By: Whitney Klahom - WGEN Contributor

opinion_wgen_trudeau_march16_2The prevalence of eating disorders is growing, says Melissa Kimber, a Postdoctoral Fellow working in McMaster’s Offord Centre for Child Studies. The elevated frequency of conditions like disordered eating and body dysphoria stems from many factors including, but not limited to, social pressures to conform to unattainable beauty ideals.

Despite the popular stereotype of eating disorders as an affliction for adolescent girls, young adults, particularly students, can and do suffer from them as well. The Freshman 15 and the fear of it can provoke anxiety among university students that adds to general societal pressures regarding body image.

The Queen’s University student newspaper has previously reported that 51 per cent of students at Canadian universities engage in binge eating, and bulimia incidence among female students at postsecondary institutions is around two per cent. That’s comparable to the national average, which Statistics Canada puts at one to three per cent.

At McMaster, the resources are there to seek support, like counselling services and support groups through the Wellness Centre. Off campus, Hamilton’s Body Brave offers workshops and clinical support around combatting eating disorders and body image issues, and St. Joseph’s Healthcare has an inpatient eating disorder clinic for more prolonged support.

Despite the community resources available, the stigma surrounding eating disorders can be a significant barrier to accessing these supports.

Let's all try to be fearless about our discussions of eating disorders like her while accessing and spreading knowledge about the resources available in Hamilton and McMaster.

That’s where Sophie Grégoire Trudeau comes in. She is seemingly tireless, continually advocating for and volunteering with charities across Canada that are related to the broad, multivalent issue of women’s rights. Both her charitable advocacy for eating disorder awareness and her uncompromising honesty regarding her past struggles with bulimia make her someone university students can and should hold in high esteem.

She’s talked about suffering from bulimia as a teenager since 2006 when she was still the Quebec correspondent for eTalk, and she’s been consistently open about that part of her past ever since. In 2013, she spoke on the matter at a fundraiser for Toronto-based eating disorder support centre, Sheena’s Place.

Just recently, she gave a similar speech on Parliament Hill during Eating Disorders Awareness Week. She’s worked with the Baca Clinic and the Bulimia Anorexia Nervosa Association to raise further awareness of eating disorders. She has helped advocate for healthy living with organizations like FitSpirit and Fillactive. A notable amount of her charity work, particularly for Plan Canada and Fillactive, is on a volunteer basis.

She, for her part, has consistently put her money where her mouth is for over a decade, and her honesty regarding this crucial issue holds some valuable lessons for university students.

We may not have as much free time as Ms. Trudeau has to dedicate to charities, though we can and should certainly try, but we can always be honest with ourselves and others about body image issues and eating disorders. We can always be the ones to break the silence, to have those awkward conversations and to say enough is enough. Her efforts in nationally reducing the stigma surrounding eating disorders should be a source of inspiration for McMaster students.

Let’s all try to be fearless about our discussions of eating disorders like her while accessing and spreading knowledge about the resources available in Hamilton and McMaster. We should continue to support and normalize conversations around these experiences, so others may feel safe getting the help they need.

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