Transitions at the UNC Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders

Sometimes life at CEED is so busy we don’t stop to smell the transitions. But this crisp Sunday morning when the only things keeping me warm are a cup of coffee and the New York Times, affords me the opportunity to congratulate and thank several people who have contributed enormously to our mission.

Stephanie Zerwas, PhD (@sczerwas) has served as our Associate Director of Research for the past four years. She accomplished so much in that role that her functions practically became woven into the fabric of the center. “Ask Stephanie…” was perhaps uttered too frequently. But she had a Google-like ability to archive and share operational knowledge that made her indispensable to the team…and to me. I teased by saying, “Make it so!” as she executed the decisions made by the team and by me with the calm authority of Commander Riker. Dr. Zerwas has achieved a wonderful milestone in her career—especially in lean funding times—by receiving a National Institute of Mental Health Mentored Career Development Award to study DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOPATHOLOGY OF RESTRICTIVE AND BINGE EATING IN CHILDHOOD. This award will allow her to explore the developmental trajectory of disordered eating in a large Norwegian Cohort (MoBa) and also upskill in applying genetic risk profile analyses to eating disorders. That means that it is time for her to devote her time and energy to her own research and we’re excited to see both the process and the results of her work which draw on her expertise in both developmental and clinical psychology and will form the basis of her independent research career.

So, “Ask Stephanie” will now become “Ask Jess,” as Dr. Jessica Baker (@jessicabakerphd) will roll into what will now become a two-year rotating position of Associate Research Director. Dr. Baker was a post-doctoral fellow with CEED for three years and has now become an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry. Dr. Baker is spending much of her time on research, most notably serving as the orchestra conductor of the Anorexia Nervosa Genetics Initiative (ANGI) study. I recently popped into Dr. Baker’s office and noticed some accolades on her wall that were not there the last time I visited—two Wiley Young Investigator best paper awards and a UNC post-doctoral fellow award. Dr. Baker just sort of quietly excels, accumulating accolades like Velcro, but never flaunting them. So I shall flaunt for her. I have no question that she will be an effective Associate Research Director and that soon I will be writing a similar column informing you that she too received an NIMH K award and will be stepping down to focus on her own research.

Dr. Cristin Runfola (@crunfola) has also made a noteworthy transition. Another former CEED post-doc, she is now an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry. Dr. Runfola has been designated as a Global Foundation for Eating Disorders Scholar, which provides her with two years of funding to adapt our couple-based treatment for anorexia nervosa (UCAN) for the treatment of bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder. This new suite of interventions, called UNITE (UNiting couples In the Treatment of Eating disorders), is currently underway and you will be reading more about that treatment on Exchanges soon.

Finally, Dr. Christine Peat (@CMP_UNC), also a former CEED post-doctoral fellow has also joined the Department of Psychiatry faculty as an Assistant Professor. Dr. Peat is continuing her research, but is also filling an important need at UNC with her expertise in treating individuals undergoing bariatric surgery. The UNC bariatric surgery team recognizes the importance of providing psychological services to their patients, and Dr. Peat is perfectly positioned to serve in that role. We’re excited to be strengthening the bridge between our programs in what we see as a natural fit for CEED faculty.

So, I shall transition back to the Sunday NYT, but wanted to make sure that we all took a moment to value the important contributions that these four individuals have made to our center and the field.