Reflecting on anorexia nervosa
Victoria Rempel describes her anorexia nervosa as “a shrinking in every way—physically, mentally, emotionally.”
She was 12 and living with her family in Steinbach when she first realized that something wasn’t right. “I remember wanting to be congruent in a way. I felt out of control and unimportant and I wanted that to be reflected on the outside,” she says of her dramatic pre-teen weight reduction. “That was my way of sharing that feeling with everyone, which was pretty messed up, obviously. I was very unwell. I remember not really understanding what was happening.”
Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by a deep fear of gaining weight. Some people with eating disorders induce weight loss through vomiting, the overuse of laxatives, or consuming an excess of appetite suppressants. Rempel simply reduced her eating to next to nothing, sometimes “just a few spoonfuls of food a day”.
Rempel also recalls the social impacts of having an eating disorder. “I had to withdraw from a lot of things in my life, like school and extra-curricular activities.” She also recalls the devastating impact on her family: “My mom was extremely scared,” says Rempel. “I know it was hard on my sisters, because it became such a focus for our family to make sure that I got better, that perhaps they didn’t get the same attention that they would have otherwise gotten.”
The months passed, her weight dropped, her health suffered, her isolation intensified. Rempel remembers that even at her young age she eventually had the presence of mind to realize she needed help. “Things got really, really scary. I came very close to, you know… I was at a danger level and I didn’t want to become a statistic.”
She arrived a turning point. “Through my own will I started to make some progress—when I got scared enough. It took a lot of time,” says Rempel.
She battled the condition on her own for a few years, and struggled mightily along the way. In 2014, when she was 19, she and her family found the eating disorder program at HSC. It was a 12-week program that included group therapy, individual therapy, meetings with a dietician, and exposure to a variety of resources.
“The group therapy was instrumental to my recovery,” says Rempel. “I remember walking into a room and how disarming it was to see a range of different people experiencing what I was. That was extremely important for me.”
Rempel largely credits her HSC experience for her progress in the early stages of her recovery. Although she has had struggles and setbacks along the way, Rempel describes herself as “cautiously recovered” for the past two years.
At 27, Victoria Rempel is upbeat and forward-looking. She lives in Winnipeg, works as a Chartered Investment Manager, and serves as the volunteer board chair of SHADE, a charitable non-profit that provides housing for immigrant and refugee women and children who have been affected by domestic abuse.
She also facilitates a weekly peer support group for young women battling eating disorders, a role informed by her experiences as a participant at HSC. “I learned many things and many skills at HSC that I carry with me,” says Rempel. “You can choose to act on what you learn or not, but you can never unlearn. I’m grateful that I participated in the program at HSC from beginning to end, grateful for what they taught me, and grateful for the effort they put into my recovery.”
Follow Victoria Rempel on Instagram where she aims to bring a message of healing and empowerment to young people. @edfreemb