It’s not about food

Third-year University of New Brunswick student Leslie-Marie Britt used to starve herself, drinking only green tea to boost her metabolism and an almond or two when she was about to faint.

(Book Sadprasid/AQ)
(Book Sadprasid/AQ)

“[Anorexia] was more of a control thing for me, I think,” Britt said. “It was something to obsess over. Something I could manage.”

When she came to university it only worsened. Eating in a cafeteria in front of strangers was not something she could handle. She took two years off but started attending the UNB support group, It’s Not About Food. When she heard people talking about their own eating disorders, it helped her with her own. For Britt, it’s not just hearing others have eating disorders but that others in the group have experienced specific feelings, like feel uncomfortable when a partner touches her or when someone tries to pick her up, which made her feel less alone.

It’s Not About Food has been helping people like Britt since 2008, but this is the first year it has a male participant. The self-help group, open to UNB and St. Thomas students, has had male facilitators for a few years but this is a big move for them because, as associate nursing professor and one of the founders of the support group Kathryn Weaver said, men with eating disorders are even more stigmatized than women.

“Eating disorders are still seen as a women’s [disorder],” Weaver said. “It would take more courage than you could ever imagine to come forward as a guy.”

Weaver said this is due to the assumption that men with bulimia were gay, which just puts up more social barriers.

This semester the support group is having its first co-ed session, something Weaver is excited about. She said it is hard for men to come out and speak about their disorder to a room of just women, which is why she has male facilitators. She hopes more men participate in the future.

Weaver said she’s also found an increase in middle-aged women prone to eating disorders.

All this suggests to Weaver that there needs to be more organizations like It’s Not About Food to tackle this real issue.

“I think you can get trapped with your eating disorder,” Weaver said. “That’s why I think the future of much of our eating disorder care will need to be through groups.”

It’s Not About Food is, as the name suggests, trying to show that eating disorders are not simply cured by eating a muffin. It’s about understanding and community. Weaver spoke of a group of women who went underwear shopping together and how things as simple as that can change people’s lives.

Weaver trains her facilitators not only to be knowledgeable in the science of eating disorders but also the understanding of what participants are going through. She doesn’t want false, professional empathy to be in that room because that’s the sort of thing that would make a participant want to leave. Facilitators must also learn what the group is comfortable with and understand how even the scent of food can trigger a relapse.

But as Britt said, it really is the other participants in the group that make it worthwhile. She hasn’t relapsed since the fall of 2013.

“I’ve reached my highest weight I’ve ever been over the summer, and I feel great,” Britt said. “I suggest anyone who’s struggling with something like this to give it a try. I can’t even adequately explain how wonderful it feels to have other people that are going through the same thing as you understand exactly what you’re talking about.”

 

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