An Edmonton woman hopes to change the narrative of eating disorders by sharing her family’s own experience dealing with the complex and misunderstood disease.
Sue Huff, executive director of the Eating Disorder Support Network of Alberta (EDSNA) and author of Book of Hope: Stories of Love, Courage and Recovery from Families Who Have Battled Eating Disorders, will be speaking in St. Albert about the myths, facts, warning signs, symptoms, risk factors and treatment of eating disorders, while drawing on personal anecdotes.
Huff helped found the support network after her daughter was diagnosed with an eating disorder four years ago. She shares her now-18-year-old daughter’s story to show that although long and painful – it takes an average of seven years – the path to recovery is possible.
“Too often we only ever hear about the negative endings – people dying or never recovering. We have a very negative storyline that goes with eating disorders. My family and my daughter, and many other people who I’ve met through EDSNA and through writing my book, they’ve all gotten better,” said Huff.
Her goal, and that of the network’s, is to spread this message of hope and provide support to those who are currently suffering.
“We need to change the narrative and say, ‘Yes it’s a very serious illness, yes you have to treat it quickly’ – recovery rates are much higher if you deal with it aggressively right away – and, ‘Yes, people do get better,’” she said.
According to Alberta Health, approximately 1.3 per cent of Albertans are at risk of an eating disorder, which affects approximately 31,531 Albertans in any given year.
Although more and more prevalent, eating disorders are still misunderstood and surrounded by stigma.
Around the same time that her daughter was diagnosed with anorexia, Huff discovered she had breast cancer. While the casseroles and Facebook posts came rolling in for Mom, those same well wishers often shied away from the unknowns of her daughter’s eating disorder.
The experience clearly brought into view how differently society treats physical and mental illnesses.
“For breast cancer, everyone knows what to do. They know how to behave; they know what to say. Everybody knows how to do that one. It was a very supportive situation. But for my daughter it wasn’t like that,” said Huff.
“People think you must feel embarrassed, so they don’t want to add to your embarrassment by talking about it. But really you’re just scared and lonely and frustrated.”
Even medical professionals don’t always have the best understanding of eating disorders. Nicole Imgrund, a certified counsellor and director of Rivers Edge Counselling Centre in St. Albert, admits that it is an area where her staff could use some further education.
That is why she invited Huff to speak at the St. Albert Public Library on Jan. 6, as well as host a six-week support program beginning at the end of the month.
“It’s an area where we could use resources. Increasingly on our team with the work that we do, we see how much people suffer with eating disorders and disordered eating,” said Imgrund. “It’s not an area where any of our therapists specialize, so we were looking for a creative way to meet that need.”
In St. Albert, just as in the rest of the province, there have been a growing number of residents suffering from eating disorders. Imgrund hopes that the partnership with EDSNA could lead to an ongoing resource within the community for these individuals.
The six-week support group begins Jan. 25. Sessions will be held at the River’s Edge Counselling Centre in St. Albert.
The support group allows those directly affected by an eating disorder to share successes and explore solutions and strategies for recovery in a safe and supportive environment. Participants don’t require a referral from a physician, but must be 18 or older. The cost to attend is $60.
Huff will be speaking at Forsyth Hall in the St. Albert Public Library Jan. 6. The hour-long presentation will begin at 7 p.m. and be followed by a 30-minute question and answer session.
Huff invites anyone who wishes to learn more about eating disorders to attend. She hopes to see teachers, coaches and others front-line workers there.
Admission is free, but donations to EDSNA will be accepted at the door.