National Eating Disorders Association

I Will Never Forget my First NEDA Conference.

Jenni Schaefer, Author

About ten years ago, I drove four hours from Nashville, where I lived at the time, to Atlanta, Georgia. I had no idea what to expect at the conference; I only knew one other person attending.

I was just going to be another face in the crowd. Or so I thought.

The truth is, as soon as I walked into the NEDA Conference registration area, I was welcomed with opened arms. And this had nothing to do with the fact that I had written a book. Back then, Life Without Ed had just been released and almost no one knew it even existed. I was embraced at the conference simply because I was there—among new friends—to learn, to connect, to make a difference.

Throughout the conference, the NEDA staff and volunteers were not the only ones who were super friendly. To my surprise, the well-known expert speakers were also approachable and willing to spend quality time talking with me.

I distinctly remember meeting one of my author heroes, clinical psychologist Margo Maine. I was standing near the doorway at an evening social when Dr. Maine entered the room. I wanted to meet her, but I was really nervous. At the time, she had published books that people actually knew about! I tentatively tapped her on the shoulder and asked if she would sign Body Wars, a copy of her book that I had brought with me. I was deeply touched by her warmth and inviting nature.

Dr. Maine signed my book, “Thanks for your energy and contributions to the cause.“

And that is what the NEDA Conference is all about—getting energized and contributing to the cause on a personal or global level. This happens through a powerful connection with others.

I drove away from Atlanta with countless tools to utilize in my work as an advocate. As someone who had struggled with an eating disorder, I also left knowing more about the illness and how best to keep it a bay—for good. I only wish my family had been able to attend a NEDA Conference those many years ago. I believe that the hope-filled event would have been an invaluable resource for them as well.

Since my trip to Atlanta, life has come full circle. Today, Life Without Ed has celebrated a ten-year birthday, and that well-known author, Dr. Maine, has actually endorsed the new book. What is more surreal to me is that she is now a trusted friend who even attended my wedding last year, which just happened to be during the NEDA Conference. To note, my own wedding is the only thing that has kept me away from the conference. (Dr. Maine actually attended both events.)

Next month, I will drive a couple of hours from my current home in Austin, Texas to the 2014 NEDA Conference in San Antonio. On Thursday, October 16th, I am excited to help kick off the festivities with the Friends and Family Dinner. This year, my family will be there. My older brother is participating on the family panel at the Kick-off Dinner, and my husband, sister-in-law, as well as parents will be attending the event. On Saturday afternoon, I am honored to be presenting “The Ins and Outs, Ups and Downs of Social Media in Clinical Practice and Recovery” with Bridget Whitlow, MS, LMFT and Lauren Muhlheim, PsyD, CEDS. Our session promises to be something to Tweet about!

Altogether, the NEDA Conference is like a big family reunion fused with cutting-edge knowledge and palpable support. I don’t know of any opportunity quite like it. I sure hope to see you there.