Jessica King said her disordered relationship with food began about a decade ago, as a young teen. It's hard to know the exact cause, but she thinks it's connected to bullying and a poor personal body image.
King was 18 years old when she was finally diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.
That's an eating disorder (and mental illness) characterized by behaviours that interfere with maintaining an adequate weight for health, a fear of gaining weight and a distorted perception of weight.
Meals, for King, can involve a lot of mindfulness and internal motivation to eat what she needs to be healthy. At times, she's been hospitalized.
“I had a good friend say eating disorders are not a beautiful illness,” said King, who's now 24 years old.
“There's no beauty in not eating, overeating or eating to the point where you feel you need to make yourself sick.
“Nothing is glamorous about that. You're never enough when you have an eating disorder. There's never enough food. There's never enough lack of food.”
This week, Feb. 1-7, is Eating Disorder Awareness Week, although it hasn't received the attention of another recent awareness event related to mental illness, Bell Let's Talk Day.
King spoke to Sudbury.com in hopes of raising awareness herself, although she said she's disappointed Eating Disorder Awareness Week isn't being promoted locally by those within the health-care system.
The 2016 Laurentian University graduate in health promotion said she's sought treatment across the country, including at a private facility in Guelph, and has learned coping strategies.
She said she moved back in with her parents in Greater Sudbury in November to receive family support as she deals with her illness.
Unfortunately, she was told the Regional Eating Disorders Program, offered through Health Sciences North, has a three to six-month-long wait list.
King said she's seeing a therapist and being medically monitored by her family doctor in the meantime, but it's not an ideal situation.
“It's very tough,” she said. “When you're applying, that's like your breaking point — I'm finally going to ask for help. Then you get to this list and you're told minimum of three months, and it's like 'OK, I feel like I just got kicked.'”
Demand for the eating disorders program has recently gone up, which has increased wait times, said Natalie Aubin, administrative director, mental health and addictions program, Health Sciences North.
“Under no circumstances is any wait time a good thing for mental health and addictions patients overall,” she said.
“When clients or patients or community members are ready for care and want to seek help, they want that help to be not tomorrow, not a week from now, certainly not two or three months from now.
“We do prioritize based on risk as we can. We do make every reasonable effort to get individuals through the doors as fast as possible. But the reality is it's still a challenge.
“More resources are required in our region and in other regions across the northeast to be able to meet that demand.”
The Regional Eating Disorders Program, which serves all of the northeast, is a community-based assessment and treatment program.
It offers services to children and adolescents (and their families) as well as adults suffering from anorexia nervosa, bulimia, binge-eating disorder, avoidant restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID) and mixed syndromes.
It has a small team of staff members that includes psychologists, a nurse practitioner, dietitian and social worker.
The program provides services including medical monitoring, nutritional counselling, family-based, individual and group therapy, education and referral to other mental health programs.
King said every day of her life is a fight for stabilization and peace. “And you are never recovered,” she said. “You can compare it to alcoholism. You are never technically recovered, but you are always in recovery.
“You can have years of sobriety in (the case of alcoholics), or in the case of eating disorders, just a really good couple of years under your belt of stabilization with eating and normalized eating.”
More information about eating disorders and Eating Disorder Awareness Week is available through the National Eating Disorder Information Centre's website.
Learn more about the Regional Eating Disorders Program on HSN's website.