Eating Disorder Awareness Week and how to combat stress without compromising healthy food habits
Jayde Atchison // Staff Writer
Next month, from February 1-7, Eating Disorder Awareness Week (EDAW) will be a focus for many people. As the new decade and semester begins, people are susceptible to extreme dieting, new fitness routines and unrealistic expectations. New Year’s resolutions pressure people to change aspects of their lives and themselves. Reading more books about diets and exercise is one thing, but trying to drastically alter our bodies is a dangerous route to follow.
“New Years itself can be a challenging time where there can be a mentality around changing oneself, setting number-specific goals or feeling a need to compensate for holiday eating. So it could be a time [when] people are more vulnerable to focus on weight change” said Ali Eberhardt, a registered dietitian working in the Provincial Adult Tertiary Specialized Eating Disorders Program at St. Paul’s Hospital. According to Eberhardt, weight cannot be controlled by behaviour. Weight has many factors which are not in a person’s control. “If someone focuses on weight as an outcome they can often feel discouraged and rely on more restrictive diets to try to achieve change.”
The many stresses of university life can create an unhealthy relationship with food and dietary practices. Some people find coping mechanisms through various means such as alcohol, drugs, disordered eating or over-exercise. To combat these unhealthy habits, people should build safer, constructive coping practices. Eberhardt recommends methods such as journaling, practicing breathing strategies, meditation, counselling and exercise. In addition, planning balanced meals and snacks throughout busy periods is important.
Not unlike a fire drill, Eberhardt suggests that people “practice when there isn’t a crisis so the tools and skills are easier to access when [we] actually need them.” Getting in the habit of utilizing new, healthier coping mechanisms at the start of the semester can benefit students when midterms and finals arrive.
Due to Capilano University’s small campus size, there is a lack of food choices within the limited cafeteria, Tim Hortons and Subway. A dietary restriction, allergy or preference may cause meals to be a difficult part of a long school day. CapU’s shortage of options can leave students feeling lost on how to make it through an eight hour day on campus. Eberhardt encourages students to pack their bags or cars with snacks to prepare for an unseen situation where their dietary needs cannot be met.
It can be hard to distinguish whether someone is struggling with an eating disorder or if they are simply on a new regime. If students are having difficulties having a healthy relationship with food, they are encouraged to seek out help as quickly as possible. “Often I hear from clients that they worry they aren’t sick enough or low weight enough to require support and this is simply not true. Eating disorders impact people of all shapes, sizes, weights, genders, ages, races, socioeconomic statuses,” said Eberhardt. Students are welcome to speak to their personal doctor or the on-campus doctor about any concerns regarding body dysmorphia or disordered eating.
Events will be happening across the province to raise awareness for eating disorders during EDAW and people are welcome to attend and support. A schedule of events can be found on the Kelty Mental Health Eating Disorders website.