Eating Disorders Awareness Week – Bring it On!

Eating Disorders Awareness Week (EDAW) – a singular time of the year set aside to enhance public knowledge about eating disorders, dieting and body image problems.

In its public awareness campaign, the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) establishes numerous objectives to pursue during this commemorative week. This invitation to promote awareness calls for some imagination and creativity along with a caveat to “do no harm” in our educational endeavours.

Over the past number of years, Homewood Health Centre and the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Eating Disorders Coalition have excitedly taken on the challenge to promote EDAW.  If you visit Homewood during the first week in February, you will notice Eating Disorders Program patients and staff sporting NEDIC’s “No Diet” buttons. Hallway bulletin boards throughout the hospital are adorned with the current NEDIC posters, along with postings of community EDAW events. Awareness activities such as “No Fat Talk!” may also be displayed. EDAW events are publicized through the hospital’s Intranet in addition to the external website. Hospital staff rounds are dedicated to presenting a topic related to EDAW.

This year, beliefs and motivations for physical activity and the current focus on activity that supports weight loss or weight maintenance, rather than pleasure, relaxation and balanced health will be explored by both a recreation therapist and a community-based therapist.

“Faces of Recovery” is one of the most popular and powerful Guelph EDAW event. Over the past nine years, the Coalition has invited guest speakers to share their respective recoveries, highlighting their motivation to get well, their treatment support systems, ways to which obstacles to recovery were overcome and their own personal definitions of recovery.

A recent Globe and Mail article by Eric Anderssen (January 14, 2012) reported on a study of 9,000 Canadian newspaper articles on mental health. The most surprising finding was the “lack of voices in those stories.” In fact, 84 per cent of those articles did not include any comments from those with lived experience!

A sentinel purpose of Faces of Recovery is to encourage the voices of eating disorder survivors themselves and family members, by providing a forum to tell their own stories, in their own words, without censorship or judgment. Panelists have provided the Coalition with the feedback that participating in this EDAW event has “helped reduce the shame and stigma of having an eating disorder,” has been “a tremendously cathartic experience” and has served as a “way of giving back.” An upcoming speaker recently emailed the Coalition stating “I can’t wait to have my voice back.”

Audience members expressed appreciation for the opportunity to learn more about the impact of eating disorders, the courage and authenticity of the speakers, the varied avenues recovery can take and perhaps, most importantly, that “recovery is possible!”

Homewood and the University of Guelph, in conjunction with the rest of the Coalition, have focused providing a venue for exploring a wide range of topics, such as an insider’s perspective on having an eating disorder and the recovery process, with author Jenni Schaefer; the Health At Every Size movement, and media and advocacy with award-winning author and activist Shari Graydon.

On campus, students have been welcomed to the annual Eating Disorders and Body Image Exposé fair, plays, films including “Do I Look Fat?” and “Girls Rock,” fashion shows and guest speakers.

Eating Disorders Awareness Week – sounds like a “good thing!” Could there possibly be any downside to it? Perhaps the fact that only one week alone is dedicated annually to such an important and all-encompassing agenda. Perhaps, too, that this week occurs in the very heart of winter with the threat of storms that could impair event attendance.

Now, there is International No Diet Day celebrated in the glorious month of May. Looks like founder Mary Evans Young had the right idea!

April Gates is Program Co-ordinator of the Eating Disorders Program at Homewood Health Centre in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Information on the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Eating Disorders Coalition is available at