Dear Conference Attendees,
A LOT has happened already in 2016: the majority of Britons voted FOR Brexit, Hillary Clinton became the first female US presidential nominee in history, NASA’s Juno spacecraft entered orbit around Jupiter, and earlier this year, ANAD recruited a new leadership team welcoming long-term ANAD Board Member, Maria Rago, PhD, as its new Board President and hired its first full-time Executive Director in five years, me, Laura Zinger.
Maybe ANAD doesn’t measure up in terms of important global history in the making, but it should. 30 million Americans alone suffer from eating disorders and over the past decade, the numbers of those afflicted has only increased. Dramatically increased.
I’m a very unique addition to ANAD’s leadership team, because I was a part of the population that ANAD and all of you service: people afflicted with an eating disorder.
My own struggle with an eating disorder started when I was 13 years old when a doctor pulled the trigger by telling me, after I underwent a medical procedure to correct a hyperactive thyroid condition called Grave’s Disease, that I had to watch what I ate now. He told 13-year-old me that if I kept eating as much as I did when my thyroid was hyperactive, I would get fat.
I distinctly remember sitting in a fast food drive through that day after the procedure with my father and making the conscious decision to cut my food intake in half, terrified that “I would get fat.”
Little did this doctor know that I was growing up in a home where my mother was constantly harassing my older sister about her weight, and that I was already receiving the message, “If you are overweight, I will not love you,” from my own mother.
I ate my fast food in terror that afternoon, the trigger pulled, my relationship with food deteriorating with every bite I took.
My eating disorder consumed my life for the next 6 years, unnoticed by my parents who had been in intense marital distress ever since I could remember, and would have continued to rule my life if I hadn’t lost my peripheral vision one day, causing me to believe that I was, in fact, killing my own brain. My brain, my ability to excel in school and to be creative were the only reasons I had to keep on living, and I knew that if I lost my working, creative brain, I would have lost any reason to go on living.
I went to my family doctor who began to check my vital signs. As she took my pulse, I looked up at her and whispered, “I’m not eating.” She looked at me, immediately called my father in, and told him I had anorexia. Without her diagnosis, I don’t think my parents would have ever recognized that I was suffering from an eating disorder.
I credit that doctor with saving my life. I also credit all of the, almost dozen, eating disorder professionals (eating disorder professionals like you) who helped me recover with saving my life as well. I went on to successfully graduate from college with a Bachelor’s degree and had a 15-year career in a field I was deeply passionate about. I was able to create a fully satisfying and incredible life for myself with the help of professionals like you.
MY LIFE WAS WORTH SAVING.
ALL OF YOU SAVE LIVES THAT ARE AS WORTHWHILE AS MINE.
I know, first-hand, how important eating disorder professionals are towards helping end the global epidemic of eating disorders and towards helping to end the deep suffering that eating disorders cause. I know that underneath all of those eating disorders, are the most beautiful people I have ever met in my entire life. My future was worth fighting for and so are theirs. THANK YOU for joining ANAD in this fight for freedom from eating disorders.
I want you all to know that ANAD is here every day for both you and your patients, offering free support and services in the form of our already existing ANAD Support Group Program that we aim to expand a thousand-fold over the next year, and our new free support programs: ANAD Grocery Buddies and ANAD Recovery Mentors.
We are also currently growing our ANAD Helpline into a 24/7 hotline for anyone who is going through an eating disorder crisis so that they know that there is always someone caring and supportive just a phone call or email away.
In addition to these free support services, we are developing a number of free eating disorder recovery toolkits to give even more support to this population, because often eating disorder recovery is a full-time job, and we want to make that full-time job accessible, encouraging and dare I even say, fun?
Without undermining how serious and deadly eating disorders are, I want to create a safe space at ANAD for anyone with an eating disorder to be able to talk openly about their struggles, their recovery and be free of the stigma of having an eating disorder. I want to set a culture at ANAD of total acceptance for everyone across all gender, races, ethnicities and ages, and help take the fear out of talking about eating disorders. Having an eating disorder SUCKS! There, doesn’t everyone feel a little better now that I said that out loud?
ANAD is accepting responsibility and imparting new measures for reaching out to more diverse populations to offer eating disorder recovery support. For too long, ANAD has primarily helped one demographic that is white, middle-class, and female, and as a white, middle-class, female who struggled for over a decade with an eating disorder, I have appreciated that help, but I know now that NO DEMOGRAPHIC POPULATION IS SAFE FROM AN EATING DISORDER, and we must all work harder to help ALL POPULATIONS recover and go on to lead wonderful, incredible lives.
I encourage you to get even move involved with ANAD by starting an ANAD Support Group at your practice or treatment center, or sharing our other support services and our soon-to-be launched ANAD Recovery YouTube Channel that will be chock full of personal stories of recovery, Ask an Expert Q&As and educational videos that can be shared with family and loved ones who suffer from an eating disorder, or for professionals who serve in every field from the medical industry to education, who can always stand to learn, not just more about eating disorders and whom they afflict, but would benefit from learning accurate information about eating disorders, body image, weight stigma and how utterly ridiculous it is to use BMI testing as a health standard in public schools.
You can financially invest in ANAD, if you are an eating disorder therapist, by signing up to become a Paid Professional Affiliate and be listed on our website, and if you are an Eating Disorder Treatment Center, please sign up to become an ANAD Partner. The benefits for supporting ANAD are numerous and your dollars will go directly towards helping ANAD continue to offer free support programming and creating free recovery toolkits.
As I look back over my first 6 months as ANAD’s Executive Director, I feel a new kind of bravery: one born from being truly open and expressive about my own recovery story. I hope that my openness and willingness to tell my recovery story inspires others to share their recovery stories as well. I think that our stories tell us who we are, they tell others what we’re capable of, and I think they help us heal.
When I look back at 2016, I will see a year that the British voted to exit the European Union, I’ll see Hillary Clinton making history as the first female US presidential nominee, and yes I will see that NASA incredibly got a spacecraft to orbit Jupiter, but I will also see a year that marked my involvement with doing the greatest thing I will probably ever do: show others like me who are recovering from eating disorders that their futures are bright and worthwhile, that their futures are theirs to own and to have and that are most definitely worth fighting for.
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for attending ANAD’s Conference this year. We hope that you are learn greatly from the program and speaker lineup we have put together, and we hope to see you next year as we continue to grow and evolve.