About Etelän-SYLI ry
The fact that you are reading these pages indicates that you are taking a courageous step towards recovery. An eating disorder is an illness, and a subject not easy to talk about. We want to support you during your journey. We have knowledge and experience of the disease and what it feels like.
Etelän-SYLI ry is an association working in the Helsinki and Uusimaa area. It is a part of a larger national association called Syömishäiriöliitto – SYLI ry. We offer information, guidance and peer support for people with eating disorders and their loved ones. Our objective is also to raise awareness about the complexity of eating disorders and their seriousness. We cooperate with health-care professionals and other actors in the mental health industry as well as other associations. We do not concentrate on your diagnosis or define people according to their weight or symptoms. We welcome everyone who is concerned about their eating behavior. Professionals are also very welcome to join our lectures and recreation events.
We value compassion – we are lenient towards ourselves and others and we relate to life and the things it brings to us with humility. We understand what an eating disorder is through our own experiences whilst of course we understanding that every person experiences things in their own, personal way. We honour uniqueness. We appreciate sensitivity and accept vulnerability by believing that every person is good and valuable just as he/she is.
Peer support at Etelän-SYLI has acted as an indispensable help not only to those suffering from an eating disorder but also to their loved ones. Peer support groups have given their members strength and hope of recovery even amidst misery. Those who find it hard to come straight to a group meeting can also visit our employees with a support person. Our weekly held “coffee hours” on Mondays and Thursdays are also open for support persons and those dealing with eating disorders.
English-speakers’ peer support group
The group is on a break for the time being due to lack of volunteers. If you are interested in volunteer work in Etelän-SYLI and act as a support group host, please contact: uura-liina.lahti(at)etelansyli.fi.
You can read the group principles from here.
One of our board members, Pihla, is writing her recovery blog and you can follow it from: https://pihlawinsthebattle.wordpress.com/
We also offer peer support by email. You can write to Roosa roosa(at)etelansyli.fi or to Nina nina(at)etelansyli.fi or to Viia viia(at)etelansyli.fi or to Vilma vilma(at)etelansyli.fi. Vilma gives support to the loved ones. Roosa’s introduction:
”Hello, I’m Roosa and 30 years old. From age 17, I struggled for about 5 years with anorexia that included both compulsive exercising, anxiety and lots of control as well as depression. Only much later have I understood how up until that fragile age of 17, my perfectionism and achievement-oriented attitude had been the driving forces of my life. I had always felt like I wasn’t good enough if it wasn’t for my external achievements and recognition. I felt I was not enough simply as myself by simple being and not always doing. Letting go of this mental mindset has been, without a doubt, the best thing that’s happened to me.
The cornerstones of my recovery were the open and honest conversations with both professionals as well as my family and friends. Admitting, confronting and finally accepting even my most sensitive and sometimes shameful feelings and fears were crucial in terms of my path to recovery. Realizing, that actually being open, honest and vulnerable is the source of greatest strength. I now know that regardless of any external achievements of lack of them, I am always enough and I am always worthy of love.
I want to support others in this journey as much as I can. I would love to listen, share my thoughts and feelings and offer my own experiences in hopes that no one needs to feels they are alone with their struggles or that they are not enough just by being themselves exactly as they are today.
Please feel free to contact me, I’m here to listen and support. I will try to answer all messages within 7 days.”
”Hi, I am Nina (49 years old) from Austria. My background is from an alkoholistic family. When I was a little girl I had to take control and care of myself and my little brother, I had to be in charge of household and there was not much time left for a happy childhood. No wonder that I was always trying to get love and understanding in the role of “good girl”.
With 13 my feelings went up-side-down, because I could not handle the possible upcoming changes of body – I did not have the right to grow woman (as I had my very beautiful mother on my side who had always the first-lady-role and needed me to be her little girl forever). So I tried to stay child, ”sweet” but had to be ”small”. I started to control my eating habits and did hide all sweets (”Sweet was not for me”). I tried to do sports for not gaining weight.
Later, with age 25, I spent two years abroad, studying Spanish language and fell in love head over heals. From there on, the need for control grew – compulsional sports and gymnastics, very little food. I thought that for my Spanish lover I had to be as skinny as possible, because otherwise he would leave me. I was lucky to get over this phase, as I returned to Austria and decided to change my eating habits – I wanted to live a normal life and enjoy it. With the help of psychotherapy (about 4 years) I got a lot of self-confidence and optimism.
After all these years, I understood that unconditional control and the painful search for love are mostly a result of my childhood. Transition-periods, teenager-phases and significant happenings in life were triggers. We have to be pacient, grow empathy and unconditional love for ourselves! I am happy to share opinions and experiences with you, I will listen and be there! You may write in English, German or Spanish. I check my mailbox every week and try to answer within a few days.”
”Hi there! I’m Viia, a 27-year-old woman. My eating disorder slyly gained strength over a few years, until burst out when my parents divorced unexpectedly; the 13-year-old me didn’t have the proper tools for handling the painful feelings, and I started to control anything I could, including my body. My self-esteem was close to zero, and my life soon became a vicious circle of fasting and binging that didn’t seem to have an end. Four years later I got tired of feeling miserable, and I changed my diet in a way that I could get my stomach full but only by eating certain, very strictly selected food items – I did manage to balance my eating, but the seemingly healthy diet caused just as much anxiety and excessive control as before. Finally, I decided that I didn’t want to continue on the path that jeopardizes both my health and my social life. Thanks to peer support, I got the strength to question my biased thought patterns and face my fears, and step by step my life became much more free, meaningful, and loving.
Writing has always been the best way for me to handle my thoughts and feelings, and I consider peer support as a crucial part of recovery. We can share even the most painful feelings, and also the joy of success and the hope for the future. Don’t hesitate in writing me!”
The primary message we want to convey is that, it is possible to recover from an eating disorder and that there is hope – for everyone. We are happy to share our experiences and give more information about our association in the role of a recovered or as a loved one. Our experience experts are available during different group sessions, lectures or other occasions.
As a member or a volunteer?
Every person, who is at least 15 years old can become a member of our association. It doesn’t matter, if you or your loved one has an eating disorder, or if you are just interested in this issue as a person or in a professional capacity. Every member has the right to vote in our annual meeting. The decision-making is done by the administration of our association. You can join as a member through our national association Syömishäiriöliitto – SYLI ry.
We are also always in need of active volunteers, who would be trained to act as a support group host, who would participate in our administration work, help to spread our story or even tell us their opinion and thoughts about our work. If you think that you would have the time, enthusiasm and desire to join us in one way or another, you are more than welcome! We organize not only different training opportunities and supervision for new volunteers, but also recreational and other events for all of our members.
We also have a facebook page which you can like and this way get information to your wall
You may also follow our twitter account to see our latest posts
The office of our association is located in Helsinki, in Kaapelitehdas (The Cable Factory) in Ruoholahti (B- stairway, 4th floor).
Tallberginkatu 1 C 115
Suvi Ala-Venna & Uura-Liina Lahti
About eating disorders
Very often people have a misguided idea of what eating disorders are really about, and therefore our goal is to provide information about the extent of the illness and those who suffer from it, because in most cases an eating disorder is not visible to the outside. An eating disorder is a disease that can be hidden for a long time. Many loved ones are angry at themselves for not seeing the signs earlier. Others are thinking what they could have done differently. The feeling of guilt is however unnecessary. The most important thing is that you are here trying to get help for you or your loved one.
People who suffer from eating disorders are characterized by secretiveness, hiding, sometimes even lying, difficult emotions and alienation from those feelings. An eating disorder distances one from their true self.
Eating disorders can be divided into 4 main categories. The most common form of eating disorder is EDNOS (Eating disorder not otherwise specified), where there are different combinations of eating disorder behaviour. The second most common form is Bulimia Nervosa, which is characterized by recurrent binge eating followed by compensatory behaviours such as purging, excessive exercise or e.g. the use of laxatives or diuretics. Anorexia Nervosa is the best known form of eating disorder and the fourth type is BED (Binge Eating Disorder) otherwise known as “compulsive overeating”.
But as said earlier, we don’t ask for your diagnosis. It doesn’t matter if you have one or not. We know that an eating disorder can exist without there being an official diagnosis – it is even more common this way.
Eating disorders – a fatal way to control anxiety
With or without diagnosis every patient develops eating disorder symptoms to relieve anxiety. An eating disorder is a strong ritual-disease. In general people don’t speak about the meaning of rituals for one’s wellbeing. At the same time our everyday life consists of many rituals that make us feel safe and calm. For example, our mornings start pretty much the same way every time: morning coffee, morning newspaper etc. Everyday rituals give us a feeling of safety and one feels to be in control of a situation. Eating disorder patients develop very strong rituals, and it is very difficult to abandon them.
In the beginning an eating disorder restricts life and may feel safe; it offers a safe harbour away from pain and fear. However in the end it causes an endless feeling of psychologial distress. It creates nervousness, withdrawal, anger, hopelessness and suspicion. It distances you away from your family and loved ones. It brings physical pain, discomfort and decrease of strength.
In the process of recovery the patient develops new, healthy rituals and learns how to perform them. Recovery requires a lot of courage, because the patient is forced to give up many rituals that have been controlling the patient’s life for years.
An eating disorder can develop when one’s life and self seems to be unbalanced and in order to cope with feelings and emotions that may otherwise seem overwhelming. It can also be a result of a harmless diet, where the person does not experience any feeling of anxiety, fear or inadequacy at that moment. However in the majority of the cases the origin of the eating disorder stems from the basic notions of “Will I ever be loved?” and “Am I good enough and valuable just the way I am?”
Sometimes people with eating disorders mention childhood memories, where there was no place for emotions. Feelings of anger, disappointment or sorrow were not acceptable and had to be hidden. In some cases overall showing and recognition of emotions had been inadequate in these childhood surroundings.
It seems that people with certain personality characteristics are more vulnerable to eating disorders. According to our experience, people who are creative, sensitive, ambitious, demanding to themselves, thoughtful, or who possess an analytical mind are more susceptible to eating disorders.
There are always many reasons leading to disordered eating habits. Only one issue cannot lead to the development of an eating disorder as it is a combination of many factors. It is impossible to find guilt in something or someone, so the loved ones cannot blame themselves for causing this disease. Coping with this situation is difficult as it is, even without feeling guilty.
Why do eating disorders become so addictive?
An eating disorder is typically characterized by not understanding the severity of one’s condition or the patient having no sensation of an illness. This is especially reflected in the early stages of the disease, during the so called “honeymoon phase”. It may require a lot of time, patience and professional skills from the supporting direction to stir motivation to become receptive of the healing process.
Eating disorders are strongly characterized by recurrent rituals which give a sense of safety and in turn create a sense of control. These rituals are hard to eradicate and therefore the purpose of the healing process is to find means to seek and learn new, healthy and less harmful rituals. Recovery takes great courage because one has to give up these familiar destructive patterns.
The eating disorder provides a safe bubble, where one can escape the demands and pressure of the scary world, other people and the future. One can also run away from reality and one’s own motions by focusing on eating and measuring portions. However at some point all feelings, even positive ones such as joy, happiness and success, are transformed into fear.
Eating disorders are also associated with euphoria. A sense of euphoria can be acquired through fasting, feeling hunger and denying it as well as keeping control. With purging it deals with self-control ”I am able to empty myself whenever I want”, whereas in binge eating it comes from the satisfaction of eating so much that one nearly passes out. All these symptoms are related to having narrowed thinking and perspective towards the world.
It also gives something to identify with, a sense of community as well as a sense of being connected. Within this community people can share their symptoms along with all the feelings and problems brought by it. Communality can act as a supportive mean towards recovery and its best it can encourage people to face challenges or overcome them as a group. However the detrimental aspect of this is that it may create a strong partition between “us” and the rest of the world, where collective eating disorder patterns can be adopted and being sick is considered to be normal. This results in being accepted and getting satisfaction from pleasing the group, which leads to avoidance of recovery.
An eating disorder can become a way of life, the reason for existence. The patient’s identity may be solely based on the eating disorder, where the person feels they are nothing without the disease. During the recovery period it is typical to wonder “what is left of me, who am I after I have recovered?”
About the treatment
An essential part of seeking help is to see a professional, with whom one can discuss the overall situation and consider the need for additional treatment. It is important to have an open and honest discussion concerning the illness because that is the only way the doctor can assess one’s condition properly – even though it might prove to be challenging at first.
Usually the first contact is made at a medical healthcare center but depending on one’s life circumstances it can also be at a private physician’s practice as well as an appointment with an occupational or YTHS doctor.
Treatment for people under 18-years of age usually begins with a visit to the school nurse, who in turn directs the youngster to a doctor. The doctor estimates the person’s condition and makes a referral to specialist care, if necessary. The referral can also be acquired through private doctors.
Eating disorders are usually treated at outpatient care and twenty-four-hour clinic units. The recovery process takes time and requires patience. Inpatient care may be necessary when dealing with severe cases of eating disorders. Apart from emergencies one always needs a referral to a psychiatric polyclinic. A referral can be acquired through healthcare center or one’s municipal emergency clinic.
As the scale of the symptoms is vast and complex, it is important to offer versatile treatment options. In the Helsinki region there are specialized treatment facilities both in private and public sectors. The care of private medical centers is a great option if one is able to afford to utilize these services. Booking an appointment is usually fast and one is also able to choose the preferred physician. In the private sector treatment is offered for example by Syömishäiriökeskus and in the public sector by HUS. Peer support is also a complimentary form of help in the process of healing. In the Helsinki region peer support is offered by our association, Etelän-SYLI ry.
In addition it is always beneficial to use the occupational healthcare services provided by any employer. Healthcare professionals are bound by doctor patient confidentiality and therefore the employer is unable to access any patient records.
Many people find psychotherapy helpful in the recovery process. You can search for therapists providing services in English here: Vastaamo (search page in English) Minduu or Finnish Psychological Association (choose English from the ’kieli/kielitaito’ dropdown menu).
Students in Finland have additional options for support. YTHS is a Finnish Student Health Service organization operating in universities and other institutions of higher education, where they provide general, mental and oral healthcare services. All of the offices are equipped with a team of professionals specialized in eating disorders. For more information one can visit http://www.yths.fi/en.
It is also good to remember that not all doctors are familiar with eating disorders which may result in communication difficulties and feeling of being misunderstood. However there is no need to be discouraged, sometimes it is just wise to get a second opinion.
Take a path towards recovery
An eating disorder is not a hopeless disease. Most of the patients are able to recover to a level where they can continue their normal lives. People who have recovered from an eating disorder admit, that experiencing and beating this disease is a valuable experience that gives them strength.
We know that recovering takes time, patience and lenience. At the same time we know that is it possible to recover by taking small steps and listening to yourself along the way. We have a lot of people contributing to our mission, who have overcome their own eating disorder experience and are now giving their guidance and support to those in need.
Always remember: There is hope, help and support available!