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Photo of Kyla Fox
Kyla Fox. Photo by Stephanie Bonus
Opinion

A Prisoner No More

My eating disorder felt like a life sentence. Now recovered, I help other people overcome theirs

I went to prison when I was 18 years old.

I remember the excruciating fear I felt every single day of my sentence. I remember the rules I had to follow, the inability to say and be who I was. I remember going to sleep at night wondering if I’d be alive in the morning. I remember thinking I would never get out.

This wasn’t the kind of prison I was bused to in an orange jumpsuit and shackles after being found guilty. Nope. This wasn’t a huge concrete building surrounded by barbed wire and divided into cells. This prison was my mind. This prison was my eating disorder.

I suffered with severe anorexia and an over-exercise addiction in my late teens and early 20s. The deadly combination of having to exercise as much as possible while eating as little as I could was my sentence. I tried to manage my insecurities and feelings of worthlessness by “managing” food and my body. The desperate state of my health – risk for heart attack, arrhythmia, kidney failure, infertility; the presence of hypoglycemia, fainting spells, hair, bone and energy loss; and the loss of myself entirely – meant intervention was critical. However, the lack of treatment options, lengthy waitlists and unseasoned professionals who claimed to be experts meant I was at a standstill. With these gaps in services, I – with the unwavering support of my family – created “treatment” in our home. My family supervised my meals so that I would show up to the food, not be sneaky, and get the emotional support I needed after I ate when I was often overcome with anxiety. My parents implemented clear limits on my exercise regimen (basically no exercise until I was cleared medically). But boycotting my symptoms with food and my body meant I needed to confront my deepest emotional wounds, familial circumstances (including my parents’ divorce), relational trauma and negative self-concept. I did this through journalling, reading, talking with family members, confronting people who had hurt me and using my voice.

Recovering from an eating disorder is a gruelling and exhausting experience, and requires so much perseverance. For me, the first three years encompassed severe depression and anxiety, fear and immense self-loathing. For the first year, I did nothing but recovery. Until I reached a new level of physical and emotional stability, I was doing all recovery all the time.

As the darkness began to clear, I enrolled in a women’s studies course at U of T. I remember walking into a class full of dynamic and diverse women: women who said what they felt and owned who they were. I was still ill, meek and insecure but I wanted to be just like these women. Slowly I began to immerse myself in academia. Tapping into my intellect made me feel confident, and university gave me purpose. I began to realize my passion: to work with those affected by eating disorders. I felt called to become the therapist who I always wanted when I was ill. I knew that I believed in a holistic approach to healing, and a professor suggested I apply for my master’s of social work. After completing my BA in women’s studies and drama, I went on to earn my master’s degree at U of T in 2006.

For years, I ran a private practice specializing in eating disorders. In 2012, I opened The Kyla Fox Centre – which treats the entire spectrum of people affected by eating disorders and disordered eating – to help close the many gaps in services in Toronto. The centre is designed to meet the unique recovery needs of every single person who suffers, whether that be through a more intensive program (10 hours a day, seven days per week) or less frequent care. We never lose sight of the human being that lives within the struggle.

I am also a public speaker, writer and advocate for eating disorder awareness, recovery and women’s health. It matters to me to speak honestly and loudly about my work and my life so that I can be a part of ending the stigma surrounding mental health and encourage women to stop being so afraid of who they really are. My work reminds me every day that I am grateful I made it through and honoured that I get to witness so many people living free again.

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