The ANZAED (eating disorders management) Conference 2018
Those who know me will realise that I am one of those geeks who loves going to conferences and learning new things, just because I love learning new things. Every year I check out what new developments are out there to help me work more effectively with people who are suffering from anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, or binge eating, and of course, emotional eating. This year’s eating disorder management conference was a particularly good one for me, especially because it took place in Sydney so I got to catch up with all my old friends from Wesley and RPA Hospitals. ANZAED stands for the Australia and New Zealand Academy for Eating Disorders, by the way. Now, a few months later on, I’m taking a moment to reflect on a few tidbits of knowledge that were discussed which leaped out at me at the time.
#1: Self-compassion is the new eating disorder treatment buzzword
It was suggested that self-compassion could be considered to be “the opposite” of an eating disorder… which breaks down into being the opposite of… well, a lot of things, including self-criticism and shame. There’s no two ways about it, managing an eating disorder would be such a different experience in the absence of such strong negative and self-critical thoughts as many of my clients have. This goes for anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binge eating. Clearly this concept is more in the domain of the eating disorder psychologists than with dietitians such as myself (although I have a psychology background and a lingering keen interest in the area). I really like the idea of people focussing in treatment not upon just eating and food (which are symptoms) but upon building up positive capacity within the self (the underlying cause). Ultimately, this is about building up a person so they have lessen the need to control food intake.
#2: Up to 70% of adolescents are dissatisfied with their body
Let’s be blunt: this statistic suggests that it’s unusual not to have body dissatisfaction. It’s a shocking statistic, and I’m sure some other studies have found lower rates, but still, what an eye-opener! First of all, doesn’t it just show you how pervasive the images and beliefs about the so-called “ideal” body shape have become, that it’s only a minority of young people who feel happy with how they look?! We need to be promoting the development of healthy attitudes towards food and bodes in children and adolescents so we can make it less likely they go on to develop an eating disorder.
The moral of the story here is: the body ideal being sold isn’t one which people naturally have, otherwise this statistic would not stand!
nb: any parents reading this, please take a look at my post on raising-body positive kids. Let’s not take any chances on this!
#3: Never give up on treating anorexia nervosa if people want help
I admit that this one was a little unexpected for me, but wonderfully so. One of the speakers at the conference had a lived experience of anorexia nervosa, which she had recovered from after living with it for around 20 years. I wonder if the people around her even believed she could change after all that time? I wonder if she believed it? What struck me most of all was how grateful she was to her treatment team, who didn’t give up on her over that time. I think sometimes as health professionals working in this area we make the mistake of assuming a person with a long-standing eating disorder is not motivated to change. The message here was that she had been motivated to change – she just didn’t have the capacity to do so for many years. There’s a key, crucial difference between those two statements. As she remained in touch with her care team, it meant that when she finally did develop the internal reserves and capacity to change, everything was in place to capitalise upon that and make it happen.
I’m really grateful I got to hear that story of recovery.