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Eating disorder cases jump among kids at the Alberta Children's hospital

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If you have an eating disorder, you are not alone.

That's the message one awareness advocate delivered Friday, the end of a week singled out to draw attention to the issue.

Feb. 1-7 is Eating Disorder Awareness Week, and doctors in Calgary are noticing an alarming trend in eating disorders among children.

Dr. Monique Jericho, Medical Director of the Calgary Eating Disorder Program, said she's seen referrals among patients under the age of 19 with eating disorders rise by 150 per cent, while in-patient admissions spiked by 200 per cent over the last couple of years.

She believes the pandemic has contributed to feelings of isolation among kids, "Developmentally, when you think of the needs of this cohort, they need to be socializing and they need access to other resources that we don't always think of, like coaches and (other mentors]."

Eating disorder survivor, 27-year-old Sophie Balisky, said the pandemic also triggered feelings of uncertainty. She considers herself recovered from her nine year struggle with anorexia nervosa and bulimia, "My earliest memory of disordered eating was from when I was eight."

However, the stress of temporarily losing her job as a flight attendant during the pandemic led her back to old patterns, "I had all of these disordered urges pop back up, and it was because I needed to control something."

Marlies van Dijk, Executive Director of the Calgary Silver Linings Foundation, said the increase in cases means greater demand for support services which prompted the charity to expand its online support groups, "We have high demand, and sometimes waitlists but we do our best to accommodate."

The charity is advocating for more services in Alberta, including a community treatment facility where patients can stay for several months and are surrounded by the support they need to recover from eating disorders.

"This is a huge gap for us in Alberta and families who can afford it are going to the United States," van Dijk said.

This Eating Disorder Awareness Week, Balisky hopes raising awareness will help reduce stigma and misconceptions surrounding eating disorders.

"I want to make it clear that anyone can develop an eating disorder," said Balisky, "so it doesn't matter your age, gender identity, or socioeconomic status – anyone can have an eating disorder."

She now leads peer support groups with the Calgary Silver Linings Foundation.

"I used to think I was the only person who couldn't get better and that specific thought is actually very common with eating disorders," Balinsky said, "That's your eating disorder speaking, and I want people to know that you can get past it."

She believes recovery from an eating disorder is a two-pronged approach, "First, you need to be really honest and vulnerable about your eating disorder, and second, there needs to be more accessible and affordable services."

"After recovering form my eating disorder, my life is filled with so much beauty and so much joy that I didn't even know could exist when I was struggling."

For more information on eating disorder resources, visit the Silver Linings Foundation website.

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