National Eating Disorders Association
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#NEDA2014 Conference Recap - Day One!

Caitlin Hamilton, Media & Communications Manager

Howdy, y’all! NEDA is so excited to be here in lovely San Antonio for the 2014 NEDA Conference! This year’s Conference is themed, “Thinking Big: Uniting Families and Professionals in the Fight Against Eating Disorders,” and we are doing just that!

We kicked off the Conference last night with a Welcome Social and the Friends & Family Kickoff Dinner, which featured a panel discussion hosted by author and NEDA Ambassador, Jenni Schaefer. Jenni brought her “recover relay race team” (aka her supportive family) to the dinner and her brother spoke on the panel, sharing his insights on the road to recovery. The panel discussion during dinner, which was generously sponsored by CRC Health Group, was filled with an abundance of messages of recovery - it really started the Conference off on a note of positivity, warmth and hope!

Catherine Steiner-Adair, EdD, author of The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age opened the Conference this morning with her keynote address entitled, “Rebooting Recovery: How to Use Tech as an Ally for Healthy Connection, Community and Resilience.” In her presentation, she discussed how technology has changed the nature of relationships in contemporary society. She pointed out that one of our primary relationships today is with our phones and noted that young people today not only have to worry about how they present themselves in person, but how they present themselves on multiple social media profiles.

“Now kids have to monitor a whole other self…you have to look good in person and be better online. There is a huge disconnect between the actual and the virtual self.” This disconnect, she says, is a recipe for disaster and distorted self-esteem, especially  when paired with the reality that people are harsher (and more vocal) online. With social media also comes the drive to compare oneself against other people’s polished online selves. This leads to spikes in perfectionism, anxiety, isolation and “Facebook depression.”

But, she pointed out, technology is just a tool – “as bad as tech can be, it can be equally positive and helpful in recovery!” She pointed to platforms like Recovery Record and other pro-recovery websites - such as Proud2Bme - as beacons of hope and opportunity. Technology, she argued, can enhance therapy and really make recovery possible in ways that it wasn’t possible before.  “It is though caring relationships that people recover. Technology is just a tool and we need to ask ourselves how we can use it to build communities of hope and communities of healing.”

After this inspiring keynote address, attendees broke out in to smaller sessions for the rest of the day before meeting back for the second general session of the day. The breakout sessions included everything from discussions about eating disorders and pregnancy to how to get involved in legislative action through NEDA’s STAR Program. For a full list of breackout sessions, check out the Conference agenda.

Howard Steiger, PhD concluded the day with his general session called, “Biological Underpinnings: Eating Disorders, Gene-Environment Interactions and the Epigenome.” This fascinating presentation was about gene-environment interactions and epigenetic processes in eating disorders and provided a background on molecular (genetic and epigenetic) mechanisms that bridge the gap between life stresses (like birth complications, childhood adversities, performance pressures, and effects of malnutrition) and eating disorders.

Though the concepts were complex, Steiger did a nice job of presenting the research in terms that were easy to understand. Basically, genes are always talking to the environment and making changes based on these conversations. “I like to think that the genome is the keyboard upon which the environment is playing the tunes.” With eating disorders, he explained, there are clear cut hereditary components, but the genetic potential needs to be switched on by environmental factors. In other words, a person’s life experiences (even those in utero!) have the ability to turn on the expression of certain genes, such as those that are linked to eating disorder.

Now, everyone is headed to the Networking Social for some relaxation and fun! Stay tuned for another Conference recap tomorrow, which will feature updates from the Family Panel! And, if you can’t be at the Conference, you can always follow the action on social media with the #NEDA2014 hashtag!