I attended the National Eating Disorder Association's annual conference recently on behalf of a magazine I write for, I Am That Girl (www.iamthatgirl.com). It was a remarkable experience. I encourage all of you to attend conferences that support causes you are passionate about. You learn a great deal and being surrounded by others who share your vision and dreams is empowering to say the least...
Here is what I wrote to our magazine readers:
The National Eating Disorder Association Conference, 2008by August J. McLaughlin
Dear Readers, Just over a decade ago I read a magazine article about a young woman suffering from an intense eating disorder. As I read her thoughts and journal entries I thought, “Oh my god, this is me.” It was the first clue to myself that I, too, had a serious problem. At the bottom of the article was a list of resources, most prominently, the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA). “If you or a loved one needs help,” it read, “you aren’t alone.” I picked up the phone and called NEDA’s help line. The woman who answered was the first to hear me utter the words, “I think I have an eating disorder.”
Now years of meaningful life and recovery later, I had the privilege of attending NEDA’s annual conference in Austin, Texas, on behalf of IATG. The impact NEDA has had on my life is far from unique. The non-profit organization has helped over 50,000 individuals attain treatment. They receive over 50 million hits on their website each year and envision a world completely free of eating disorders. NEDA’s conference is unlike any other, assisting families and all those affected by anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorder. This year, nearly 500 clinicians, parents, family, friends, survivors and health care educators attended the event entitled, "Break the Silence: Tools for Help, Hope and Healing."
I met women who’ve recently begun recovery and those who have maintained it for 30-plus years; a college professor who lost a beloved student at the hands of anorexia; a specialty book publisher and bulimia survivor who created the first ever help hotline in the late 70’s; a father of an eating disorder survivor who has dedicated his life to activism. “We were afraid we would lose her,” he told me. “We are just so grateful; we have to give back.”
Healthy-size supermodel, Emme, an ambassador on the NEDA board made several appearances, expressing her love for the work NEDA partakes in. A multitude of treatment providers, counselors and teachers who are at the heart of implementing such crucial treatment shared their insight and wisdom as well. Like one huge, loving family, the NEDA conference attendees bonded together, united by their common goals. “It’s one of the kindest atmospheres I’ve ever been in,” noted a therapist from Seattle. (If only every crowd of women radiated so positively...) The only downfall of the conference was my inability to meet everybody, or attend everything. Every person I came across had a remarkable story to share. Every seminar offered inspiration, resources and helpful tools. The last event I experienced was a one-woman show, entitled "The Thin Line." The 30-minute play, written by Cathy Plourde, illuminated in a very human way what it feels like to suffer from an eating disorder. Tears stung at my eyes as I recalled my past struggles and, more importantly, reflected on my healthy life now -- working with remarkable women as an editor for IATG and as a nutritional therapist, helping others who struggled as I did.
Much of my recovery is thanks to people and organizations like NEDA. The conference was an affirmation of my own healing and a source of inspiration to do more, to reach out more, to talk more, to help more, to listen more and to give more. Susie Roman, NEDA’s Program Coordinator, tells girls to “see the change you can make in whatever community you can. You can have a voice,” she explains, “and you can make a difference.” Susie is right. On behalf of IATG we encourage you to utilize your gifts toward dreaming big and helping others. By using our gifts to help others, we, in a sense, become those help hot-lines ourselves, creating bridges for those who struggle. Thank you, Readers and thank you, NEDA!
Love & health,
If you or a loved one is suffering from an eating disorder, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Visit www.nationaleatingdisorders.org or call NEDA’s help hotline at 1-800-931-2237.