By André Magny
Anorexia can be a vicious, all-consuming struggle. This potentially life-threatening eating disorder takes so much from those affected and their loved ones. Nathaly Isabelle’s daughter, Ariane, once battled the disorder. But rather than leaving their battle behind them, the mother-daughter duo chose to make it a source of strength and help others.
In 2020, Nathaly Isabelle and Ariane Magny created the non-profit organization Croisière des Alizés, inspired by the French project La Croisière des Guerrières, which raises awareness about the alarming prevalence and dangers of eating disorders.
Nathaly Isabelle serves as the organization’s director and Ariane, its spokesperson. Seven members sit on its board. The ambassador of Croisière des Alizés is none other than the talented high diver, Lysanne Richard. (Fun fact: Lysanne helped launch the fundraising campaign in 2021 by diving from the top of a 26-metre crane at Cap à l’Aigle in the Charlevoix region, setting a new Canadian record.)
©Photo: Laurence Labat. Founders of Croisière des Alizés, Ariane Magny and her mother, Nathaly Isabelle
Croisière des Alizés offers outdoor therapy in the form of sailing excursions for young women between the ages of 15 and 25 with an eating disorder. Its services are available for those in the recovery stage. By offering participants a chance to discover the joys of sailing and the sense of pride it can bring, the goal of Croisière des Alizés is to help them see that they can channel all the unhealthy energy of their eating disorder into a new, healthier direction. And perhaps even develop a lifelong passion.
Eating disorders pit the individual in a constant battle against their own body. In contrast, sailing is a sport that requires energy to steer and manoeuvre the boat—often in challenging weather conditions. The sailing trips and the therapeutic work that takes place on board offer a completely different experience for participants, all while providing them with tools they can apply in their daily lives. This unconventional therapeutic setting challenges participants to step out of their comfort zone and adapt to new experiences—to see that they can think about more than just their weight, and that their bodies can take them in all sorts of wonderful directions. During the three-day sailing excursions, participants are required to work as a team, a good reminder of the importance of solidarity and helping one another, which are often forgotten while in the grips of an eating disorder. Since sailing also demands that you stay focused on the present moment, participants also have fewer obsessive thoughts.
Cruises depart from Cap-à-l’Aigle in Charlevoix, with up to five participants on board. They are supervised by mental health workers and an experienced skipper from the Voile Mercator sailing school in Saguenay.
The outdoor therapy offered by Croisière des Alizés is made possible thanks to the collaboration of several partners, notably the Maison l’Éclaircie, an organization based in Quebec City that works with people with anorexia and bulimia, along with their families. The Loricorps research group at the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières, which works in conjunction with the Maison l’Éclaircie, and its partner Ex Situ expérience, which specializes in intervention through nature, are also part of the adventure.
©Photo: Laurence Labat
©Photo: Sébastien Perron. 4 participants
Above all, Croisière des Alizés is an organization of hope, and its mission extends to helping loved ones as well. It has set up a respite home near the Cap-à-l’Aigle marina to provide support and comfort for the families of participants. Last summer’s inaugural cruise, which was run as a pilot project, was a tremendous success. Several excursions have already been planned for this summer.
“I’m better now and proud to share the message that the real buoy—the true beacon of hope—is being able to hoist the sails together for healing.”
“For a long time, I thought anorexia was my lifeline,” says Ariane. “But the disease creates only the illusion of control while dragging you deeper into a vicious and painful cycle. I’m better now and proud to share the message that the real buoy—the true beacon of hope—is being able to hoist the sails together for healing.”
More projects on the horizon
Several other awareness-raising activities have already joined forces with Croisière des Alizés. La GRANDE Traversée, a sailing excursion from Quebec City to Cap à l’Aigle, will be raising awareness among caregivers about the benefits of sailing. Inspired by the French initiative “Guérir en Mer,” this event will be inviting marina captains to bring on board healthcare personnel, especially those working in the fields of mental illness and eating disorders, in order to raise awareness of the benefits of sailing. The sailboat will be stopping at various marinas along the way, in the hopes of luring several sailboats in its wake to raise the organization’s flag.
With hospitalizations and requests for mental health services on the rise during the ongoing COVID pandemic, this initiative could not come at a better time.
Learn more about Croisière des Alizés on their Facebook and Instagram pages.