Eating disorder group to fill gap in Whistler services 

Although anorexia and bulimia are the most recognized types of eating disorders, there is another worrying eating disorder trend that may be much more prevalent in Whistler.

"We don’t have stats on eating disorders in Whistler so my guess would be, and this is just a guess, that there’s a lot of people who are over-exercising and maybe that’s their strategy is for dealing with their eating disorder," said professional counsellor Sheila Sherkat.

In this town that revolves around physical activity, there’s a tendency for people to be really conscious about their level of fitness she said. And so they might be spending too much time on the treadmill burning precious calories they can’t afford to waste.

By over-exercising Sherkat means that a person’s caloric intake is much less than their expenditure, so they’re burning up far more calories than they’re actually consuming.

"What’s important is the end result, the overall effect on your body," she said.

"For sure, it’s not going to have some of the devastating effects of starvation or forcing yourself to vomit or take laxatives, but the underlying issue is that people aren’t satisfied with their body image and how they look."

Sherkat is trying to reach out to adult women in the community, who want to join an eight-week support group that will delve into their struggles around food and look into the feelings that accompany those struggles.

This support group is coming on the heels of the National Eating Disorder Week at the beginning of February, which recognized that eating disorders are still very prevalent in today’s society.

It is open to women 19-years-old and older with any type of eating disorder.

The eight-week course will allow women to share the underlying fears and emotions that are often the cause of eating disorders. Sherkat wants to steer clear of talking about food and weight and diets because she said women are already spending far too much time thinking about those things.

"An eating disorder is a coping strategy," she said.

"There’s underlying painful emotions and feelings and instead of dealing with those directly, we often chose behaviours like drinking or unhealthy eating habits to try and gain some sort of control when we feel powerless in our lives."

Although women and men of all ages can be effected by eating disorders, Sherkat said it’s mostly young women who struggle with food and body image issues.

"I think to some extent most women do spend some time either thinking about their weight or their body image or their body shape," she said.

"But when it gets to the point where it’s affecting your life and you’re not happy and you’re not able to live a full and content life because of it, then that’s when you want to try to get some help and get some support."

The eight-week support group will be a closed group and so new people cannot join once it begins.

Also, Sherkat, who has training through ANAD (Awareness and Networking Around Disordered Eating) in Vancouver, said they will be making a special effort to ensure confidentiality among the group members in order to provide a safe forum for women to talk about what can be very personal issues.

"It’s going to be a very confidential group because that has always been an issue in the past with eating disorder support groups in Whistler, because it’s such a small community," she said.

The group members will learn how to role-play so that they are prepared if they run into any other group members in town.

"What happens in the support group is that once one person or a few people start opening up and sharing their experiences, other women’s feelings are normalized and they feel more comfortable to open up and share," said Sherkat.

The support group is free, funded by the Whistler Community Services Society. Once there are enough women enrolled the group will begin meeting once a week. Sherkat and Tessa McLoughlin, the Whistler Community Services Youth Outreach Worker, will facilitate it.

"We both saw it as a gap in the community of services," said Sherkat.

"Eating disorders are one of those things that are pretty pervasive and yet nobody really talks about it."

For any women who are interested in joining the support group contact Sherkat at 604-938-4519 or McLoughlin at 604-905-1728.

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