Calgary

Calgarians smash scales and myths about eating disorders

As groups across the country mark National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, doctors and advocates say there is still a widespread lack of understanding about the issue.

Conditions are a mental illness, not simply 'people choosing to diet significantly,' says advocate

Sydney Quick holds the hammer she used to smash her scale to help raise awareness about eating disorders at Mount Royal University. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

As groups across the country mark National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, doctors and advocates say there is still a widespread lack of understanding about the issue.

Sydney Quick, a student at Mount Royal University who works to raise awareness among young people, says she still finds herself having to correct people's faulty assumptions.

"Trying to convince people that this is even a mental illness. Like, I definitely have people that don't think that it is one, [that] it's just a choice," she said.

As part of an awareness-raising event this week at Mount Royal University, the 24-year-old smashed a bathroom scale.

"I'm just kind of taking back that power that I kind of lost throughout my eating disorder," she said.

"Oh, it's so personal, but it just feels so relieving."

Cendrine Tremblay, chair of the Silver Linings Foundation, says people need to be made aware that eating disorders are mental illnesses. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

Experts estimate that roughly 30,000 Albertans have eating disorders.

"It's a mental illness. And that is one of the things that we want to insist on. It is not people choosing to diet significantly," said Cendrine Tremblay, chair of the Silver Linings Foundation, which provides support to people with eating disorders.    

Dr. Monique Jericho, medical director of the Calgary Eating Disorders program at Alberta Children's Hospital, says such misconceptions can foster the perfect environment for an eating disorder to thrive.

"This is a really damaging belief because what it ends up doing is blaming a victim of the illness and rather than empowering them it shames them," she said.

Jericho says eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any psychiatric illness and anyone can develop one, regardless of age, race, socio-economic status or gender.

Calgarians can get more information about the help available to people with eating disorders by calling Health Link at 811 or Access Mental Health at 403-943-1500.