Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, according to Calgary’s Silver Linings Foundation. A fact that is not well known as these illnesses are often overlooked and shrouded in secrecy, says the foundation’s executive director Colleen Hauck.

“We believe that there’s not nearly enough awareness. Eating disorders [are] really still an illness and a disorder that is very stigmatized,” Hauck says.

“We believe that while there is a significant prevalence of eating disorders not enough people really understand what to look for, how to support people with an eating disorder, and also if they themselves are struggling with an eating disorder.”

This need for increased public awareness is the driving force behind Eating Disorder Awareness Week (EDAW). Recognized around the world, EDAW marks a week of action focused on educating the public about eating disorders and offering support and access to resources to those who may be struggling or may know someone who needs help.

Here in Calgary, EDAW 2019 ran during the first week of February and was a collaborative effort between the Silver Linings Foundation, the Eating Disorder Support Network of Alberta and a number of community partners.

The week’s activities included a kick-off event at City Hall that saw Mayor Naheed Nenshi speak to attendees, an Arnold Churgin shoe sale raising proceeds for an EDAW fund and much more.

One of the week’s events, The Evening of Hope, allowed those who have struggled with eating disorders to share their own stories through art, music, dance and spoken word.

Jessica Sauerwein, 23, was one of those performers. Sauerwein was diagnosed with Bulimia Nervosa at the age of 21 and began treatment after struggling with the disorder, which is characterized by periods of bingeing followed by purging, for eight years.

Being given the opportunity to tell her own story in hopes of helping others was invaluable to Sauerwein.

Eating Disorder Awareness Week from MRU Journalism on Vimeo.

Sauerwein also says the resources provided and community created through an event like EDAW are crucial and something that she acknowledges might have been beneficial when she was in the midst of her own disorder.

“I think just being offered resources would have been really helpful,” she says. “And also just knowing that there are other people out there who understand what you’re going through and can give you information on it, because it’s a very lonely disorder.”

The theme of EDAW 2019 was “Eating Disorders Can’t Afford To Wait,” a fact that Hauck says is important to reinforce, as there’s a lot more urgent work to be done to help those secretly suffering from these disorders.

“There’s 55,000 Albertans that are struggling with an eating disorder,” Hauck says. “And those are your neighbours, those are your friends at the gym, [and] those are your co-workers… it could be anybody.”

Editor: Rayane Sabbagh |

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