Victoria Eating Disorder Peer Support Group

 

 
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We offer two types of peer supported activities based in Victoria, B.C.

  1. Our regular peer support group.

    • For adults, ages (18+) who struggle with any behaviours as a result of a maladaptive relationship with food and/or their body.

    • FREE weekly drop-in group.

    • TUESDAYS from 6:30PM - 8:00PM

    • We meet in Room C201, Patient Care Centre, Royal Jubilee Hospital, 1952 Bay Street, Victoria, BC V8R 1J8, Canada

    • (Note: we do not meet on statutory holidays. If we are not meeting we offer support by phone, text, e-mail, or messages via our Facebook page. In crisis situations we will re-direct individuals to appropriate services. See our contact page for details.)

  2. A therapeutic/recreation (TR) group.

    • Coordinated outings that include various activities. See our TR Group page for details.

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Both groups are intended to be safe, nurturing environments for adults struggling with eating disorders to explore and hear new ways of understanding and processing their behaviours.

We support adults aged 18+ who struggle with eating disorders, disordered eating, or any other struggles with food, exercise, or body image that affects quality of life or interferes with day to day living. Members who do not have a diagnosed eating disorder (either from not seeking help, or not being able to access help), but who have a troubled relationship with food and/or body, are completely welcome here.  We aim to provide a safe, non-judgmental space for all.

It should be noted that we are not clinicians and we encourage individuals to seek professional support if it is something they are open to. As peers, our facilitators are individuals who are in various places of recovery themselves (some fully recovered, some still in the process of recovery). We are conscious that this may not suit the needs of every attendee and again, we encourage seeking out professional supports.


PEER SUPPORT: What is it?

Peer recovery support is the gathering of two or more people who offer mutual support, support each other through empathy and compassion for each other's issue.  Some peer support is facilitated by clinicians, but our group is facilitated by people with lived experiences of eating disorders (at various places in recovery), so we understand and empathize with the struggles others may be experiencing.  Our purpose as facilitators is mainly to promote group functioning and offer support in the ways we can, but the group leads itself with no member serving as a source of professional expertise. We provide a thoughtful and safe environment for members to speak out about their struggles and victories.  We also often send out a weekly email to provide information about issues that arose in group that week.  No one is left out, but facilitators will try to ensure that someone sitting quietly has the opportunity to speak if they want to.

It is important to note that peer support is an adjunct to professional help, but does not replace it. We encourage individuals to connect with professional supports in their community or on the mainland.

Our Eating Disorder Peer Support Group is for anyone who has a troubled relationship with food and/or their bodies.  We are a volunteer-driven organization, and all facilitators have lived experience with having an eating disorder.  

An important contributor to recovery, peer support is a supportive relationship between people who have a lived experience in common. The peer support worker provides emotional and social support to others who share a common experience. 

Therapeutic Recreation - What Is It?

Therapeutic Recreation refers to engagement in recreation and leisure activities in order to reach a therapeutic goal. Within the context of Eating Disorder Recovery, this goal can be anything from learning to feel comfortable eating in public, to wanting to experience a feeling of connected-ness and belonging.

Due to the isolation and shame surrounding the eating disorder experience, many sufferers will have withdrawn from leisure activities as their disease progressed. Coupled with the effects of starvation on cognition and the inability to experience pleasure, it is no wonder that many of these sufferers will just have “forgotten how to enjoy themselves” (Mobily and MacNeil, 2002, p. 145). The adolescent and early adult years are generally a time to enjoy life as much as possible, to have new experiences, and to form strong social circles. For those struggling with an eating disorder, this may seem an unattainable goal. TR can help individuals reconnect with a healthy leisure lifestyle. “Quality of life is intimately associated with leisure experiences…” (Hofer and Swarnes, 2014, para. 1). Due to the nature of eating disorders, however, many sufferers experience barriers to leisure activities.

Within the context of eating disorder treatment programs such as TGH, appropriate TR Activities can help remedy this situation. “Therapeutic recreation specialists are increasingly being asked to work with individuals with Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa” (Mobily and MacNeil, 2002, p. 140). After clients have been medically stabilized, TR work can begin. Common goals include: developing self-esteem; exploring personal leisure attitudes and behaviours; learning healthy coping skills; eating in public; learning to cope with unstructured time; adding enjoyment and pleasure to their lives; self-discovery; self-exploration; stress reduction; re-engaging socially with others; and regaining somatic connection (Mobily and MacNeil, 2002; Douglass, 2010; Hofer and Swarnes, 2014; Frisch, Franko, & Herzog, 2006). Additionally, when TR activities are utilized in the context of Day Hospital or Inpatient treatment, these activities provide “meaningful downtime” for the participants (Centre for Discovery, 2015). They help participants connect with one another in a way that is not treatment – (work –) oriented, and help them remain connected to life outside of the treatment program (Centre for Discovery, 2015). Because “the body is a central battleground in eating disorders” (Frisch et al., 2006, p. 135), the type of “embodied learning” (Douglass, 2010, p. 85) offered by TR experiences can be a key component in the healing of an eating disorder. By removing the focus, and locus of control, from the body, “healing leisure experiences promote a sense of connectedness to a greater whole (environment and community)” (Hofer and Swarnes, 2014, p. 4).

TR Interventions used can vary greatly. Some modalities include: music therapy, where music may be used as “a tool for self-discovery or… a method of relaxation… It may be played during meal time to alleviate anxiety” (Frisch et al., 2006, p. 134); participation in noncompetitive sports, such as frisbee or badminton; charades, board games; weightlifting (to increase bone density); relaxation and stress management techniques; arts and crafts; and community outings to parks, theatres, shopping, and public attractions (Mobily and MacNeil, 2002). Creative Arts Therapy (using drama, drawing, painting, sculpture) is found in many eating disorder treatment programs (Frisch et al., 2006).

The benefits of including TR in eating disorder treatment are well documented. They include: “allowing clients to face and challenge issues such as self-esteem, body image, depression, and the tendency to isolate” (Frisch et al., 2006, pp. 137-138); “promoting the development of inherent talents… focusing on their strengths, gifts, and talents…becoming empowered. Perceptions shift toward perceived freedom, competency, problem-solving abilities, conflict resolution, successful experiences, and internal motivation.” (Hofer and Swarnes, 2014, pp. 3-4). Regaining somatic connection is a key benefit: moving from the “conception of the body [as] something that must be “disciplined” to an integral part of the self that needs to be listened to, cared for, and communicated with.” (Douglass, 2010, p. 86). “As clients explore leisure experiences as an alternative to [disordered eating], they may become increasingly aware of the true nature and rhythms of their bodies and are less likely to distort their body images” (Mobily and MacNeil, 2002, p. 145). Actively engaging in self-care is a way “in which some individuals can reclaim a positive sense of self.” (Douglass, 2010, p. 93). In addition, more experiential therapies are reported to be “particularly effective for patients who had difficulty with more traditional forms of talk- oriented therapies” (Frisch et al., 2006, p. 138).

In conclusion, the use of TR Interventions allows individuals to be “more emotionally stable, more able to physically function closer to functional capacity, and demonstrate sounder cognitive skills than prior to beginning treatment…[they] are able to derive more fun out of their daily lives…” (Mitchell, n. d., p. 6). The body becomes a safe place in which to play, and rest. Through the re-learning of pleasure-filled activities, the participant learns to experience joy once more.

Proposed Activities

Meal/Snack Outings:

Practice eating out in a relaxed, supportive environment. An opportunity to socialize while refraining from food/weight/shape-related conversation (which some members may find triggering while eating). Try some risk foods/venues with the support of your peers. Meal Outings will consist of Lunch or Dinner (poss. Breakfast, if members request it). Snack Outings will typically be at a coffee shop/ice cream parlour, etc. Guidelines will be in place to support members to adhere to their meal plan/minimum exchanges. If anyone feels unable to meet the minimum nutritional guidelines (which will be stated at the time that the outing is advertised), please contact me and we will discuss ways to support you so that you will be able to attend with everyone else. Support will also be available afterwards.

Gardening

There are many community gardens around town where we can plan a fun, relaxing, therapeutic gardening experience! Some include: UVic Community Gardens; the “hidden” garden at King and Richmond; Greater Victoria Green Team (various locations for work parties); and Uplands Park.

Other Activities/ Outings

Below is a list of possible activities/outings; all can be combined with a meal/ snack outing if the group chooses. Some are seasonal, that we may not choose to do until next Spring/Summer.

Art Gallery; Farmer’s market; drop-in badminton; knitting circle; nature walks in Mount Doug, UVic (Mystic Vale), Government House Gardens, Beacon Hill Pk, Royal Roads; bowling; charades; movie and popcorn night; board games; art/ craft groups; Craigdarroch Castle; rock painting; drum circles; skating; farm visits; visit to Victoria Therapeutic Riding Association; Christmas Events (X-mas Tree Display at Empress Hotel; Bearwear; Carol Singing at the Carillon); volunteering (i.e. filling Christmas shoeboxes); shopping for posters/artwork that portray positive images of women in all shapes and sizes; Day Trips to Goldstream, Salt Spring Island, Parksville (mini-golf).

Grocery Shopping & Cooking Practice

Staying on track with your eating is easier if you have the food you need readily available. Meet with the group to shop together in a supportive environment. Challenge yourself to feel comfortable buying the food that you need in a variety of settings. Stores will be decided upon by the Group, and will change monthly.


PROVIDING HOPE FOR RECOVERY

Peer support programs work by offering people support, encouragement, and hope that recovery is possible. Peer support considers the wellness of the whole person and focuses on health and recovery rather than illness and disability, in order to assist people in finding their own path to recovery. There is no "one-size-fits-all" approach to peer support. It can take many different forms and be offered wherever people need it, whether in peer-run organizations, workplaces, schools, or healthcare settings. Peer support is intended to complement traditional clinical care and vice versa.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF PEER SUPPORT

The various types of peer support fall along a spectrum ranging from informal support to formal peer support within a structured organizational setting. “Informal peer support” occurs when acquaintances notice the similarity of their lived experience and listen to and support each other. Peer support within a structured clinical setting can involve programs where peer support workers offer the opportunity for a supportive, empowering relationship. The values, principles of practice, and skills of peer support workers apply to all types of peer support and all types of organizations that offer it."

Taken from the Mental Health Commission of Canada.


do I belong?

  • Do you try to eat alone or avoid social engagements, because you don’t want anyone to see you eating?

  • Is your mind often preoccupied with thoughts about food and exercise?

  • Do you have trouble with portion control?

  • Do you try to schedule your life around food?

  • Have you eliminated certain food groups – like fats or grains – from your diet?

  • Do you feel like you have to “earn” your food through diet or exercise?

  • Do you struggle with poor body image?

  • Does your weight on any given day determine how your day will go?

  • Do you find yourself body checking by looking in mirrors or reflective glass when you’re out?

  • Do you compare your body with other people’s bodies?

  • Do you go from one diet/exercise program to another?

  • Do you deny yourself foods that you are craving?

  • Do you sometimes feel afraid, guilty or ashamed of eating?

  • Do you feel like you always have to lose weight?

  • Do you feel that you can never be satisfied at any weight?

  • Are there other ways in which you struggle with your relationship with food?

If you answered "yes" to one or more of these questions, you may find attending a peer group validating and supportive. 

This group centers around those struggling with eating disorders and disordered eating, but we have had loved ones attend as well.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders may include individual or multiple combinations of behaviours, which may change from over time, but the thought processes often remain the same for people who struggle over a number of years.  Behaviours may include restriction (self-starvation) bingeing (eating a significantly larger portion of food that would be considered reasonable for a non-eating disordered person, purging (using behaviours to compensation for calories consumed, including self-induced vomiting, misuse of pharmaceuticals, or compulsive exercise), chewing and spitting, or other behaviours.

Disordered Eating

Disordered eating describes a variety of abnormal eating behaviors that, by themselves, do not warrant diagnosis of an eating disorder. It includes behaviors that are common features of eating disorders (usually to a lesser extent). Much of current society has disordered eating habits (e.g. yo-yo dieting, "clean eating," etc.)


Group Guidelines

This group is based on open talk principles and is not a 12-step group. Some groups begin with a brief check-in for each member, other groups go directly to open talk or we take time to delve into deeper check-ins. The peer facilitator(s) will work to ensure everyone is included and welcomed. Based on the number of persons present, sometimes we take more time with check-ins and allow the conversation to develop from there.

We ask that members take care to avoid obvious triggers/details when they speak.  For example, say, "I've lost a lot of weight", instead of, "I've lost X pounds"; "I am really struggling with improving my nutrition, which is quite poor right now" instead of, "I only eat X calories a day".  Please refrain from talking about your own weight, or commenting on anyone else's.  Finally, please avoid graphic descriptions of your behaviours.  For example, it is enough to know that you are really struggling with bingeing and purging, rather than a detailed description of your behaviours.

We acknowledge that sometimes it is in the nature of eating disorders to want to share details and we encourage participants to explore why they feel the need to do so.


GROUP PROCESSES

Members are encouraged to expand on any successes, strategies they tried during the week and how they worked, or thoughts, urges or behaviours they are struggling with. The goal is to hear from as many people as possible, with each of us engaging in honest reflection and providing supportive and thoughtful feedback.  Facilitators will often offer scientific information that can help members understand the context of their eating disorder experiences.  Often, in the week following group, members will receive an email with articles or studies the group wanted to know more about.

Members try to set realistic and achievable goals at the end of the group to work on during the next week. Members can also use this time to talk about how they are feeling at this time. Leaders will remain available for a limited time after the group ends for members who are feeling the need for additional closure of the meeting.

Members are asked to turn cell phone off during meetings, or set to vibrate if you have a pressing need to be available.  Please always leave the room if you need to answer a call or reply to a text.

If a member needs to leave part-way through a group for whatever reason, they are welcome to do so.

Any group member who indicates they are at risk of suicide, self-harm, or harming another person will be referred to appropriate emergency health services.