I am in Washington, DC, for the 30th International Conference on Eating Disorders. Since its inception, I have looked forward to attending this meeting every spring given that research, treatment, and advocacy in this field have been core to my professional work for nearly four decades. With over 1,000 people in attendance, the hallways buzz with conversations filled with ideas and reflections that the official scientific panels, papers, and posters can never fully encompass. This observation is the seed for the audio and video podcast, “Big Ideas In Eating Disorders” – officially launching today!
In Big Ideas in Eating Disorders, I talk with researchers, clinicians, and people with lived experience and ask them to share one big idea that they believe is crucial to improving the lives of people living with an eating disorder or at risk of developing one. Here are highlights from some of my first guests!
1. On Understanding Habits and Eating Disorders. B. Timothy Walsh, MD, is the William and Joy Ruane Professor of Pediatric Psychopharmacology in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University. He pioneered foundational research examining the efficacy of cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, and various medications in treating bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa. In this podcast, he shares how he became interested in medicine, psychiatry, and eating disorders, and discusses, with an infectious sense of wonder, how it is that certain behaviors become habits, what we are learning about how habits get mapped in the brain, and why they are so difficult to change. What is the relationship between changing our minds, our behaviors, and our habits? In characteristic fashion, Dr. Walsh’s curiosity, skepticism, and passion for research are a winning combination. I am grateful that he agreed to be my first guest on Big Ideas in Eating Disorders, and even more grateful that he has been a mentor to me for over thirty years. Listen to the podcast or watch the video.
2. On Making the Economic Case. Ruth Weissman, PhD, is the Walter A. Crowell Professor of Social Science, Professor of Psychology Emerita at Wesleyan University, and Editor-in-Chief of the International Journal of Eating Disorders. In this podcast, she shares how she got her start researching eating and weight disorders at a psychophysiology lab at Max-Planck-Institute for Psychiatry in Munich, Germany, and her work with Drs. Judith Rodin and Lisa Silberstein at Yale University as they developed their psychosocial model for eating disorders. Dr. Weissman could speak with authority on many topics. She chose to highlight work that she pioneered with colleagues on the burden of eating disorders and the urgent need to use economic data to inform policy actions to improve funding for primary prevention, screening, and access to evidence-based treatment. Listen to the podcast or watch the video.
3. On the Essential Role of Connection in Recovery. Donna Friedman, M.S., is the founder of the Friedman Center for Eating Disorders at the Medical University of South Carolina. She has personal experience with eating disorders, as both someone who has had anorexia nervosa and a parent of a son with an eating disorder. She is also a therapist. Based on her experiences, Ms. Friedman has come to know the essential role interpersonal trust and connection play in recovery. In this podcast, she reflects on her personal journey, how it informs her work as a clinician, and how she prioritizes real connection in the therapy process with her patients. Listen to the podcast or watch the video.
4. On the Complicated Relationship Between Binge Eating and Obesity. Marsha Marcus, PhD, Professor Emerita at The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, has devoted a significant part of her career to studying binge eating and developing treatments for people with binge eating disorder. She initially focused on behavioral weight management for obesity. During the course of her work, she noticed that a significant percentage of people seeking weight-loss treatment also described patterns of binge eating that contributed significantly to their health concerns and distress. This observation catalyzed decades of clinical practice and research straddling the fields of obesity and eating disorders. In this episode, Dr. Marcus describes her pioneering work and raises serious concerns about the ways in which science and advocacy are often conflated to the detriment of the people who scientists, clinicians, and advocates all want to serve. Listen to the podcast or watch the video.
5. On the Common Phenomenon of Extreme Behavior. It is not unusual for people to talk about the extreme dieting and weight loss associated with anorexia nervosa as if such extreme behavior is unique to this particular disorder. Dr. Kelly Vitousek, Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, Co-Director of the Center for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Director of the Eating Disorders Program, thinks otherwise. Based on decades of work, Dr. Vitousek has identified patterns of behavior across a range of human experiences – from mountain climbing to eating disorders and even birdwatching – and the emergence of what she calls “disciples of discipline.” These are people who engage in the relentless pursuit of a goal despite real and apparent danger. Ultimately, she finds that the context in which we view extreme and self-endangering behaviors influences whether we are disturbed vs. impressed by them. Dr. Vitousek offers a powerful reframing of the extreme dieting and weight loss associated with anorexia nervosa and explores how this new lens can potentially enhance our clinical care. Listen to the podcast or watch the video.
Big Ideas in Eating Disorders gives voice to bold ideas from leaders in the field. Individually, the episodes are fascinating and thought provoking. Collectively, they create a mosaic filled with wisdom that not only reflects the modern history of the field but also informs its future. New episodes will drop weekly as we explore the modern story – or stories – of eating disorders as they’ve never been told before.