Emily Doer hesitated before going public with her experiences battling an eating disorder.
"I think sometimes people expect families in the public eye to be perfect," the 22-year-old says, curled up in a chair at Red River College's Princess Street campus. "I didn't want this to become a blame game around my father."
Doer's parents are former Manitoba premier and current Canadian ambassador to the United States Gary Doer and his wife, Ginny Devine. The young woman says she grew up trying to avoid the public attention that came with her dad's job. She has stepped into the spotlight on her own terms.
"I think there's a lot of guilt and shame around eating disorders," the second-year RRC student says. "I think a lot of people don't really understand how many people suffer in silence."
Her decision to speak out comes as a Manitoba advocate for eating-disorders treatment claims waiting lists are so long, people are in danger of dying before they can be helped. Elaine Stevenson, whose daughter died 10 years ago after a lengthy battle with anorexia, says making seriously ill people wait six months or a year for treatment is unconscionable.
"Someone shouldn't be at death's door before someone steps in to help them," Stevenson says.
Doer is organizing a fundraiser to benefit the Health Sciences Centre adult eating disorders program. It's a way to pay back the people she credits with saving her life. She entered the HSC program as an in-patient in the summer of 2011. She stayed in hospital for a month and participated in the outpatient program for three months. Because she went into hospital at a healthy weight, she was released earlier than many people with eating disorders.
She says her father flew in from Washington to attend weekly family counselling sessions. Her mother wasn't able to travel to the Canadian Embassy as often as she might have, choosing to remain in Winnipeg to support her eldest.
Doer is bulimic. She would binge on food and then purge. She put restrictions on which foods she would eat, how much she could consume and when she could eat. She says she now understands she was grasping for control when she felt lost in other areas.
"At 19, the eating-disorder behaviour started to have a real impact on my life," she says. "I took rules from all the different diets I had gone on and kind of made up my own rules.
"I really, at one point, was completely out of control. I had anxiety, I was depressed. My family were pleading with me to get help. They were very supportive, but they were also insistent I get treatment."
The HSC adult program has only four hospital beds, says director Dr. Louis Ludwig. An additional three patients are seen on an outpatient basis and 10 people come for evening therapy. Other patients are seen by nurses and dietitians to help prevent relapse.
Ludwig says patients referred by their family doctors get an initial phone call in two to three days. They will then wait two to three months for a formal assessment. After that, they're placed on the waiting list. Eight people are now waiting for admission. Their condition, the doctor says, is urgent.
Patients take part in group therapy, learn to plan and shop for meals and are taken to restaurants to learn to cope with public eating. Doer says an outing to a buffet was overwhelming.
"It's this overwhelming feast," she says.
"Eating is such a social thing, when you're not able to eat in front of people, it really alters your life."
All restaurant outings are paid for by patients.
Ludwig says his team has put in a request for increased funding, hoping to feed patients in their outpatient program three supervised meals and two snacks a day. Now, they get lunch and two snacks Monday to Thursday.
Ludwig believes the change, which would cost between $100,000 and $200,000 annually, would shorten admission time in the program.
Doer hopes her fundraiser will net $7,000 to help the program pay for things such as yoga classes to help patients cope with stress or cover the cost of outings.
The Women's Health Clinic runs the provincial eating disorder prevention and recovery program. Clients can self-refer. Clinic executive director Joan Dawkins says around 80 people are enrolled in the program, which centres on group therapy. They meet once a week. The waiting list is more than a year long.
"I don't think anyone would disagree one year is waiting too long," Dawkins says.
Doer says she continues to deal with her bulimia.
"I think I'll always have those feelings of imperfection. I remind myself the positives in my life outweigh the negatives."
Doer's Tea For E/D fundraiser will be held Feb. 10 at the Fort Garry Hotel. Tickets are $60. For more information, go to teaforeatingdisorders.com .
Help for eating disorders
-- Health Sciences Centre: Adult eating disorder program 204-787-3482. In-patient, outpatient and intensive outpatient cognitive behavioural therapy. Child and adolescent eating disorders program 204-787-7218. In-patient and outpatient care, as well as an intensive outpatient program for adolescents.
-- Women's Health Clinic 204-947-1517:
Provincial eating disorders prevention and recovery program 204-947-2422, ext. 506. For men and women ages 16 and up experiencing disordered eating, weight preoccupation or body-image concerns. Teen clinic (ages 19 and under). Other services include counselling on any women's issues. Dietitians are available on site.
-- The Laurel Centre 204-783-5460: Provides separate services for young adults ages 16-24 and adults age 24 and over).
-- Fort Garry Women's Resource Centre 204-477-1123: Offers groups on body image and self-esteem; provides individual counselling, either one-time or ongoing.
-- Klinic Community Health Centre 204-784-4067: Free drop-in counselling for people over 13 years old.
-- Elizabeth Hill Counselling Centre 204-956-6560
-- Men's Resource Centre 204-956-6560: Offers group counselling, drop-in counselling and support groups.
-- Mental Health Education Resource Centre 204-953-2355: Offers a lending library of resources to Manitobans.