In the past year Sandi DeWolf has noticed the people contacting Northern Health's eating disorder clinic are sicker than before.
The team leader at the multi-disciplinary clinic said people with eating disorders seem to be waiting longer to seek help and that's leading to more people needing hospital stays.
"It can be a very sneaky illness," DeWolf said. "The people who have this illness are quite often very skilled at maintaining the illness. It can be hidden quite successfully for quite some time."
That's why the message for this year's just completed eating disorder week is talking saves lives. DeWolf and others at the clinic hope by getting more people in the community talking about the disorder and mental illness will spur people to seek help sooner.
"The lesser the duration of the illness, the easier it is to treat," she said.
Although people are generally more aware of eating disorders now than a decade ago, DeWolf and her team have to fight an ongoing battle against societal messages on body image expectations.
"There are all kinds of different messages that people get out in the world that are a bit louder than the voices talking about eating disorders," she said.
DeWolf gave the example of clothing sizes - when she was growing up the concept of a size 0 didn't exist.
"How on earth did we come up with size 0?," she asked. "What does that even mean?"
Northern Health interim manager for youth services and eating disorders Mary Morrison said the goal is to get people think about themselves through the lens of healthy eating, active living or HEAL.
"The focus should not be on weight loss or gain," she said. "But focus on a general way of living."
Successful treatment for eating disorders is possible, but comes with its challenges as patients are sometimes resistant to change. Morrison said the clinicians try to "meet people where they're at" and are willing to take time to allow people to become comfortable with the idea of entering in a treatment plan.
"People can enter into the system at varying stages of change," she said. "They might be ready today and next week step back and not be as ready and then a month later be ready.
"What the clinic offers is they can come, and go, and come back. The door is always open - and it's the right door."
The disorder has traditionally been associated with young women, but DeWolf said more men have been accessing the clinic's resources in recent years as the word is getting out that both genders can suffer equally from the disease.
Patients can access the clinic directly by calling 250-565-7479 during normal business hours or by seeking a referral from their general practitioner. Generally, new clients will first go through a screening over the phone and will be directed to the proper resource in the community.
If that resource is the eating disorder clinic, the patient will then come in for an assessment by the team including a physician, a nurse, a therapist and a dietitian.
After hours calls should be directed to the Northern B.C. Crisis Line at 250-563-1214 or 1-888-562-1214.