The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) just wrapped up its annual conference yesterday in Hollywood, CA. I like the conference because it bridges the worlds of scientific research, patient advocacy, and the stories of the individuals and families affected by eating disorders. All of these people would tell you that unless you have lived with anorexia, bulimia or binge eating disorder, or with someone struggling with these forms of mental disease, you can't fathom the isolation, pain and heartbreak that go with them.
This year, the big scientific themes were introduced in presentations by researchers Anne Becker, MD, PhD; Kelly Vitousek, PhD; Carolyn Costin, MA, MFT, and Michael Strober, PhD. Becker detailed what she called "chapter two" of her seminal 1999 Fiji study that linked the rise of eating disorders to the introduction of western television shows on the remote island of Fiji. Twenty years later, Dr. Becker found that social networks were the most important factor in determining whether Fijians developed body image and eating problems, and were more than whether they watched TV, what their parents said or thought, or how remote their village was. Drs. Vitousek and Strober made impassioned pleas not to throw out the "psycho-social" part of our understanding of eating disorders. They noted that trendy brain studies focusing on the "bio" portion of these bio-psycho-social disorders have dominated the public's attention, skewing, narrowing and dumbing down our understanding of eating disorders.
Dr. Strober carefully called for a renewed awareness of the eating disordered patient's environment, a tentative entry into the charged waters of the role of the family in the onset of eating disorders. The most well-regarded approach to solving adolescent anorexia is Family Based Therapy or the Maudsley Method, which holds that parents are not to blame for their child's disorder. He does not dispute this belief, said Dr. Strober, but he called for a recognition that anorexia is "one of the most complex mental disorders" known, referring to epigenetic studies revealing the cross-generational transmission of traits such as anxiety and depression, and to the complex way that environment can affect brain function.
There was a lively, diverse family panel, in which the voices of body esteem healer Corazon Tierra, actor Lynn Chen, psychotherapist Rachael Stern, who founded ANAD's (Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders) first LGBT eating disorders program, and recovered male anorexia sufferer Vic Avon mingled with other speakers in recovery and their partners.
Fashion designer Bradley Bayou recounted his shock, horror and the guilt he felt when he learned that his 15-year-old daughter was a secret bulimic, and that her disorder was triggered by the realization that she couldn't fit into his size 2 sample clothes. Bayou became an eating disorders advocate and developed a line of real-women sized clothes for QVC. Teens had their own summit, moderated by Dove global ambassador Jessica Weiner.
NEDA held its second annual Grief and Loss Roundtable, for NEDA members who have lost loved ones to an eating disorder. I met four women who had lost either sisters or daughters to either anorexia or bulimia. Their stories were heartbreaking, and their desire to spread the word that eating disorders can kill and to become advocates on behalf of eating disorders awareness was inspiring.
There was a terrific presentation on dealing with health insurers by attorney Lisa Kantor, Avalon Hills, Utah RN Stacey Brown, and psychologist David Christian. Their message: "Document, document, document, and be prepared to do battle." Kantor represented Jeanene Harlick, a San Mateo woman who was denied coverage for residential care by Blue Shield of California and successfully brought suit against her insurer in a high-profile decision rendered in August by the Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals. (Please follow the discussion of this issue in the New York Times here, and spread the word to your followers.)
I'll be blogging more about the conference, but you can also access all of the NEDA conference presentations on the NEDA website for a limited period of time after the conference.
Nutritionist Marcia Herrin and Nancy Matsumoto, co-authors of The Parent's Guide to Eating Disorders, Gūrze Books. Marcia is also author of Nutrition Counseling in the Treatment of Eating Disorders.
Copyrighted by Marcia Herrin and Nancy Matsumoto