When enough isn’t enough Islanders remember friends who suffered from an eating disorder

By Letre Sweeting

Feb. 8, 2016


Gretel Stanish and her three friends were in dance and gymnastics at 14 and encouraged by coaches to lose weight.

They all listened and tried to lose as much weight as possible.

But it was never enough.

LS Eating disorder
Student Ishmaiah Strachan makes a Crispy chicken wrap for another student in the cafeteria at Holland College Prince of Wales Campus Feb. 5. Letre Sweeting photo

And soon they noticed a trend among their peers. Several of them had to be hospitalized and some girls even died. Stanish and her friends became sick as well but coaches still pushed them to be athletic.

“I think it was the time in our lives, mid-teens, when we were very self-conscious and encouraged by adults to be super skinny,” she said.

Parents and peers in and out of dance became involved and through this intervention and support the girls got better. But not without some heartache. One of Stanish’s close friends died because of an eating disorder.

Today, Stanish is the unit manager of Dine on Campus and serves food in the cafeteria of the Prince of Wales campus at Holland College regularly. She is an Islander and encourages others to be healthy. Two of Stanish’s other friends both have children. One is a jazz musician and the other plays soccer.

Stanish and her friends are not the only ones who have suffered or knows someone who has suffered from an eating disorder.

Eating disorders are defined as severely disturbed eating behaviors. The two most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. At any given time in Canada, as many as 600,000 to 990,000 Canadians may meet the diagnostic criteria for an eating disorder, primarily anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating disorder. Approximately 80 per cent of Canadians with eating disorders are girls or women, said a report of the Standing Committee on the Status of Women by Hélène LeBlanc, chair of the committee.

Last week was National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, or NEDAW.

The promotion this year is the message that eating disorders can and do affect anyone and talking has the potential to save lives.

Students at Holland College support the cause and remember their own experiences.

Ishmaiah Strachan had a friend with anorexia.

He said his friend constantly thought she was too big

“I just didn’t understand why she had to be that small.”

His friend would not eat and when they went out she would hide her food and pretend she ate it.

“She would put food in her bag every time we went out.”

Strachan tried to help her.

“You’re not that big, you’re actually small, and if you continue to do what you’re doing now it’s going to lead you to her death.” he said.

She didn’t listen.

Weeks later his friend was in the hospital.

She had to be fed through a tube to get better.

“It was almost like talking to a brick wall, that’s the feeling I got,” said Strachan.

Strachan’s friend was released from the hospital three months later.

Today she still struggles but weighs as much as the average woman about 145 pounds and goes to school in Miami.