McGill, News

Eating Disorder Awareness Week forms community in isolation

Content warning: Mentions of eating disorders.

The Students’ Society of McGill University’s (SSMU) Eating Disorder Resource and Support Centre (EDRSC) held its third National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (EDAW) from Feb. 1 to Feb. 5. The events and discussions throughout the week highlighted the impact that social media and the pandemic have had on eating disorders or disordered eating. The workshops provided guidance on mindful eating, fatphobia, and supporting affected loved ones. 

McGill cut its Eating Disorder Program in 2017 due to changes made to the structure of counselling and psychiatric services at the time, among other factors. In its place, SSMU established the EDRSC to fill a lack of resources. 

During the “Disordered Eating in a COVID-19 Context” event, Ffion Hughes, U4 Arts and a survivor of anorexia nervosa, shared how working from home in constant proximity to her kitchen has made it challenging to maintain a positive relationship with food. 

For the most part, I’ve been able to stay in control over my eating,” Hughes said. “But in a sense, it’s too much control.”

Confined now to her apartment, Hughes says that the pandemic has left it up to herself to enforce the boundaries that make balanced consumption easier. 

“In years past, I’ve been able to go to the library, where I could not think about food for a while,” Hughes said. “[Now], I’m constantly surrounded by triggers.”

Odessa Grimard is a U3 Science and floor fellow for Solin Hall residence who has experienced disordered eating. Grimard explained that isolation may be especially triggering for those in recovery. 

“Folks don’t have the social checks of other people around them to realize that their behaviour is not [normal],” Grimard said. 

Grimard also grapples with the decreased visibility of students’ mental health challenges in the remote learning context. With the loss of communal spaces, students’ struggles are obscured and preventative measures inhibited when they are most needed.

“In previous years, I had students study until 3 a.m. as a form of anxious [behaviour], and we’d see them and be able to reach out and support them, but we can’t see that anymore,” Grimard said. 

Those fighting mental health issues and disordered eating during the pandemic are forced to seek support themselves. Elizabeth Hales, U0 Arts, expressed the challenge of finding and accepting aid as a first-year student. 

“My therapist is back home,” Hales said. “Coming into a new city with no support system, being unable to meet new people, it’s hard to validate myself and realize it’s okay to get help, even though I’m not the worst I’ve ever been.”

During “Fatphobia: An Introductory Workshop,” Mariam Elmi, a student at the University of Ottawa, described her search for a community of minorities affected by eating disorders or disordered eating. 

“Within mainstream eating disorder stories and discussions, I often feel like I’m the odd one out because I don’t see people who look like me,” Elmi said. “I didn’t see anyone like me until I went to a support group over Zoom last night. I thought, ‘Finally I’m not alone.’” 

Cyndi Owens, a local wellness advisor, concluded the “Disordered Eating in a COVID-19 Context” event by calling upon students to support one another through their shared challenges. 

“The only connection we have left [is] grief,” Owens said. “We’re all not okay in different ways [….] The key is a network of support [….] Bother each other, make use of each other, then change will be sustainable and be rooted in a core rather than something that feels like it might overtake us.”

Students can find resources and support for disordered eating or eating disorders at the EDRSC and Student Wellness Hub.

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