By Laura Kelsey – 100 Mile House Free Press
Published: August 11, 2009 7:00 PM
Updated: August 12, 2009 2:14 PM
Silence kills: this is something Tara Levis knows all too well.
When she was 11 years old, she was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa
and was hospitalized at 12.
For the next decade of her life, Levis struggled with the illness, going in and out of treatment centres from Ontario, where she grew up, to relocating to various cities all over Canada.
Not eating and the associated lifestyle was “just another way of dealing with negative stress,” she says; fortunately, she has a supportive, “amazing” family who helped her.
“The whole family suffers; it’s not just the individual.”
Growing up with an eating disorder is painful in many ways, she says.
“I lost a lot of friends because parents were scared of my illness.
“Food becomes such an issue.”
And it’s not all about being skinny.
“Yes, the media plays into it. But, for me, it was a negative coping mechanism.
“The media glamorizes it, says women do it to look beautiful but it’s Hell on Earth, a living hell.”
Levis says there seems to be a certain personality-type that is more susceptible to eating disorders: people who develop the illnesses are often highly intelligent and perfectionists.
Now a young woman, Levis has been in recovery for two years but still struggles with the thoughts that held her back before.
“They are the last to go. Now I’m coping with stress much more positively, and I can turn down the volume on the negative thoughts.
“It’s taken a lot of courage.”
Currently a third-year social work student at the University of Northern British Columbia, Levis says her personal experience with eating disorders helped influence her career path.
“I enjoy advocating on behalf of people.”
Levis wanted to one day openly discuss her experience but hadn’t planned on doing it so soon into her recovery.
But, when her friend from a treatment centre passed away recently due to complications from her long battle with anorexia nervosa, she felt compelled to speak out.
“I couldn’t just sit back any longer.”
Levis felt it was time for her to take “the next step in her recovery journey and saw cycling as the venue to social change.”
On Aug. 8, she set out from Prince George on her bicycle to make the long trip south to Maple Ridge. She hopes to raise money for the Looking Glass Foundation, a support organization for those with anorexia and bulimia; and, once reaching Maple Ridge, she will be volunteering with the foundation’s summer camp.
Levis says the Looking Glass Foundation is important because eating disorders, like most mental illnesses, are heavily stigmatized, causing many to suffer in silence; on top of that, she says, there’s little support from the Canadian medical system.
“There’s more help for physical ailments than mental, and the long-term emotional support necessary to combat non-visible illnesses is not there.
“But they are just as worthy of help than anyone else with any other condition.”
The lack of services in the North is a definite concern for Levis, who says the resources that are there are stretched; there’s also been little to no research on the prevalence of eating disorders in BC outside of southern areas, something she says needs to change.
“I want to raise the awareness that eating disorders are not confined to urban centres.
“I don’t want people to feel ashamed anymore. Even just talking to someone is the first step, which opens the door to the next step, such as seeking a support group or seeing a doctor.”
On Aug. 13, Levis is scheduled to be pedalling through 100 Mile. Supporters in the community have organized a fundraiser at Save-On-Foods from 12-4 p.m. promoting healthy eating and active living, with fruit kabobs and frozen juice treats.
After the fundraiser, from 6:30-7:30 p.m., the group will go on a short bike ride, meeting at the arena parking lot and touring around town, then wrapping up with a Blizzard at Dairy Queen to support the restaurant’s Miracle Treat Day.
Levis is looking for cyclists to join her on legs of her trip. Interested bikers can check her website at www.rally4recovery.com.