I just returned from presenting at the BEDA conference in Bethesda, Maryland.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with BEDA it is the Binge Eating Disorders Association and was founded by Chevese Turner in June, 2008 with the organization’s vision being:

“To create a community where people have access to resources to help them overcome BED and live healthy, productive lives free from weight stigma.”

BEDA is not dissimilar to other Eating Disorders professional organizations in that its intention is to provide outreach, education, and resources in order to increase awareness, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of eating disorders and associated weight stigma. But BEDA, a relatively new member in the arena of E.D. organizations, has had to deal with the additional challenge of fitting in to the Eating Disorders community.  One reason for this is that until this year, B.E.D. was listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) as an Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) and was referred to as emotional or compulsive eating or food addiction. This year’s fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM V) includes an official diagnosis.

And the people rejoiced!


I know, it seems a tad strange to be celebrating this.  After all, there is nothing about Eating Disorders to celebrate except of course for the brave women and men, boys and girls who are recovering, the clinicians who are treating them, and the support systems comprised of families, friends, and…well…maybe there are some reasons to celebrate; but being excited about something getting its very own place in the DSM feels a bit ego dystonic.  After all, who wants to be a part of that club?? Remember how great it was when homosexuality was removed from the DSM?!!  But for those of us who have B.E.D. and or work in the field, no longer being left out or relegated to the perimeter of the E.D. community, is a welcomed change.

Being included, fitting in, validated, acknowledged, these are all vital needs for most humans.  In our society, the pressure to fit in based on our appearance is so overpowering that many resort to self-destructive behaviors either to cope with feeling excluded and or to force our bodies to conform.  Body dissatisfaction begins, festers, grows and along with this desperation we frequently find the development of an Eating Disorder.  So what would make one Eating Disorder any more or less legitimate than another or any less challenging or less painful??

With all of that in mind, can you imagine having an Eating Disorder that doesn’t fit in with the other Eating Disorders???  Can you imagine being the most disenfranchised in a community already noted for being disenfranchised?  Case in point, not long after the DSM V was published,  Dr. Allen Frances wrote the following in his article in a Psychology Today Blog about changes to be ignored in the DSM V:

“Excessive eating 12 times in 3 months is no longer just a manifestation of gluttony and the easy availability of really great tasting food. DSM V has instead turned it into a psychiatric illness called Binge Eating Disorder.”

Is it no wonder that BEDA’s mission statement includes the words, “To create a community?”

Being on the fringe is not a new experience for me.  As a kid I was too chubby, I had a lazy eye that freaked many people out.  I was a girl drummer, and I was literally the red-headed step child who didn’t look anything like the rest of the family.  In college I was subject to antisemitism being one of a handful of Jews at my college and as an adult, I chose to become an Expressive Arts/Recreation Therapist as opposed to a “real” therapist.   Even my Doctorate was in a fringe area…Education, Curriculum and Instruction with a dissertation that focused on girl’s body image.  This of course put me in the direct firing line of you aren’t a real doctor because you aren’t an MD or a PHD.  And let’s not even go into having a name like Deah, (pronounced Day-uh).

But let me clear, I have NEVER experienced the same level of bigotry as people of color, or people of size who face the daily prejudice of finding seating, and medical care. And while it fuels my activism and my core belief that as long as any one person or group is oppressed it means we are all oppressed or at risk for becoming oppressed, I know I can never say with complete accuracy, “I know how you feel.”

What I do know is that community is the key.  It is an integral part of survival along with food, shelter, water, and clothing.  Maslow nailed it

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

when he put sense of belonging and being loved just one tier above security and safety.  Community and inclusion gives us the strength to fight for our rights as humans to fit in and be respected.  Without community we are…well…alone.

The BEDA conference provided a respite if for only a few days from feeling disenfranchised, marginalized, and just plain wrong.  The conference was not without some controversy…as is true with most new movements or new ways of thinking, there were passionate debates on a variety of subjects:

  • Is there such a thing as Food Addiction?
  • Does a 12 step program for Binge Eaters make sense if 12 step programs are based more on an abstinence model rather than a harm reduction model?
  • Does WLS really have a place in the same community as HAES®?
  • Is there a difference between Mindful Eating and Intuitive Eating?
  • What role do dieticians and nutritionists play in treating Binge Eating Disorders?

Like I said, it was juicy and rife with some vibrant discussions and confrontations.  But the commonalities outnumbered the differences and the remarkable and unique way the conference was set up to provide a safe, educational, supportive environment for not only treatment providers but for people diagnosed with BED to share the space and learn from each other was inspired!  The importance of support and being seen, heard, understood, and accepted even if not always agreed with was palpable during the three days in Bethesda.

As the conference came to an end, and the community dispersed, I left for the airport exhausted but energized, depleted but satiated, and above all full of appreciation for the kindness and inclusiveness that had been all around me.  The BEDA conference committee and Board of Directors and powerful presenters too numerous to list here were fantastic!  Granted, conferences are financially taxing and the costs can be prohibitive.  Even people who present at conferences have to pay for the conference, air fare, and housing, and if I could wave a magic wand and change that I would.  But as tempting as it may be to rely on the internet for networking, collaborating and even providing treatment if a conference happens to come to your town and you can afford it or volunteer in order to attend, it is truly worth the effort.

Call me old fashioned, but there is nothing as powerful as making real life connections, shaking real hands and hugging real people. Discussing ideas, working out conflicts, discovering common ground, sharing a meal together, dancing and hula hooping…these are experiences not replaceable by Facebook, Linked In or Skype.  And now that I’m back in Oakland and resuming my “normal” routine I am feeling a little homesick…does that make sense?

For more information on BEDA Click Here.

Til next time!

Dr. Deah

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About Dr. Deah

Dr. Deah Schwartz, clinician, educator, and author specializes in Expressive Arts Therapies, Eating Disorders and Body Image. Deah is the Co- Author of the NAAFA award winning Off-Broadway Play, Leftovers, and its companion DVD/Workbook Set. An outspoken “New Yawker,” Deah believes that it is everyone’s responsibility to point out and eliminate size discrimination even when it means battling the mainstream media.  To find out more about Dr. Deah’s work or to book a session visit her website at

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