Sunday, May 6, 2012

Lessons About Eating Disorders

What I Learned at the AED Meeting

I’ve exceeded my 1 week limit between posts, but I’ve got a really good excuse—I’ve spent the past 4 days at the Academy of Eating Disorders (AED) Annual Conference. So I thought I’d share some personal and hopefully meaningful observations about eating, recovery, and miscellaneous thoughts:

  • Day one, 4 hours of workshop, and what did they serve at the refreshment break? Coffee, tea and water. Period. And I wanted calories. Food. I was hungry. Half a day learning about a treatment for anorexia and I couldn’t find anything to eat! But it only got better from there—really.
  • One of several courses eaten at Barley Swine
  • I spent a large percentage of my 24 hours each day doing 2 things—learning about eating disorders and planning and arranging to eat—where to go, whom to go with, and what to order, to name a few. And I must say, Austin Texas has some fabulous food! My top picks?  Barley Swine and La Condesa—simply divine!
  • Another evening we were 8—two in recovery from anorexia with 3 RDs, 2 therapists and a mom/eating disorder advocate—all eating out together. Can you even imagine? From my perspective it was fabulous. How about a round of applause for those recovering, brave enough to endure such a dinner?
  • People appeared better in person than they had on the web. No, I’m not speaking of their physical attributes. But in person, their energy and warmth radiated, adding a whole level of beauty that truly got missed on line. Thoughts were shared and clarified without misunderstanding—it sure helps when you have more than 140 characters to explain yourself!
  • Two of the diners are bloggers that I had a somewhat rough start with in the virtual world. Carrie and I, as I recall it, had long ago debated the implications of viewing eating disorders through the lens of biology, much as a conference panel debated labeling eating disorders as brain disorders. While Laura helped shake up my thinking on Family Based Treatment, yet supported my perspective about the important role for dietitians, typically omitted from this therapy.

Carrie, Cate and I before dinner.
(We didn't look any different after dinner, though!)
  • Conflict leads to learning and change. If we all stuck with our same ways of doing things we would never grow and develop. We would perhaps feel safe, but would truly stifle our potential, our recovery even.
  • Cate and I met for the first time, in spite of feeling I have known her forever. We met through this blog and we have inspired each other to change as well. And you’ll soon hear details about our upcoming book!

Dessert shared with another RD

Meaningful messages from the AED meeting


Connection helps recovery. A family member, treatment provider, friend, an internet-mentor—even one strong connection can make a difference. And involving your partner shows great promise, based on the research by Cynthia Bulik, PhD and Donald Baucom, PhD. So if you haven’t begun to share with your significant other, or no one knows your struggle, perhaps it’s time to change that.


You’re the first person who ever told me I can recover”, I’ve been told far too many times. It is unfortunate. Recovery happens (a bumper sticker, perhaps?), but it doesn’t occur passively. It certainly takes work, your hard work, and a great deal of time. And there are slips, which you must prepare yourself for. Because slips happen (ok, another bumper sticker?) I hope those of you outside the states get the reference to a US bumper sticker—Shit Happens—it would be much funnier if you did!
So if your provider tells you that you can’t recover, then it’s time to find a new provider.


Blame is useless. Your mother didn’t cause your eating disorder, nor did your ex-boyfriend. Sure, environment can play a role in the development of eating disorders (just as perhaps your genetic predisposition and your personality type may have contributed). But it is most ineffective to focus on “why did I get this condition” or to blame yourself asking “what’s wrong with me, why can’t I change?” We all want answers, but the truth is, what we really need are solutions. And blame is clearly an obstacle to getting there.

Eating disorders are serious

I liked Laura (Collins) Lester-Mensch’s suggestion that we refer to eating disorders as treatable brain disorders. Sounds so serious, no? Even a bit scary—and rightfully so. Eating disorders need to be taken seriously. One in 10 people die from their eating disorder. And delaying treatment only makes the challenge greater for recovery. While we don’t know whether the brain is involved from the start of the eating disorder or as a result of the eating disorder, here’s what remains—the brain is involved, and nourishing it aids in recovery of the disordered thoughts, mood changes and of course, the physical consequences. The brain is not static—it is flexible, plastic, and changeable.

Perhaps viewing eating disorders as treatable brain disorders will allow us to have hope, remove the blame, and inspire us to connect with others without shame to support recovery.

As always, I care to hear your thoughts and reactions to these posts.


  1. It was very brave of those girls to eat with you. I would have been nervous as all hell. :) You just feel like everyone is watching you eat, which is the worst feeling.

    Glad you had fun.

    1. Yes, it was brave indeed! Once you survive a challenging situation you can draw on your success and repeat it. At that point,acting on your own experience, not just taking a leap of faith.

  2. Very cool! Sounds great! BTW, at the NEDA conference in 2011, they also were sorely lacking in the food department - very inappropriate!!!

    On a different note... I was just thinking about how amazing our bodies are. They are so smart and they really know what they want. It is really amazing and pretty darn cool that our bodies get hungrier when they need more food and less hungry when they need less food (note: not all body's are able to send accurate signals - I followed a specific meal plan for a long time to be able to recallibrate my signals). They really know how to defend where they want to be. As long as you have a connection to and a good relationship with your body, then your body really will give you good, wise guidance. I think there are some things we can all do to increase our connection with ourselves. Physiologically, we can eat in mostly nutritious ways. We can eat real food and get enough protein, carbs, and especially fat. (Note: I do not mean eat with rules and never eat sweets. I say this because I know if I were to read those last sentences when I had my ED, I would have read it as a justification for my ED). We can also move and stretch our bodies. We can notice and respond to aches, pains, and exhaustion. We can be near nature - feeling sun, fresh air, and noticing bugs, leaves, and flowers. Psychologically, we can value ourselves and set up our lives so that we have a network of people whom we trust. We can include things in our lives which honor our authentic desires and goals and bring us pleasure. I do think that when we are psychologically and physiologically in balance, more-or-less, then we can have this connection with ourselves and our bodies that is really rewarding. Our bodies can tell us to eat when they need energy, they can get full when they don't, they can experience pleasure in the presence of sights, sounds, and scents, that drive us to the kitchen to cook or to the park to play. They can tell us to take a nap, to read a book in solitude, or they can guide us to call a friend or go on a run or out dancing. Our bodies really regulate themselves REALLY well if we let them. If we are physiologically and psychologically balanced, our bodies are really good at regulating ourselves. I mean, it's really amazing! When we take care of our psyche, our souls, and our bodies, our bodies are in a position to help us maintain that position of homeostasis.... It is just really very, very, very cool!!

    1. Clearly you can speak from the perspective of the recovered! Unfortunately,as you are aware, your mind will play tricks on you when you are in the depths of your eating disorder, making trusting your body a tricky thing!

  3. I agree that support is so very important. My husband goes to my RD appointments with me. It takes some of the guilt of eating away. He tells me I have to have a snack because it is on my plan, so I don't feel guilty or like I was weak because I ate. I also agree with the above poster. Those girls are incredibly brave. I still don't like eating with people because I feel like everyone is watching what I eat and how much I eat.

    1. Good for you for bringing your husband along! Clearly there is a balance to be struck between being supportive and being controlling, which I believe is one reason why some may hesitate to let loved ones in for support.
      Desensitization can be quite helpful getting you more comfortable with dining with others. Good to discuss with your treatment team some strategies.

  4. It was SUCH a delight to be at the conference with you and get some chats in - and a wonderful dinner, thank you for the invite!

    Looking forward to our friendship!

  5. Can I just second everything that Laura said! Was so wonderful to meet you in real life :-)
    Just sorry you missed the party afterwards.
    (and yes, I am deliberately avoiding commenting on the Bulik presentation...but will keep you posted)

  6. Hey Lori,

    I have been a reader of your blog for a while now and have posted a few comments here and there. I have a few questions for you but didn't really want to leave them in the comments. (they really don't have anything to do with this post) I searched around for your email address or a way to message you and I couldn't seem to find anything. Maybe I am just not looking in the right place. Do you mind giving it to me? Thanks a lot.


    1. You can email me at eatwrite (at) comcast dot net.