An Edmonton woman recently diagnosed with a lesser-known eating disorder is finding it difficult to obtain help for her illness in Alberta.
Jennifer Pothier was diagnosed with binge eating when she was 22 years old, after years of having a complicated relationship with food.
Now 23, she finds herself asking all sorts of questions about what she should eat.
“It’s like what can I eat? How much should I eat? Do I want to eat this? Do I not want to eat this? How much does this have in it? It’s just all of these things that cycle through my head for hours before I can actually get the ability to get up and make food.”
Pothier’s disorder isn’t one of the more commonly-known conditions like bulimia or anorexia – rather, it’s an illness in which she restricts her food intake for days and then binges on food.
“In times of stress it’ll either be not eating at all, or I’ll be eating as much as I can, until I feel sick,” she explained.
She finds that her difficulties can take a toll on her wallet.
“Financially it affects me because when you binge you spend a lot of money on food. And when you restrict, you waste a lot of food because it goes bad in your fridge.”
Binge eating is the most common eating disorder in Alberta, affecting more people than anorexia and bulimia combined, according to the Eating Disorder Support Network of Alberta (EDSNA).
It’s believed that one to five per cent of Albertans have binge-eating disorder, although data on such conditions is limited, said executive director Sue Huff.
“It’s characterized by eating excessive amounts of food in a very short period of time, and feeling completely and utterly out of control while it’s happening,” Huff said. “People feel an enormous amount of shame and guilt and self-loathing afterwards.”
Pothier knows those feelings all too well.
But looking for help in Alberta has been challenging, too. Her particular illness falls in a space between a few distinct ones, meaning her eating disorder is technically “not otherwise specified.”
“I want to receive treatment for my eating disorder and I’m not able to here.”
And that’s not unusual in the province, Huff said.
“They have to go and find a psychologist that’s trained in binge-eating disorder, then they have to find a family doctor who understands the illness, then find a dietician that understands binge eating disorder, and sort of cobble together their own team and pay all those individuals. It can be very expensive”
In a statement, Alberta Health Services (AHS) confirmed: “There are no dedicated programs in AHS for binge eating, however therapy is available through trained mental health professionals.”
“There are no dedicated programs in AHS for binge eating, however therapy is available through trained mental health professionals.”
Pothier said that’s not enough.
“You go to therapy for an hour once every other week and then you come home and you still have to deal with everything. I need a little more intensive work than what I can do in counselling.”
She said her doctor recommended she look outside province for treatment.
Pothier has been going to Bridgepoint Centre for Eating Disorders in Saskatchewan for short, free retreats every few months. There, she expresses herself through art.
But she wants to see more programs offered right here, in Alberta.
“There will be more of a burden put on the health care system later on, down the road, if people like me aren’t getting the help now.”
“There will be more of a burden put on the health care system later on, down the road, if people like me aren’t getting the help now. But because it’s later, people like me aren’t looked at as seriously.”
Huff said the majority of research and funding is often targeted to anorexia over other eating disorders – and she said that needs to change.
“We know anorexia has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness so we know there’s an urgency to find better answers for the treatment of anorexia. But that doesn’t mean we should be ignoring other eating disorders, particularly ones like binge-eating disorders that affect so many people.”