When Jennifer was ten years old, her entire Grade 5 class was made to line up and wait while each person was weighed. She remembers how devastating it was to realize her weight was so different from her classmates. She pinpoints that time as when she began self-managing food and weight, and what she was feeling.
By her early 20s, Jennifer was stuck in an uncontrollable cycle of binge eating and restricting food. Support groups offered solidarity and acceptance, but not enough tools or assistance. Family, school and the medical community at large were not able to help, as she felt that no one really knew or understood what an eating disorder was.
At age 23, she was formally diagnosed as having an Eating Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS), a diagnosis used when a person has eating disorder symptoms that do not fall into the other eating disorder categories (e.g. anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosas). It is one of the most common eating disorder diagnoses. For Jennifer, her symptoms included binge eating and food restricting.
Unfortunately, Alberta does not have any dedicated health services or programs specific for certain eating disorders, only paid health care experts. The standard of care for eating disorders treatment typically involves a full complement of medical and psychological support including a family doctor with an understanding of the illness, a psychiatrist, eating disorder therapist, and dietitian. Pulling this team together fell on Jennifer, an overwhelming and expensive proposition.
Determined, she launched a GoFundMe campaign to fund her medical expenses. Unsuccessful, she reached out to a community church, was connected with Westwind Counselling and Eating Disorder Recovery Centre in Brandon, Manitoba and found out about WaterStone Foundation. Within a week after submitting her application for support, WaterStone’s funding for her stay at Westwind came through.
Jennifer thrived in the 11 weeks she stayed at Westwind. The independent living program taught practical life skills -- grocery shopping and cooking -- that gave her confidence and tools to live on her own. Her focus shifted from thinking about food to activities that aligned to her personal core values.
“I wanted a future with a partner, a life with kids, a dog and a cool job. I lost sight of that through my eating disorder, but now I have a belief in myself,” says Jennifer.
Today, Jennifer is 24, has a Bachelor’s degree in Child and Youth Care and is employed as a family support worker for a provincially funded not-for-profit agency. She is keen to develop her career and would like to pursue a master’s degree in counselling and work in the eating disorders community.