Helping children fight eating disorders


  One in ten girls right now in Canada is dealing with an eating disorder. It’s a devastating illness that can destroy families — and take young lives.

   It also takes a lot of courage and determination to overcome. That’s the message tonight from a young Renfrew woman who spoke to CTV about her battle — and victory over the life-threatening disease.  19 year old Jessica Mahusky “graduated” nearly two years ago from the Eating Disorder Day Unit at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, after a lengthy battle with anorexia that started when she was 12. 

   “I think the main thing that led to my eating disorder is different things were going on in my life that I felt I had no control over,” says Mahusky.  “The eating disorder is all about control, it likes to control you and your life.  It comes across as your best friend but meanwhile it’s your worst enemy and killing you inside,” she adds.

   Dr. Wendy Spettigue is the psychiatric director of the Eating Disorder Program at CHEO.  She says since CHEO began its day unit in 2000, it has treated about 800 patients, mostly girls.

   “It can be up to almost 10 percent of teenage girls who have disordered eating or eating disorders and that’s too many I’m afraid,” says Dr. Spettigue.

   She says while males do suffer from eating disorders. About 90% of the patients who come to the clinic are female. 

   “I think there’s lots of pressure on females to look a certain way and a “thin ideal” that is held up in the celebrity culture,” says Dr. Spettigue. “And I can’t help think that’s why we’re seeing more and more referrals to our program over the years.”

   She says an eating disorder is best thought of as a form of an anxiety disorder, a severe phobia or obsessive compulsive disorder where the girls have these obsessive worries about their weight. The treatment at CHEO is multi-disciplinary and involves the whole family.

   “That’s not to say the family needs to be fixed because we know parents don’t cause eating disorders,” says Dr. Spettigue, “but we know they’re the main support for their children so we empower parents to help their child to recover.”

   Dr. Spettigue says eating disorders can be genetic or inherited.  But they tend to affect young people who are anxious and always trying to please. She says parents can help their kids by focussing on the fun in exercise, not the fat-burning part of it and by eating together as a family.

   “As a working mom, I know that’s a whole lot easier said than done but it turns out that families that have at least 4 or more meals per week with their children are actually protecting their children from eating disorders.”

   Jessica Mahusky says the program at CHEO saved her life.  She is now nearly two years into her recovery. “I couldn’t be happier. It was the battle for my life but it was worth it.”  

   Mahusky is now in college studying social work and hopes to focus on eating disorders.  She also speaks to girls with eating disorders in the hopes of turning their lives around.

“I try to help them, let them know they’re not alone, there is help out there and not to get discouraged.”