Bringing NEDAwareness Week 2019 to a Close

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Heather Hower, MSW, LICSW, QCSW, ACSW

As National Eating Disorders  Awareness Week (NEDAwareness Week) comes to a close, I reflect on how the 2019 theme, Come as You Are, highlights NEDA’s movement towards inclusivity in the greater eating disorders (ED) community, and the goal of unifying the ED field. In particular, Come as You Are sends a message to individuals at all stages of body acceptance and ED recovery that their stories are valid. We hope that message continues beyond this week. NEDA will continue to invite everyone, especially those whose stories have not been widely recognized, to have the opportunity to speak out, share their experiences, and connect with others. NEDA aims to start conversations with a variety of communities that struggle at comparable rates to those traditionally thought of as struggling with EDs. During NEDAwareness Week, NEDA hoped to offer them an opportunity to share their stories, see themselves in others’ stories, and recognize that their experiences are valid and welcome, no matter where they are in relationship to food or their bodies. As the theme encourages, come as you are, not as you think you should be. 

As a NEDA board member since 2013, I have correspondingly been organizing NEDAwareness Week events at Brown University, where I have been working as a psychiatry researcher for the past 12 years. Each year, we have panels where a combination of professionals and recovered students talk about EDs from their perspectives, with an audience of other students, their families, staff, faculty, and the local community. It is always well received! Additionally, we have information tables at the student cafeteria, free activities such as Zumba and yoga for the week, body affirmation stickers placed over mirrors in the athletic center, resource pamphlets from NEDA and Brown University Health Services, and online screening. Overall, it is a week where we “Celebrate Every Body,” and aim to increase awareness and education about EDs, particularly in the college student body population, which is high-risk.

NEDA Awareness Week is also special to me on a personal level, as a recovered professional. My Anorexia Nervosa (AN) began when I was 12, due to the usual combination of genetics (family history) and environment (ballet), and I had it for 23 years before I began my recovery. While some people who have recovered feel like it was a gradual process, I have an anniversary date, which appropriately, is near NEDAwareness Week every year. I woke up on the morning of February 16, 2012, still hearing the ED voice in my head, and I knew that if I did not make a change, this was going to be the way I lived my life forever. I didn’t know what the process would look like exactly, but I assembled an expert team of professionals and took a leap of faith. As I approach my seven year AN recovery anniversary, I reflect back on my life with ED, and my life without it. Inspired by Jenni Schaefer, BS, who recovered from her EDs, writing the books “Life Without Ed,”’ and “Goodbye Ed, Hello Me,” and co-authoring “Almost Anorexic” with Jenny Thomas, Ph.D., I know that the recovery process is difficult but totally worthwhile. It has been amazing to work with Jenni (and Jenny!) in person, and to see how we have moved beyond our ED symptoms, while still capitalizing on our pre-existing ED traits as strengths.

I have been encouraged seeing others taking part in NEDAwareness Week activities this week. I urge you all to continue utilizing the NEDA web links below for further information and resources. Each year, NEDA screens more people who are concerned about EDs, and my hope is that early identification and intervention will help to prevent or decrease the impact that EDs have on individuals, families, and our communities. 

Heather Hower, MSW, LICSW, QCSW, ACSW has served on the Board of the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) since 2013 (including as a Feeding Hope Fund grant reviewer), and collaborates with her NEDA colleagues on Eating Disorder research studies, papers, and presentations. Heather serves as Research Project Director at Brown University Warren Alpert Medical School, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, and  Faculty-Research Associate at Brown University School of Public Health, Department of Health Services, Policy, and Practice, Hassenfeld Child Innovation Institute. Heather had anorexia nervosa for 23 years, and has been recovered since 2012. Heather can be found on on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn