EASO is pleased to shine the spotlight on the Patient Council representative from Belgium, Elly Jeurissen.
Please tell us who you are:
My name is Elly Jeurissen and I am the Belgian representative of the EASO Patient Council.
Tell us about your county and where you live:
Belgium is a federation. I live in Flanders, the Dutch speaking part of the country, which is in the north. Belgium is a small country, and health care is split according to the communities, which are language based. Belgium has three communities which are Dutch-speaking (about 60%), French-speaking (about 40%) and German-speaking (0.7%). Generally, these are in the North (Flanders), South (Wallonie) and far East (German-speaking). Brussels is bilingual, French-Dutch, but nowadays there are many foreigners living in Brussels and English is spoken there by many. I live in Leuven, one of the oldest University cities in Europe. It is a city with an old centre, and everything within walking distance.
Please share some of your favourite things (activities, hobbies, interests).
I like to read, both fiction and non-fiction. I am handy with the computer, having used a computer for over 35 years now. Yes, I started very young. I also like to design and sew my own clothing, partly out of necessity, because I am both short and fat, and that combination means that my clothing needs are not served at all in the Belgian market. I like music, classical and classic rock and listen to audiobooks and podcasts. I do suffer from a lack of time once in a while…
What is your profession?
I am a statistician and have teaching certificates for both mathematics and computing science. I choose to do substitute teaching, which gives me flexibility, so I do not work all the time. I am also a published author of a book published in 2002 in Dutch ‘Rondom Dik’ together with Mieke van Spanje, who is also on the Patient Council.
Can you tell us what your experience of obesity has been:
I was not fat as a child. As a student, I first started to diet for weight loss, at first only 3 kgs, but because I gained more weight than I lost with each weight loss attempt, that quickly turned into efforts to lose 5kg, 10kg, 15kg… and I started to develop eating habits that are considered disordered eating. After many “health teas” and my first attempt to regurgitate, I sort of woke up, and decided that losing weight only to gain an eating disorder was not a healthy option. Thus about 20 years ago, I decided not to undertake weight loss diets anymore.
Following this decision I did gain more weight, as I needed to learn to eat in a normal way again, but I stabilised and maintained that weight for a number of years. Then I became ill, and gained a lot of weight, due to both the illness and a total lack of energy to engage in physical activity.. After I regained most of my health, I worked on my physical condition, and then slowly lost the extra weight again. As I also had lost my sense of boundaries for what healthy food was, I used the help of a professional dietician. The resulting change to healthy food and more movement did lead to weight loss. Because of my history of disturbed eating, I did need to be careful not to develop an eating disorder again, and the dietician worked with that. Part of that is phychological, so we focused on health, not on weight loss. Weight loss can be, and has been a result, but it was never the focus goal. Health was and still is.
I have now reached a sort of stable weight, where I can vary a few kgs up or down, but need not focus on the weight to stay within these boundaries. I keep focussing on healthy eating; as we know, the current food environment provides many ways to get calories, but not so many ways to get healthy food if you are in a hurry, on the road or have no time to cook.
One frustration I have is that, while the ‘goal’ for weight-loss is 5-10%, and I have lost more than that, almost every new health profesional I meet wants me to lose weight. And it is very hard for me to get them to discuss the science with me.
Please share your reflection on the ECO2015 in Prague and hopes for the the upcoming EASO Congress, the 2016 European Obesity Summit:
The ECO2015 was my first meeting with the Patient Council, and I was happy to meet everyone. We made some good plans, and the Steering Committee of the Patient Council is working hard on those. For the upcoming European Obesity Summit I hope to meet some people from BASO, the Belgian member organisation of EASO, and get to know some of them. I also look forward to the plans of the new leadership.
How do you currently advocate for patients and hope to advocate for patients in the future?
I mostly read and react on publications. I try to summarize interesting scientific literature I come across for the Patient Council and I write letters to newspapers and journals if they misrepresent fat people or use inappropriate ‘headless fatty’ photos.
At the moment there is no organisation for people in Belgium or Flanders with overweight and obesity. I am not the right person to start such an organisation but will support anyone wanting to organise and develop one.