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.
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