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Eating disorder organization branching out, working towards long-term goals

In a hard rain in the middle of a Thursday afternoon, the two-room office of the Eating Disorder Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador is quiet, except for the regular ring of the phone.

It is a rare no-visitor time, said Vince Withers, chairman of the foundation's board of directors, a time that allows for a visit from the media.

Vince Withers, chairman of the board of directors for the Eating Disorder Foundation for Newfoundland and Labrador, shows some of the materials available through the group's library as well as at public libraries throughout the province. - Photo by Ashley

In a hard rain in the middle of a Thursday afternoon, the two-room office of the Eating Disorder Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador is quiet, except for the regular ring of the phone.

It is a rare no-visitor time, said Vince Withers, chairman of the foundation's board of directors, a time that allows for a visit from the media.

It was Withers who pushed for the creation of the foundation. The office (on the second floor of the building at 31 Peet St.) opened in 2007 after the death of his 27-year-old daughter, Renata Elizabeth Withers.

She died after being diagnosed with an eating disorder.

Today, nine of 10 callers phoning the organization ask to hear Withers' story, to speak to him personally, he said.

For the last couple of weeks, however, the usual calls - from people asking about their own potential or existing eating disorders, students asking for academic information or statistics on eating disorders, or families and friends of people dealing with eating disorders asking how they can help - have been mixed with lighter-hearted calls about the foundation's upcoming "Concert of Hope" fundraiser.

Thexeventxwillxfeature ShanneyganockxandxThe Masterless Men and is being held Sunday, Oct. 18.

Tickets are available through the St. John's Arts and Culture Centre Box Office.

The inquiries are a good sign of interest, which is important, said Withers, as the concert is significant for the organization - both financially and in terms of emotional support.

The show provides the largest yearly contribution to the foundation's budget, as the group receives no government funding, Withers said.

In terms of emotional support, feelings at the concert go in both directions, he said.

"(The audience is) supporting us, so we can continue doing what we're doing," said Withers, "but it's also us supporting the families."

Statistics Canada have estimated that 7,500 to 8,000 people in this province have, or show early warning signs of, an eating disorder.

The foundation at work

Withers said the foundation has been developing the services it offers to members of the public who may have questions about eating disorders and to those who need help dealing with them.

For example, the foundation has offered 12 to 15 "family sessions" where concerned members of families come together to talk with other families and community health professionals.

Turnouts have been good, said Withers, with 11, 13 and two people at each of the last three meetings.

The sit-down sessions fulfil the foundation's desire to see more "families talking to families," he said. And they do talk - sessions often go an hour or more over the allotted time without anyone noticing.

"There's a sense of relief that this is not a secret anymore," Withers said of the conversations.

The foundation office also has drop-in visitors who suspect they have an eating disorder or who have been diagnosed with one.

Those face-to-face meetings often include Withers offering materials from the foundation's information library.

It is a collection created through a $5,000 donation from the local Rotary club and includes traditional workbooks, such as "Hunger for Understanding" by Alison Eivors and Sophie Nesbitt, as well as self-help titles such as "Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia andxBulimia"xbyxMarya Hornbacher and "The Good Eater: The True Story of One Man's Struggle With Binge Eating" by Ron Saxen.

There are also pamphlets, fact sheets and DVDs, all on topics surrounding anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.

For anyone unable to reach the office, "Most of this is also available in the public libraries," Withers said.

Changes for the better

People diagnosed with eating disorders in this province now have more options.

The Renata Elizabeth Withers Centre for Hope is an outpatient treatment centre under the auspices of Eastern Health, on Major's Path in St. John's.

For those referred by a doctor, the centre offers day-treatment programs, including the Healthy Opportunity for People with Eating Disorders (HOPE) program.

According to promotional information, the centre is "committed to helping change eating disorder symptoms, challenging thoughts and behaviours, and developing new means of coping with everyday stressors."

The services available at the centre provide an important bridge, a "continuity of treatment" for people returning from in-patient programs on the mainland, said Withers.

It is support for those cases where the warning signs were not caught early.

One more year

There is still more work to be done by the foundation, said Withers, and that will require the continued assistance of the public - through fundraiser golf tournaments, walks and the upcoming benefit concert.

"Denial is a big issue still. Denial is a huge issue and that's (from) the stigma," he said. "I think we have to get past the day when people will call us and discuss their difficulties without using the words 'eating disorder.'"

It is one more goal for one more year in the development of a fledgling foundation.

To reach the Eating Disorder Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador by phone, call (709) 722-0500.

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com

Weblinks
www.edfnl.ca

Organizations: Eating Disorder Foundation of Newfoundland and Labrador, Arts and Culture Centre Box Office, Statistics Canada Renata Elizabeth Withers Centre for Hope

Geographic location: St. John's

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