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Eating Disorders Nova Scotia (EDNS) has launched a new pilot program to help meet a pandemic-fuelled demand for affordable and accessible recovery options.

The not-for-profit organization helps people whose lives are impacted by an eating disorder. When the pandemic hit last year, EDNS experienced a 400% increase in demand for its services.

Starting next Monday, Feb. 8, Nova Scotians seeking essential recovery supports can work with a dietician specializing in eating disorders via its new nutrition counselling service. Breanne Hopkins has six years of experience, having worked with both adolescents and adults impacted by eating disorders.

The service will be available on a sliding scale to ensure it’s accessible to everyone in the province, regardless of their financial status.

Shaleen Jones, executive director of Eating Disorders Nova Scotia (EDNS). Photo: LinkedIn

“People who are struggling with any form of an eating disorder, who are struggling with disordered eating in any way, will be able to access a dietician who will be able to help them rebuild their relationships with food and eating and their body will be able to do that regardless of their economic situation,” EDNS executive director Shaleen Jones said in an interview on Monday.

“No matter where you are in the province, you can access a highly skilled, highly trained professional, and we have the subsidies available for folks who can’t afford to pay market price.”

Eating Disorder Awareness Week in Canada runs from Feb. 1 to Feb. 7. Jones said it was the ideal time to announce their latest project.

Jones said national estimates suggest only one in 10 people impacted by an eating disorder reached out for help and received specialized treatment during the pandemic. She believes the global spike in eating disorders caused by COVID-19 has served to further highlight the fact that available mental health resources are disproportionate to the prevalence and severity of the illness.

In an October 2020 article published by the University of Western Ontario, pandemic-related quarantines, lockdowns, and physical distancing were described as a “recipe for disaster” for the onset — and relapse — of eating disorders.

“There is reason to believe there may be a hidden health crisis within the broader pandemic for those with eating disorders,” notes a researcher cited in the article.

Eating disorders are the third most common mental illness, impacting 7.8% of the population.

“We know across the globe that there are significant increases in folks who did not have an eating disorder pre-pandemic and now have symptoms,” Jones said. “We also know there’s a 65% increase in people who have had an eating disorder now having (exacerbated) symptoms.”

Despite those grim statistics, Jones said there is a silver lining. More people also appear to be seeking help. Demand for her organization’s services ramped up 11 months ago, and haven’t let up since.

EDNS has recently reached the “1,000 people served since April 1, 2020” mark, a figure far higher than she imagined with two months left to go before their fiscal year ends.

“We’ve had really incredible increases, and then the folks who are requesting support are accessing all of our programmes. Our numbers, we are reaching capacity,” she said.

“Pretty much every single programme we run is filled usually within a few days of launching it. So we’re like, OK, how do we continue to expand the spaces that we have and the support that we’re able to offer?”

This past summer, EDNS staff asked people who use their services how the organization could better support them. Jones said there was an overwhelming demand for increased access to therapists and dieticians who understood eating disorders and the impact of weight stigma.

There was also a request that those people have expertise to support those in recovery. In addition to the nutritional counselling they’re now offering, Jones is hopeful they’ll be able to launch a similar pilot project with a counsellor in the near future.

“I am so excited by this program…This is like a missing piece of the puzzle for us,” Jones said.

If you or someone you know is overwhelmed and struggling with thoughts about food, eating and weight gain, reach out to Eating Disorders Nova Scotia. A list of resources, including the new nutrition counselling program, are available on the group’s website.

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Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor who enjoys covering health, science, research, and education.

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