National Eating Disorders Association

Day 2 of the NEDA Conference: A Moving Family Panel and Insights on Males with Eating Disorders

Maggi Flaherty, Communications Manager

The first general session on the second day of the Conference – NEDA’s annual Family Panel – sent  a powerful and vital message to attendees: recovery is real and possible for everyone. The Family Panel included personal stories of overcoming and perseverance in the face of an eating disorder diagnosis, as well as touching stories from both a father and partner of individuals affected on what they have learned about supporting a loved one with an eating disorder. Here is an overview of this year’s panelists:

  • Gwen Vann: Gwen is an eating disorder survivor who has made it her mission in life to increase awareness of disorders in the African American community.  She spoke about the obstacles to addressing this issue in the African American community and offered ideas on how to make progress moving forward.
  • Benjamin O’Keefe: Ben is a Proud2Bme Ambassador and 19-year old actor and teen activist. He shared his story as a male eating disorder survivor and his activism for gay rights and the global movement against clothing company Abercrombie & Fitch, and their size-based discrimination.
  • Theresa Larson, DPT: Dr. Larson is a former Marine Corps Engineer Officer and Combat Veteran. Dr. Larson shared her harrowing experience as a military commander struggling with an eating disorder and about her path to recovery.
  • Shelly Chiang: A NEDA Navigator, Shelly discussed her struggle with the pressures she felt as an Asian American who was surrounded by petite women throughout her life. She shared about her battle with anorexia, which became so dangerous that she was told she was dying.
  • Bill MacLachlan: Bill is the father of someone recovering from an eating disorder. He talked about his family’s difficulty in finding support throughout his daughter’s illness as well as his personal desire to continue to learn more about the disease and help other families find the resources they need to build a successful recovery.
  • Emily Farquharson, Esq.: Emily told her story as a partner of someone who struggled with anorexia and bulimia. She talked about the challenges they faced together, as well as her individual journey, and gave a message of hope that recovery (and a healthy relationship) is possible!

The audience both laughed and cried as these individuals bravely shared their stories with honesty and candor – giving each of the panelists a rousing standing ovation in appreciation of their stories. It was a truly inspiring moment for everyone in attendance – individuals affected by an eating disorder, loved ones in support roles and professionals all left with a renewed sense of hope.

The second general session pointed a much-needed spotlight on research pertaining to a group of people that has often been marginalized within the field of eating disorders: males. Dr. Ted Weltzin and Dr. Tim Freson presented research on males with eating disorders and the sociocultural constructions of masculinity. Dr. Freson called for more attention to be focused on the drive for muscularity and leanness as serious body image concerns among males, pointing out that the scales currently used within the field to gauge whether individuals are struggling with body image issues still use very gendered language and highlight the need for better tools to access male body image concerns. He also demonstrated the ways in which the media contributes to constructions of masculinity that reinforce these body image ideals.

Dr. Weltzin followed with a discussion on treatment considerations for males and the ways in which treatment providers can cater more for men, because while the behaviors in males are similar to those in females with eating disorders, the cognitions may differ significantly. He offered specific recommendations for treatment providers to be more inclusive and effective in treating male patients, such as updating intake forms to include practices more specific to males and giving males the opportunity to connect and identify with other males in treatment. He also stressed the importance of reducing the stigma surrounding males who struggle with eating disorders.

The 2013 NEDA Conference was a great success, from the adventures of Lobby Day to the inspirational stories of the Family Panel. With more than 600 people in attendance, this year’s conference was our largest yet and we are so grateful to everyone who traveled to DC and made this conference such a memorable experience for all.  We look forward to seeing you next year for our conference in San Antonio, TX – Thinking Big: Uniting Families and Professionals in the Fight Against Eating Disorders.