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With pandemic fuelling eating disorders, more help is needed

Donors like Lisa Rogers detail why they focus on this cause, which has seen a surge in cases

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A year-long “shadow pandemic” of eating disorders throughout Ontario has prompted some of the province’s most prominent philanthropists to speak about why they donate to recovery programs, and why it is needed now more than ever.

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Media reports have highlighted a dire increase in eating disorder cases , particularly among young people, during the pandemic. Increased isolation during periods of lockdown have fostered dangerous patterns characteristic of anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa (self-induced starvation, and binging and purging, respectively), where anxiety and unprecedented stress levels have led to both new cases of eating disorders and relapses among those in recovery.

Pediatric hospitals across the country are noting a surge in admissions and demand for outpatient treatment.

While hospitals like Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children rely heavily on their foundation fundraisers, other recovery centres such as Sheena’s Place and the National Initiative for Eating Disorders (NIED) rely on volunteers and donations.

Lisa Rogers of Canada’s prominent Rogers family is a long-time supporter of Sheena’s Place, a non-institutional, safe haven in Toronto for people over 17 to get support for eating disorders.

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“My family has been involved with Sheena’s Place since the beginning,” said Rogers. “It’s so tragic that Sheena [Carpenter] did not survive her experience with an eating disorder, but through the incredible work of all those involved with Sheena’s Place, so many others have the chance that Sheena didn’t have.”

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Rogers highlights the fact that eating disorders have a devastating impact on the patient’s entire circle.

“Eating disorders don’t just impact the individual, they impact their family and loved ones,” said Rogers. “It’s so worth working towards trying to ease the burden of the disorder, since helping one individual has the ripple effect of helping so many others.”

Adam Jesin-Neuberger is another prominent Canadian philanthropist who has been impacted by eating disorders. He is also passionate about supporting Sheena’s Place and research for eating disorders in general.

“I donate to Sheena’s Place because I have seen first-hand the devastating impact eating disorders can have on individuals and their friends and family,” said Jesin-Neuberger. “People very close to me have struggled with eating disorders and watching them struggle was incredibly difficult, so I can only imagine what it must have been like for those actually going through it, battling this terrible affliction.”

The National Initiative for Eating Disorders (NIED) indicates close to 2,000,000 Canadians have sufficient symptoms for an eating disorder diagnosis. But getting help can be difficult for some.

“Resources for people struggling with eating disorders are extremely limited in Ontario and the rest of Canada,” said Jesin-Neuberger. “There are a few excellent in-hospital programs but not enough to deal with the sheer volume of individuals that struggle. The numbers are staggering.”

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Wendy Preskow co-founded NIED – a not-for-profit coalition of health-care professionals, counsellors and parents with children suffering from eating disorders – in 2012 after years of caring for her daughter, who has battled anorexia and bulimia.

In 2013 she met with Terence Young, then-Member of Parliament for Oakville, who was a member of the committee on the status of women at the time. The committee presented 25 recommendations regarding eating disorders to the federal government, but a shortage of treatment options continue.

Today, Preskow’s co-founder and NIED vice-president, Lynne Koss, is still frustrated with a lack of funding and legislation, which is why she advocates for donations and volunteer work.

“The need was dire before COVID and now even more so,” said Koss.

Karen McBoyle is also a supporter of NIED, where she is a volunteer and donor. She says people considering volunteer work should know that eating disorders impact Canadians on more levels than we might be aware.

“Eating disorders are under the mental-health radar, yet more than two million Canadians meet the criteria for having an eating disorder,” said McBoyle. “They are often not discussed, due to the secretive and embarrassing nature of the disease. Evidence-based and timely treatment is imperative for recovery, yet the medical community are rarely educated on eating disorders, and funds for treatment are extremely limited.”

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While the healthcare system continues to struggle with mounting eating disorders admissions, in what specialists have termed a shadow pandemic, Jesin-Neuberger says outreach to programs that might be outside of hospital is crucial as we continue to feel the fallout from COVID-19.

“I donate because Sheena’s Place is one of the only places outside of a hospital setting that helps people with eating disorders, and it really does help,” said Jesin-Neuberger. “I donate because I believe Sheena’s is essential, and it is one of the only places in the city and province that helps people learn to live with and recover from eating disorders. I’ve seen how the facilitators and programs at Sheena’s place help people and their families that struggle. I’ve seen the impact our programs have on the people that attend.”

He adds: “It’s one of the only places of its kind in Canada, and the need for this type of organization is huge, considering the number of Canadians that struggle with eating disorders.”

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