I have never been to ICED before and it was a bit of a shock. Unlike the NEDA Conference, which I usually go to, this one is a lot more academic and focused on research and clinicians. It was also a lot bigger with roughly double NEDA’s usual attendance. As a current non-student and introvert, I felt intimidated and overwhelmed. I realized over the course of the 4 days I was there that my feelings were not unique (a lot of people have the same feelings) and that really I was in the right place–I belong at ICED and in AED.
Despite my fears, the conference was incredible. It was everything that I was hoping that it was going to be, but feared expecting of it. I was able to learn tons and network with the people I needed to. It was the richest experience from a conference that I have had in a while and it makes me want to attend every ICED.
Plenaries, Workshops, and SIGs Oh My!
From the opening speaker, I knew the conference was going to be controversial. To open ICED with a speaker formerly employed by Unilever speaking on her experience working for Unilever’s Dove brand and their Self-Esteem Project was bold. It ended up sounding as positive as one can imagine. Half the speech was a Unilever advertisement on the awesomeness of the company and the good that they are doing for society and the world (this is the same company that owns a skin-lighting cream and Axe body spray) and the second half was focused on the actual Dove Self-Esteem Project. It was not a particular hit with the audience or me. I am not a fan of this company (or any company) co-opting the body-positive movement for sales to begin with and this speech really reminded me of why.
The next day’s opening Plenary was just as controversial with phrases thrown about such as “obesity kills a lot of people” as if it were somehow even a fact or relevant at an eating disorders conference. The presenters had some interesting things to say in general, but it was hard to listen when their speeches and studies had quite a bit of weight stigma and lacked diversity at all as though every individual with an eating disorder is a cis-gender white female.
Beyond the controversial plenaries and speakers, I went to some absolutely wonderful sessions. It is those sessions that made my time at ICED so much more meaningful and inspiring.
The SIG Discussion Panel on eating disorder recovery was fascinating and thought-provoking. Several presenters were questioning the definition of recovery and whether we can or should define it and ways to possibly define it. It really made me think about how I have defined recovery, how the field defines recovery, and how society defines recovery.
That presentation really stuck with me throughout the weekend and this past week. I have really been contemplating all the ways recovery is defined by not only myself, but others. One of the great points brought up in the presentation was if it was actually a good thing to define recovery. The reason for this was that others would feel as though if their recoveries did not look like those that it was just another way they did not measure up and how they have failed. That made perfect sense to me. I have been using the hashtag RecoverED for quite a while and I have used it as a definition for the outside world and others to know that I no longer have eating disorder behaviors and suffer from an eating disorder. But what kind of message might that send to others who are still suffering? What is RecoverED? I think I need to change my message and go back to simply using the word ‘recovery’ and better define how my life is now post-eating disorder.
Another really meaningful session for me was the Trauma, PTSD, and Eating Disorders workshop on Saturday with Dr. Timothy Brewerton, Jenni Schaefer, and June Alexander. June and Jenny shared their trauma, PTSD, and eating disorders journeys with the group and Dr. Brewerton provided the medical background for the session. Jenni’s story in particular was one I could relate to and touched me deeply. This topic of eating disorders and trauma is one of the issues I bring up often at conferences because of how common it seems to be in eating disorders and how deeply it has affected me in my life. It does not seem to be on many provider’s or treatment center’s radars when it really should be.
I could not end this without discussing how amazing Plenary Session IV was on Saturday morning. The plenary had a social justice focus and brought together some incredible speakers–Thereasa Fassihi, Chevese Turner, Ilan Meyer, Marcella Raimondo, Sigrun Danielsdottir, and Deb Burgard. In this plenary, the social justice, marginalized voices, intersectionality, sexual and gender minorities, diversity, etc. topics were front and center. It was clear from the opening that it was about not just who was in the room, but who was not in the room. (From the demographics of the conference, that is an important thing to point out.) The theme centered around who we are missing from the research and treatment and why. The only thing that would have made this plenary better was if it was not relegated to the last day at 9am. It should have been an opener for everyone to think about throughout the conference instead of something about half attended. This topic is too important.
For me, conferences are not just about going to sessions. It is a lot about networking. Connections help me move forward and make what I do feel even more fulfilling. I think that is why ICED was even more wonderful. It was almost as though everyone got the same memo–attend ICED! Nearly everyone who I am connected to went to ICED this year.
It is truly hard to describe what it feels like to be at the same conference with so many people who share your passion and drive with the same kinds of beliefs and desires. It is a very validating experience and one that I do not get very often since I live in Seattle and far from many other advocates, organizations, conferences, etc. It really fills up my soul to know that I am not alone not only in my experience but in my desire to make a shift in the conversation surrounding eating disorders.
This conference was special from any of the others that I have ever been to. Instead of simply another conference experience, it was a culmination of all the conference experiences I have had and all the social networking I have done. People knew who I was and wanted to connect with me and others who I had connected with wanted to connect even more. It felt incredibly validating and made me feel happy, as if I had finally made it into this field that I have tried to insert myself into for so long. I have been searching for that for quite a while and to find it is really hard to describe with words. It is like finding your best friend you have pretty much everything in common with and you wonder how you never found them until now. Like being recognized for your work with an award or recognition and everyone is ecstatic for you. Like finally finding that validation that you needed so badly and feeling that relief that comes afterwards. Or maybe even like enjoying your favorite dessert with your favorite people.
It was this finding my place and my people about ICED that really touched me and made the conference a success. It is a big part of what I need to continue to do what I do and hopefully do more in the future. Definitely not the only part, but a big piece. I cannot wait to see everyone again and be even more inspired by and vocal about the workshops.
I hope to see you all BEDA 2016 Oct 27-29 in San Francisco (yes, also!), which I will be attending!