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There are over one million people who meet the diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder in Canada.
There are over one million people who meet the diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder in Canada.

There are over one million people who meet the diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder in Canada.

Jack.org Program Coordinator, Tierra Hohn writes "the lack of understanding within our healthcare system on how to identify and support those who are struggling means that far too many people go undiagnosed."

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Eating Disorder Awareness

In Canada, eating disorders carry the highest overall mortality rate among all mental illnesses, at an estimated 10–15 percent. Many people may find that statistic surprising, in part because eating disorders are not often included in the mental health conversation the way that they should be. The tendency to wave off an eating disorder—as a choice motivated by vanity or by treating it as a trivial phase that young people go through—undercuts the severity of the mental and physical struggles that those living with an eating disorder experience.

There are over one million people who meet the diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder in Canada, and the lack of understanding within our healthcare system on how to identify and support those who are struggling means that far too many people go undiagnosed. When I was 16 years old, I began struggling with anorexia nervosa. I became very ill, very quickly. However, the seriousness of what I was experiencing was dismissed by several physicians, even while emergency room visits were frequent. I was fortunate to eventually get the help that I needed, but it took far too long for me to find it. 

Recognizing what I was going through was especially difficult because the narrative that I had seen in the media about eating disorders did not match up with my own experience. It took time for me to realize that a black woman could struggle with an illness like this. I am not alone in my experience; though people of all backgrounds experience eating disorders at a similar rate, people of colour are significantly less likely to receive help. The prevalence of stigma and lack of education makes detection and treatment especially difficult to access. 

We need to expand the narrative around those who suffer from eating disorders, so that everyone who struggles is better equipped to recognize what they’re experiencing and healthcare providers are better equipped to support them. We need to be diligent in our openness to supporting everyone; when someone who does not ‘fit’ the narrative of eating disorders does something to indicate they’re struggling, we need to treat it seriously, and do everything in our power to help.

In my work as an advisory board member at Body Brave, and in my work advocating for eating disorder literacy, I know that these seemingly small changes in the way we talk and act have a huge impact. And the beautiful thing is that, with the right treatment and support, recovery is possible. It might not be an easy path—relapses can happen, and finding the treatment that works best for you can take time—but establishing a healthy relationship with your body and mind is very possible.

We can all help to build a culture where that is easier to do. In our daily lives, we should acknowledge people for who they are, rather than what they look like. Pointing out size and appearance is incredibly detrimental, whether you’re living with an eating disorder or not. We should also be cautious around diet and weight loss conversations, which tend to embrace body shaming and are especially harmful for people in recovery.

If you’re concerned about someone’s relationship to food and eating, take a look at BeThere.org, where you can learn how to say what you see and connect them to support. You can also learn more or find support through Body Brave, National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC), and National Initiative for Eating Disorders (NIED).

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It’s an especially important time to look out for each other. BeThere.org can help you support anyone through a mental health struggle. We’re in this together.
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