House Call with Carol Hughes

MP for Algoma/Manitoulin

Eating disorders are deadly and misunderstood

When I met with representatives from the National Initiative for Eating Disorders (NIED) over a year ago, I had no idea that we would soon work together to shine a light on the difficulties that face those who suffer from these disorders and how that affects their loved ones. Like many others, I knew that eating disorders (ED) were responsible for a lot of misery, but I was truly surprised when I learned how these biologically based chronic mental illnesses work.

In the words of NIED they are misunderstood, inadequately treated and underfunded. They explained how EDs are considered the deadliest of mental illnesses since they are twelve times more likely to lead to death than any other. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, the cumulative effects of an imbalance between body weight and food change a person’s brain in ways that only worsen their obsession and constant preoccupation with food.

Treatment is possible and the best success comes from early attempts. The difficult reality is that the medicine for those who suffer is also a key component of the condition-food. Treatment will differ among individuals but a few common themes will persist, courage and support.

Seeking help is a courageous step and there is a big role for parents, families, spouses and significant others to play. NIED stresses that a person suffering with EDs needs encouragement since recovery takes time, involves a lot of hard work and does not follow a straight line. Those offering support may find they need some as well, since the process of helping someone work through their ED can be emotionally exhausting.

I felt that it is important for parliamentarians to add their voices to the work being done to combat negative body image and improve awareness, research, and best practices for the treatment of eating disorders. I worked with NIED and we settled on a reception which I hosted in early February that was well attended by MPs, Senators, as well as the prime minister’s wife. There was strong support for the notion that parliament could do more on EDs which lead to a motion I tabled the following week.

M-117 calls on parliament to work with the provinces, territories, and indigenous communities to develop a coordinated Canadian Strategy on Eating Disorders that will combat negative body image and improve awareness, research, and best practices for the treatment of eating disorders. It will address the impact of weight-related anxiety on mental health while encouraging young people to develop critical thinking with regard to current standards of beauty in society. Along with attempting to reduce social prejudices and promoting early detection of eating disorders, the strategy could help increase access to the full range of care available and promote the adoption of best practices in treatment. Finally it would raise awareness about the prevalence of eating disorders in Canada and implement a robust eating-disorder research program.

It is my fervent hope that this motion will receive broad support from all parliamentarians. I would gladly have the government take it over any time so that it could move through parliament swiftly and benefit those who suffer from eating disorders and their loved ones.