On Feb. 7, nutrition students from NUTR 430: Professional Practice III took the project of organizing Eating Disorder Awareness Week one step further by inviting a panel of professionals to discuss a variety of perspectives on understanding and approaching the topic of eating disorders.
The panel, titled Eating Disorders: An Interprofessional Panel Discussion, featured a variety of health-care professionals — including a psychiatrist, a dietitian, a pediatrician, a pharmacist, an occupational therapist and social workers — all speaking on the topic of eating disorders. The panelists shared the fact that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate out of all mental illnesses.
The panelists stressed that disordered eating can affect anyone, even though studies do show that those who identify as female are more likely to develop eating disorders. There also appear to be higher rates of disordered eating in more marginalized communities — like Canada’s Indigenous population and the LGBTQ2S community.
Breanna Mills and Melissa Vollmer, two third-year nutrition students who helped organize the panel, discussed a common belief held by the health-care professionals and students who participated in the panel that disordered eating is a topic not properly covered in the education they received.
“We all felt that there was a gap in our education, and we really wanted to learn more about what different professions do to treat eating disorders,” Mills said.
Vollmer followed this up by noting that she could not recall a lecture where disordered eating was ever mentioned.
Kayly Yablonski, a panelist and clinical social worker with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, shared that, when it comes to eating disorders, there is a stereotypical image that can hide the truth.
“We have this concept in our mind of what an eating disorder looks like, who has it and who it affects,” Yablonski said. “Anybody [of] any shape, size, gender [or] ability — all those intersections can experience disordered eating… Eating disorders affect all people — they don’t discriminate, and they are not a choice.”
Yablonski notes that there is also a strong relationship between eating disorders and mental illness — such as anxiety, depression and OCD — a correlation that can lead to a life of isolation and avoidance behaviour.
Yablonski believes that these negative effects also come from a culture of healthism, in which unrealistic ideals create a dichotomy of what is good food versus bad food or a healthy body versus an unhealthy body.
“All bodies can be good bodies… Even fat bodies can be healthy. Fat is not a bad word, and [we need] to learn about a ‘health at every size’ approach,” Yablonski said.
The Health At Every Size approach, recognized by every panelist, is a weight-inclusive approach introduced by author Linda Bacon in her book titled Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight.
Bacon looks to dismiss the body mass index as a predictor of health and to improve health-care settings, like clinics and hospitals, to be more respectful and weight-inclusive. Bacon also writes about not limiting one’s activity to just the gym, and Yablonski reiterates this in her own words.
“If you don’t like the gym, don’t go to the gym. If you like to hike with your dog, … go to a Zumba class or … play on the playground with your kid, those are all ways that you can move your body and take care of yourself,” Yablonski said.
While changing the way society thinks about health and body image is going to take some time, Mills finds it is very important to have dialogues with the people around her to create positive change.
“I think having these conversations about [eating disorders] is really important, and [so is] going home and reflecting on [them] and thinking about how what you do in your daily life really contributes to this and how maybe you can change and how you can get others to change.”
Graphic: Lesia Karalash / Graphics Editor