According to the Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy and Action, eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any other mental illness. Sadly, every 62 minutes at least one person dies as a direct result.
These statistics are not surprising to Kyla Fox. The Toronto, Canada-based clinical therapist founded an outpatient clinic (The Kyla Fox Centre) to support others in a way that she herself was not. Fox struggled with anorexia in her teens and early 20s. It was a period she describes as “a really messy and very stressful and painful time in our home…I was so afraid that I was going to die.”
Fox and her family couldn’t find the right kind of help. “I was really naive and didn’t really think that I had a problem. My family was also naive around how serious my suffering was. My parents scoured the city for professionals who had a lot of eating disorder experience,” says Fox. “I would tell them that I was fine. I wasn’t able to be as truthful as I needed to be in order to have therapy be effective. They wouldn’t call me out, and I knew at that point that I wouldn’t be able to get well in a space where I wasn’t really pushed to be completely honest.”
Today, the Kyla Fox Centre provides very individualized care. “We treat the entire person who was affected by the eating disorder,” says Fox. “So not just the food, not just the body, but we work very, very extensively with helping people to understand why they are struggling. [This includes] intensive clinical therapy to unpack the pieces that are really at the core of their suffering, whether that’s individual therapy, family therapy, [or] group therapy.”
Fox wants people to understand that eating disorders are not just about body image. “So often when people think about someone suffering…they think about the desire for a thin aesthetic or that it’s about vanity. That couldn’t be further from the truth,” she says. “Most people turn to it as a way to feel like they have some control. The irony is that you actually end up having none and less,” says Fox. “It’s the eating disorder that ends up controlling you.”
Humans are hardwired to find uncertainty difficult, and never has this been more of a challenge than during the global pandemic. Food has played a central role in the way may have self-soothed. While some have managed to maintain a healthy relationship with eating, many have struggled. Hospitals in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, for example, have reported a rise in hospital admissions among children with eating disorders since the start of the pandemic. “[When] a young person with naturally less control has absolutely none, says Fox. “[food] becomes an accessible way for them to experience some element of control.”
20 years after her own painful struggle with anorexia, Fox knows firsthand there is life after an eating disorder. “I think I’ve really come to appreciate and accept who I am. It’s been a long process and a lot of growth.” She also believes that her experience has made her a better therapist. So has a dedicated yoga practice and becoming a parent to two young daughters.
“I have this incredible privilege of seeing so much possibility. I literally spend my career watching people transform. I spend my days in the most honest spaces where people are their truest. That’s what keeps me going.”
The Kyla Fox Centre