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Understanding, patience and the right treatment saved Cyndi Carleton’s life.

When Cyndi Carleton was just 15, her mother became paraplegic and depressed. Having to assume the role of primary caregiver, Cyndi was forced to put her dreams on hold. Worse, in trying to meet her mother’s constant needs, 'good' was never good enough – a theme that haunted Cyndi for over a decade.

Looking back, she sees what triggered her behaviour. As a young figure skater and aspiring actor, she tried constantly to improve her performance but her biggest obstacle was low self-esteem. Perfectionism and a desire to achieve gave rise to an irrational resolve to control her body weight and shape.

That she developed anorexia nervosa still amazes her. “I didn't think I was capable of that, yet I was 5’-8”and weighed 90 pounds”, Cyndi says. “Climbing stairs was almost impossible – it physically hurt.” After a temporary recovery, she suffered a serious relapse at 26. Weighing less than 70 pounds, she was admitted to Toronto General Hospital's ICU with liver failure.

In the Eating Disorder Inpatient Program, directed by Dr. Blake Woodside, Cyndi received psychiatric care and compassionate support. The Program helped her face her inner fears and reach a normal body weight. “This is an incredible team. They showed me how to believe in myself and gave me the will to go on”, says Cyndi. Today, she is healthy, acting – and enjoying her life.

Over the last two decades, Toronto General Hospital has become a leader in saving young lives from a health problem hidden for too long from public consciousness – eating disorders. In Canada alone, one in 20 women between 14 and 25 suffer from anorexia or bulimia nervosa, both characterized by fear of weight gain, feelings of ineffectiveness and low self-esteem.

Anorexia nervosa is identified by drastic weight loss from extreme food restriction. Bulimia nervosa is identified by frequent weight fluctuations and uncontrollable binge eating followed by purging, excessive exercising, or fasting to rid the body of unwanted calories. Binge-eating, or compulsive over eating, may be described as food intake that is emotionally ‘driven’ to the point of physical discomfort or beyond.

The Eating Disorders Program combines comprehensive treatment, pioneering research and is a major training ground for specialized caregivers. Due to the complex factors that contribute to eating disorders, patients receive treatment from a multi-disciplinary team of professionals including psychiatrists, psychologists, occupational therapists, registered dietitians, social workers and education specialists.

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