Conference In Canada Aims To Reduce The Shame Of Eating Disorders
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 ofen 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
The cost to attend the Friday conference in Canada is $250;
it runs from 8:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Thursday reception, featuring actresses
Tracey Gold and author, Jenni Schaefer, is $35. The event runs from 7 p.m. to
9:30 p.m. To register, contact conference chairwoman Erin Dowling at 953-2358
or email her at [email protected]