As I’ve mentioned, last weekend I attended the Renfrew Center Foundation for Eating Disorders annual conference, this year titled “Feminist Relational Perspectives and Beyond: Integrated Approaches to the Complexity of Eating Disorders.” It was a fantastic conference, and several regular attendees told me that they felt it was consistently the best conference on eating disorders in the country.
While the conference was geared toward professionals (registered dietitians, nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists and medical doctors), I wanted to share a few highlights that I thought would be generally interesting.
Edward P. Tyson, MD, of Austin, Texas, spoke on “Medical Issues in Eating Disorders (for everyone).” He was a terrific speaker, and gave great information, including case studies of several patients. While I took copious detailed notes, one overarching theme that struck me, as he was talking about anorexic patients who were so nutritionally compromised that their hearts had shrunk from loss of muscle mass (your heart is a muscle, after all), yet they were getting all sorts of comments like, “You look great!” and “I wish I looked like you.”
Tyson also discussed examples of elite athletes being celebrated in the media as being paragons of good health, while the truth was they were suffering from severe eating disorders, which was profoundly not healthy. The moral of the story: Don’t judge a book by the [size and shape of] it’s cover. You don’t know someone’s food and health story by looking at their body.
Author Jennifer Weiner gave a keynote presentation on “The F Word: On Growing Up Big, Speaking Out Loud, and Raising Betty Friedan Girls in a Britney Spears World.” Weiner is an engaging, authentic speaker, and I heard glowing comments from attendees who had read all of her books as well as those who had never heard of her. Weiner is known for writing female protagonists who don’t spring from a sample size mold, but she’s also known for speaking loudly about issues related to body image, weight stigma and the dismissive attitudes toward “women’s fiction.”
Ronald D. Siegel, Psy.D., spoke on “Customizing Mindfulness: Fitting the Practice to the Person.” Since I’ve been deepening my own mindfulness practice lately, including (finally) beginning a formal meditation practice (Zen Buddhist, in my case), this really resonated. Three months in, I’ve noticed a difference in my life and my ability to handle stress.
I used to think of my runaway thoughts during meditation as a product of my “monkey mind,” but thanks to Dr. Siegal, I now think of it as “cute puppy mind.” (A puppy will start to wander off, and you bring it back. It wanders off again, you bring it back. Repeat, repeat, repeat. You don’t get mad at the puppy, because it’s a puppy, and it’s learning. And the same is true with your mind when learning meditation!)
Formal mindfulness practice (i.e., meditation) isn’t practical, and sometimes isn’t right, for everyone. But informal mindfulness practices can be practiced by anyone. One great example he gave was a “tail light meditation.” When driving, whenever you see tail lights (or break lights, depending on how heavy the traffic) in front of you, shift your attention back to the present moment (and away from your to-do list, your grocery list, or what have you). He also suggested being mindful while in the shower, which I admit is hard for me because I do some of my best thinking in the shower!
Kathy Kater, LICSW, gave a informative and thought-provoking presentation on Health at Every Size. If I had any doubts about whether diets work in the long run (they don’t) or whether there is any upside to weight stigma (there isn’t), those doubts would have been erased. I came into the talk already certain of those things, but I gained a wealth of information and tools to help people break out of the cycle of dieting and body bashing.
And that’s a wrap!