BY: Lauren Metzger, MSW

DATE: November 13, 2015

I am excited to be recapping the 3rd annual eating disorder conference hosted by St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, MI in early October 2015. Although my main mission of the conference was to spread the word about ANGI to clinicians and researchers outside of North Carolina, I was also able to hear presentations from several notable clinicians and researchers in the field. Similar to last year’s post, I am going to recap the main points from three of the five presentations, and add some personal comments and observations along the way.

The first presentation of the day was by my friend and mentor Michael Levine, PhD., Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Kenyon College. I have known Michael for at least seven years and value his work tremendously. As a graduate of Kenyon College, he was exceptionally influential in my early years learning about eating disorders, distorted body image, and objectification. His funny, entertaining, and informative presentation was one that I have heard before in a seminar he taught my senior year. His presentation focused on the intersection between the biopsychiatric and the sociocultural perspectives of eating disorders. These are what I consider to be the take-home messages from his presentation:

  • There is no single cause of eating disorders, hence all theoretical models must be considered when conceptualizing prevention, treatment, research, and advocacy
  • There needs to be space for all theoretical models in the research world – we can’t put all our eggs in one basket
  • Something must be wrong in a society that treats its girls like women and its women like girls
  • Research and advocacy work should not ignore objectifying media images that are in our faces every day and very present in the lives of children and teens

For the next presentation, I could not pass up hearing another presentation from Amy Pershing. Pershing is a clinical social worker and the developer of BodyWise in Ann Arbor, MI. I heard her speak last year and was blown away by her knowledge, insight, and compassion related to the treatment of binge-eating disorder (BED). This year she spoke about the comorbidity between BED and complex PTSD. Here are the highlights from her presentation:

  • A history of T(t)rauma is very common in those suffering from BED. “Big T” trauma is usually thought of as a catastrophic, discrete event, whereas “little t” trauma is more of an accumulation of chronic, painful experiences. Both can lead to emotional and psychological distress.
  • It can be helpful for some with BED to eventually be able to “rewrite” their self-narrative from a place of compassion and self-sympathy. Early in treatment the narrative may be from a perspective of self-blaming and underlying negative self-beliefs due to trauma.
    • Help them to learn that they are the hero of their story rather than the victim
  • Help those with BED realize that their binge eating may be an adaptation to their early trauma history, and help them learn to have compassion for their adaptation
  • Language may not be part of some individual’s healing process and art therapy could be helpful
  • “Stepping into the Self” was probably my favorite little message. It may sound odd to some, but I think it embodies a very real goal for those with BED. There needs be a new, trusting relationship with the Self and real embodiment of one’s body and emotions. Binge eating can often be a method to numb the body and numb the emotions, and learning to step into (and live) in that real and raw body and emotions can be a major accomplishment!

The last presenter of the day was Lisa LaBorde of Toronto, Canada who serves as the Volunteer Director for Families Empowered and Supporting Eating Disorder Treatment (FEAST). She spoke about her daughter, who developed anorexia nervosa at the age of 10, and their four-year journey to recovery together. I was in awe of Lisa for sharing her story and being honest about the highs and the deep lows of her daughter’s recovery. She spoke of the challenges that single parents face and also the struggles of having to manage the needs of more than one child in the home during the treatment process. As a provider, I felt that her story was invaluable and one that all providers and caregivers should have the opportunity to hear. I will do my best to recap her overall messages.

  • Trust your parent instincts – be persistent with medical providers if you feel your child has an eating disorder. It took Lisa several trips to the doctor’s and changing providers for her daughter’s condition to be recognized.
  • Your child may act differently and be very hurtful towards you during the early phases of treatment. Remember that the hurtful words your child may say to you are likely coming from the eating disorder.
  • Family-based treatment (FBT) can be effective and helpful for parents/caregivers of children and teens with anorexia nervosa.
  • The treatment of eating disorders is not always a short journey, be prepared to take the time that healing and recovery often requires. Remember there is still light at the end of the tunnel, the tunnel may just be longer for some.
  • Take time for yourself. Being a parent/caregiver can be exhausting, self-care is going to keep you going strong through the journey. Reach out to other parents/caregivers for support, join a group or forum.