Conference in Canada to Reduce the Shame of ED

One mother who lost her daughter to anorexia advocates to prevent eating disorders with the help of actress, Tracy Gold and author, Jenni Schaeffer.

Elaine Stevenson lost her 24-year-old daughter, Alyssa, to anorexia and is now dedicated to preventing the disease from taking more lives. Stevenson has organized the conference, Setting the Table for Recovery – the first ever eating disorder conference hosted by the Canadian Mental Health Association, taking place Friday, June 8th at the Viscount Gort.

Stevenson’s goal is to uncover eating disorders shrouded in darkness and shame. She wants health-care providers, teachers, families and patients to attend so they can know how to recognize and deal with eating disorders early on before they get worse.

Tracey Gold, an actress from the popular 1980s sitcom Growing Pains and eating disorder survivor will talk about her own struggles with anorexia in her Friday morning keynote address. She’ll also be on hand for a social evening the night before, where she will answer the questions of guests.

Doctors, therapists and dentists (many people with purging behaviors often lose their teeth) will also present practical information about how to prevent eating disorders and cope with them. There will also be a panel to talk about body-image issues among men, as well as the types of therapies available, including art therapy. According to Health Canada, three per cent of women will suffer an eating disorder in their lifetime. Eating disorders affect boys and men as well.

Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness and about 10 per cent of people with anorexia die within 10 years of the onset of the disease.

Shortly after Alyssa was diagnosed with anorexia at age 12, Stevenson became a public advocate for her daughter, lobbying for better diagnosis and treatment.

Stevenson says, “We’re just trying to give families tools to support them and support their loved ones. I never had that kind of stuff in the early 90’s.”

Stevenson, who has two other children, says Alyssa was a seemingly healthy child. She and her husband didn’t realize she wasn’t eating adequately until one of her classmates reported that Alyssa would often give away her school lunches. Shortly after, her pediatrician told Stevenson that Alyssa’s weight was in normal range. By the time she was diagnosed, Alyssa was “deep” into her illness. She spent years in and out of the hospital until a heart attack killed her.

Stevenson says she had a hard time finding resources to help her daughter and her family cope. She hopes more primary-care physicians will learn that a patient may not lose weight at the start of an eating disorder. Dr. Eric Vickar, a psychiatrist who heads the child and adolescent eating disorders program at Health Sciences Centre, says the numbers of children he treats has risen in the 10 years he’s run the program. He has treated children as young as eight.