Joannie's Story

“Odd things began happening to me at age 14. As the baby fat melted, people started noticing me for the first time. They said I was the prettiest girl in school, and that I looked like a fashion model. I had never been popular before, and I wanted that very badly. I began dieting to maintain my thinness."

"At my thinnest, I weighed 53 pounds on my 5’5” frame. By the time I was 18, I had been hospitalized 5 times, but, each time, I would relapse even stronger. I only ate raw vegetables, but only after strenous exercise. And, I drank water compulsively to fight hunger by filling up my empty stomach. I was monitored carefully because the practice can lead to convulsions. But I had learnt to sneak water while showering."

"At 18, I was admitted to the Douglas Centre for Eating Disorders. The first thing I noticed is that the care at the Douglas was neither coercive, overbearing, nor controlling. There was no ‘weight police’. Instead, Dr. Steiger and his team helped me gradually to see that the belief that I had to reduce my eating to the barest minimum was not justified. As my confidence and self-esteem built, I slowly started healing."

"Today, I have a normal body weight. I have finished my education and have normal relationships. I feel lucky, and that’s why I volunteer to speak out and help others trapped in the false world of anorexia nervosa. I discovered hope at the Douglas. And want to share it.”

Eating Disorders

Prevalent in all countries and throughout history, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all mental illnesses, and are further complicated by associated issues such as affective disorders, anxiety, and depression. We now know that there is a genetic basis to these diseases, and that they’re often triggered by a physical, sexual, or emotional trauma, or by social pressures.

As Dr. Howard Steiger explains, “Social and environmental pressures can activate preexisting vulnerabilities and turn certain genes ‘on.’ Our society’s cult of thinness for women further exacerbates this situation.”

A model for research and treatment

Dr. Steiger heads one of Canada’s leading groups on eating disorders, widely regarded as the model for integrating research with clinical practice. The group works closely with Montreal’s Ste-Justine and Children’s Hospitals to transfer best practices based on findings at the Douglas. They also lead training and prevention programs for CLSCs, general hospitals, and community groups throughout the province.

The Douglas uses a compassionate approach based on persuasion and support. The key is to motivate people to re-evaluate their beliefs and change their behaviour, supporting them with counseling at every step.

Leading the change in attitudes

The Douglas eating disorders group has been in the vanguard of research and treatment for over 25 years, and has “rescued” countless patients from the brink. Their work has helped to dispel the pernicious myths that anorexia is caused by bad parenting, and that eating disorders are frivolous — that is, fad diets that have spun out of control. We’ve learned that:

• Anorexia has no age bias. It generally peaks at age 28, but is also found in people in their 50s and 60s. One half of people with anorexia recover well, two-thirds retain body image preoccupations, and one in five need hospitalization.

• Bulimia is more prevalent than formerly believed, and on the rise among males. While it has better outcomes, one in five does not recover.

• Binge eating disorder, the most common eating disorder, affects up to 5% of adult population, and is seen almost equally in women and men.

• The outcomes for all eating disorders are improving because of new knowledge…but they could be better.

Related Links

Douglas Institute Eating Disorders Program