Proud2Bme | Sea Change: Voices from the 2015 NEDA Conference

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Sea Change: Voices from the 2015 NEDA Conference

Starting today, individuals in recovery and their loved ones, professionals, researchers, and educators from around the country have converged in San Diego for the 2015 NEDA Conference, a transformative weekend of action and awareness. We had a chance to chat with three of this year’s speakers about why the NEDA Conference should matter to young people, their advice for those in recovery, and what you can expect to hear from them.

Danielle Sabo, M.A., has been an eating disorder activist for over a decade. During her six years of graduate school studies, she attended every NEDA Conference, volunteered at three of them, developed programming and events at her university’s Women’s Center for NEDAwareness Week, and served as a volunteer research assistant at an eating disorder treatment center.

Dagan VanDemark is the Program and Policy Coordinator of T-FFED: Trans Folx Fighting Eating Disorders, an organization that emerged from their research as an undergraduate on trans identities and eating disorders.

River Zain Ceballos is a spokesperson, print model, actor, and activist in the field of eating disorder recovery.

What will you be speaking about at the NEDA Conference and why?

Danielle Sabo: At NEDA this year I will be speaking on the impact of social media on what I call the “Eating Disorder Experience.” From a young age, women and men are indoctrinated into the belief that their worth as a person can be measured by how physically attractive they are. Sociocultural influences, the media in particular, have received a significant amount of attention as being triggers that negatively affect an individual’s body image, internalization of the thin-ideal, and pathological beliefs associated with eating and weight issues.

Contemporary social media technologies accessed via the internet such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. allow for the instantaneous creation and sharing of user-generated messages about a number of ideals, beliefs, and values including that of body image. There exist many ways in which social media may be potentially more harmful to body image than traditional media. It is my goal in my presentation to explore and discuss the harmful effects of social media on body image and the eating disorder experience before the panel provides ways in which we can harness the power of social media for body positivity and eating disorder recovery.

Dagan VanDemark: I am grateful to be on the Marginalized Voices panel with Gloria Lucas of the organization Nalgona Positivity Pride, Pia Schiavo-Campo of the blog Chronicles of a Mixed Fat Chick, and Pia Guerrero of the website and long-time ED/body positivity resource Adios Barbie. Together we’ll be discussing what marginalization is, how the mainstream ED domain contributes to and replicates marginalization (and how we can disrupt and undermine those processes), how “inclusion” ends up re-centering privileged identities and power, why there need to be more opportunities for marginalized folx to be doing this work professionally, and so much more! We are addressing these topics because this is literally life or death for our communities.

River Zain Ceballos: I will be speaking about the struggles I've been through as a young adult male in recovery from bulimia and how my disorder started. I believe there is this stigma around men suffering from eating disorders that is still taboo, or uncomfortable for people to talk about. It shouldn't be. I'm going to be there to share my stories and hopefully open a few eyes.

Why should young people care about the NEDA Conference?

DS: I went to my first NEDA Conference in New York City when I was 21 years old and my first thought afterward was that I wish I had found out about this conference sooner! The individuals I have met, the friendships I have made, and the experiences I have had at the NEDA Conference have transformed me for the better both personally and professionally.

The NEDA Conference is so much more than academics and researchers discussing the latest revelations in therapy. It’s about connection, healing, and a weekend filled with hope. It’s about families connecting with fellow survivors and providing support along the road toward recovery. It’s about roundtables of Moms and Dads, Caregivers and Friends, and those still battling this disease sitting together to discuss fears, aspirations, and dreams for the future.  The NEDA Conference weekend can truly be a life-altering experience and one that you can continue to have and look forward to every year just like me! 

DV: Young people should care about the NEDA Conference because it’s crucial for youth to be part of the process of transforming the eating disorder field, an arena largely stuck in a clinical and/or “hope and positivity” mode, both of which are very divorced from critical, intersectional social justice perspectives. Youth voices and advocacy can (and have, a la Project Heal, an organization that helps people pay for costly treatment programs) help change this egregious gap in representation of marginalized folx in ED-related media and in the professional sphere, treatment accessibility, conceptualization of contributing traumas, etc.

Young people often have a more highly polished critical lens than older generations (thank you Tumblr and changing social norms!), and it’s imperative that youth get involved so the field can be more responsive and relevant to the needs and expectations of young people, especially regarding financial and geographical access, representation/staffing diversity, and cultural competencies.

RZC: So many of our youth suffer from eating disorders. I think at some point every young person feels insecure, not good enough, or inadequate. The NEDA Conference will allow them to hear people's stories, get answers to the questions they've always had and learn of methods to help them out when they're going through an eating-related issue. The amount of awareness it brings is incredible.

What advice do you have for young people who are struggling/in recovery?

DS: It sounds cliché – but hold on to hope. There are so many times along the road of both eating disorder recovery and remission when you think: “It’s just too hard today, I’m just not strong enough to fight this voice, this feeling, this discomfort in my own skin.” The truth of the matter is that the human mind and body are capable of so many miraculous things but too often we underestimate our own healing capabilities.

We doubt our strength, we question our tenacity, and we further devalue ourselves in the process. If we could hold on to the hope that tomorrow will be better, that we can learn to be comfortable in our own discomfort, and that we will one day love our bodies and ourselves–only then can we truly believe in recovery, trust our own strength, and learn how to live to the fullest each and every day.

DV: Keep fighting, keep trying, and try not to isolate, as hard as it is! Take care of your teeth and practice harm reduction techniques; dental (and medical) complications are painful and expensive! Practice reaching out for help–it doesn’t make you weak, you’re not a burden, you ARE deserving and you ARE worth it. Keep lists of people you can call/text/Skype/etc. for general support in the middle of the night and for mealtime accountability; let them help you override the disordered thoughts telling you to hang up the phone. Regarding recovery, don’t give up–you are loved and your life has purpose, even if you cannot see it.

I am in recovery from a 15+ year battle with bulimia, and I am over six months totally ED-free. During my struggle, I was very much convinced I’d either die with bulimia or from it, and today I am thriving, even though I hadn’t known adulthood without an eating disorder. Recovery is possible, even after a really long struggle – it just might not happen the way you expect. There are no right or wrong paths towards recovery; it’s crucial to find what works for you, and don’t be afraid to try something new just because it sounds different.

Additionally, change often happens incrementally; it’s important to celebrate and remember your small victories–they will be the building blocks of lasting recovery! For folx in recovery, please speak out about your experiences! Share what helped, what didn’t, what difficulties you faced ­– it is so important that we overcome and undermine the stigma around discussing eating disorders and mental health/illness in general. Your story can and will help others!

RZC: I'd tell them to stay optimistic. Recovery isn't easy, but it's possible. There are others out there who know what you're going through; you're not alone. I also encourage them to speak up, not only to help others and to raise awareness but also so they won't feel so alone. Speaking up changed my life; I honestly thought I was the only male with an eating disorder until I shared my story and found other young men who lost their way, like myself. Having that support to fall back on is a big reason why my recovery has been successful.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

DS: You deserve better.
You are worthy of happiness.
You mean the world to so many around you.
You are stronger than you can ever imagine.
One day you will make a difference.

DV: Build closer relationships with friends and family. Save more money. Take care of your teeth, and wear more sunscreen. Insist that others treat you with respect and love, even if you’re not yet able to treat yourself that way.

RZC: To have more confidence in myself. That I'm capable of a lot more than I think I am, and I should step out of my comfort zone every once in a while. Your size doesn't change who you are; it doesn't define you. You're loved, you matter, and you WILL make a difference. But the change has to start with you. 

For more on the 2015 NEDA Conference, check out: 

4 Reasons Why I Am Attending the #NEDA2015 Conference

5 People I'm Excited to Hear Speak at the 2015 NEDA Conference!

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