertisements. The Journal of American Dietetics Association.

Hungry For Change: Review

I recently participated in the online premiere of Hungry for Change, a documentary done mostly through interviews that looks at what may be causing obesity in North America (or the world in general). Here’s the trailer:

I can’t say there was anything new in this movie. It was the usual, too much sugar in our diet, too many processed foods.

I enjoyed hearing some of the “facts” but I wish they had given the studies that they received their information from (in one part they discuss how diet soda with caffeine + aspartame are a deadly combination that causes brain cells to die in complete euphoria) since some of it sounds interesting (and far fetched, though I have no doubts at all that sugar replacements are something we know very little about and are most likely hazardous to our health).

While I agree that we have too much added sugar in our foods, I’m tired of hearing it compared to a drug. Of course sugar uses the same pathway in our brain as heroin or cocaine; it’s the dopamine pathway, so anything that gives you pleasure or makes you happy could be doing the same thing. Here’s an interesting blog post discussing just that.

As a whole I support the idea of  whole foods and local eating as a way to live a healthier life, but I am tired of hearing the idea that if everyone bought a juicer, we could all be healthy. I do not believe that it is as simple as telling people to eat more fruits and vegetables (after all we do that a lot already). There is a lot of problems that are a little more systemic in our food system that deny in some instances access or availability of foods to areas, population or people I would love to see a film that maybe discusses the ways we can work to change our food system (though perhaps this is discussed in films such as Forks Over Knives, or Food Inc. I must admit I haven’t seen those yet).

On the other hand, I really liked that this film was not completely over the top about pushing a certain lifestyle. They discussed more whole foods (fruits + vegetables), more local foods. They didn’t vilify wheat, or meat, or even butter. I loved some of the discussion of how other areas of your life can affect what you eat. And the power of mind, the idea of visualization really interests me. I do completely support the idea of local and sustainable practice, and working to eat “a diet as a species would eat”. Some of the personal stories are really inspiring as well.

While in the end what goes in your mouth is personal choice, the road for food to get there is much more complicated than that. Ideas such as availability and access (food deserts anyone?) play a large role in health as well, and I would love to see a film discuss the food system, and it’s relation to obesity, from a corporate (and even food policy) level as well. We do have to really change what is going in our mouth, but perhaps we have to change what is being made available to go in our mouths

So have you seen the film? What were your thoughts?