12/16/2014 08:36 EST | Updated 02/15/2015 05:59 EST

For Canadians With Eating Disorders, Holiday Meals Are No Celebration

Girl with candy and measuring tape
Getty Images
Girl with candy and measuring tape

At a recent function, a young woman takes me aside, and complains bitterly about the holidays. She finds them stressful, but not for the reason we might think.

She worries about the parties and what she will eat, and how she will hide what she does not eat. She explains that, like thousands across Canada, she had waited for the Status of Women report on eating disorders,‎ and that she was praying that it might offer some hope for 2015, a plan to help struggling families. But these hopes have been dashed. She understands now that the "study" was nothing more than a sham, and that the committee only listened and proposed no real direction.

She asks why, although the pages and pages of testimony reflect what Canadians with eating disorders, their families, health practitioners and advocacy groups‎ want, the recommendations do nothing more than encourage the government to address self-evident needs.

She reminds me that witnesses before the Committee asked for, among other items, a robust research program to help identify better strategies to help Canadians with eating disorders live better lives. She asks me to tell the Committee and Canadians that she is a person, and that she does not want to be a patient. She begs to be understood -- begs for people to appreciate that she is suffering from a deadly mental illness through no fault of her own, and that it is not as simple as "just eating."

She asks what the Committee accomplished, other than to build false hope and then steal it away. She continued to say that many Canadians are so sick that they need urgent help, and that long wait times, few hospital beds and lack of help in the community are killing people needlessly in our communities.

‎She asks whether I know what it feels like to dread a Christmas dinner; to panic when there is no way to refuse an invitation; to wonder how to hide protruding ribs or cut marks on arms; and to sit down to dinner with everyone staring.

Do I know how to move food around on a plate to look like the food has been eaten, or how to hide food in one's mouth so it can be spit out in a napkin or in the toilet, or when desperate, how to hide it under the table or feed it to one of the pets? She asks whether I know how to purge, or what drugs to take to eliminate whatever has been eaten.

I explain that I hear, on average, twice a week from exasperated Canadians with eating disorders who feel abandoned, from ‎desperate families who are afraid for their children's lives, and from advocacy groups who take on the fight when families are too busy providing 24/7 care for their loved ones.

I tell her that I too am frustrated at the Committee's ineptitude to accurately reflect the needs of Canadians suffering with eating disorders.

Before she walks away, she says, "I would like to enjoy the holidays with my family and not think about how many calories I am consuming or how I will burn them off. Just for once, I don't want to endure their stares."

The government has tried to bury this report. This holiday season, while Canadians around the country struggle to live with their health condition, I encourage you to read my dissenting report and familiarize yourself with this misunderstood illness.


Photo galleryStars Who've Battled Eating Disorders See Gallery