TOP 3: Highlights from ICED

By Meg Martinez, MA

Greetings, Atlanta IAEDP chapter!

As one of your research co-chairs, I’d like to take this opportunity in the June blog to present to you the highlights of this year’s International Conference on Eating Disorders (ICED), which was held in Boston at the end of April.  I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the conference, and what a conference it was!  All the stars were out in force.  Spotted were the Academy’s past presidents Tim Walsh, Kelly Klump, Pam Keel, Steve Wonderlich as well as research superstars Michael Stroeber, Jennifer Wildes, and Christopher Fairburn (that’s right, Christopher Fairburn of CBT for eating disorders, in the flesh!).  It was a busy and intellectually stimulating 3 days, and I could fill pages with everything I took away from it (in fact, I already have, you should see my notebook!).  However, just for you, I’ve come up with this list of my top 3 conference highlights.  So here they are:

3. Past president Cindy Bulik’s keynote address on new directions in anorexia nervosa (AN) research.  I will admit, a lot of what Dr. Bulik presented was over my head, but I got the sense sitting there that I was looking through a window into the future.  The data Dr. Bulik presented suggested a significant role of the immune response and of the gastrointestinal microbiome in the pathology of AN and, even though I didn’t totally get it, it was exciting stuff!  Beyond the data presented, Dr. Bulik’s talk was a wonderful example of interdisciplinary scholarship and collaboration; her example should serve as a model for the entire field.

2. Then-president elect Carolyn Becker’s talk in the second plenary session, titled “Adoption of treatments: Who gets picked and who gets left behind?.”  As Dr. Becker put it, the task assigned to her by the conference’s scientific committee was to answer the following question: why are treatments with lots of empirical support them not implemented by clinicians (e.g., CBT for eating disorders), but treatments with less support are (DBT, FBT, ACT, etc)?  It was a tall order for one 15-minute talk, but Dr. Becker did a great job.  As she suggested, there are five reasons why clinicians are drawn to treatments with less empirical support.  First, clinicians are drawn to treatments with big promises: we see the suffering of our patients and, when caught in the “tension between the slow pace of science and the immediate needs of [our] patients,” we look to those treatments that claim to ameliorate our patients’ suffering the best.  Second, clinicians like treatments that are flexible or “blended,” as these treatments promise to treat a broader range of patients, require less re-training, and can sometimes let clinicians avoid the techniques we don’t like (e.g., exposure; see below).  Third, therapists like treatments that address and validate the frustrations felt by clinicians, our patients, and their families.  Fourth, clinicians are drawn to treatments that are associated with charismatic leaders and good marketing (because we are, after all, only human).  And finally, clinicians like treatments with easy and accessible training infrastructures.  If we’re going to like to have to do something new, we don’t want to have to pay thousands of dollars and take several weeks off to attend a training workshop.  Although the content of her talk was provocative, I thought Dr. Becker did a fantastic job of answering the question posed to her in a way that respected both the clinicians and the researchers in the audience and encouraged individuals on each side to consider the wisdom of the other’s position.

And last, but certainly not least…

1. Then-current president Glenn Waller’s workshop, entitled “Using exposure with response prevention in CBT for eating disorders: Why we don’t, why we should, and how to do so.”  For those of you who have not gotten the opportunity to see Glenn Waller speak, I highly recommend it.  He’s a really funny guy, and he has a way of challenging everything you think you knew.  Much like the workshop he gave at last year’s ICED (which was on why clinicians using CBT for eating disorders don’t but should weigh their patients as directed by the treatment), I left this workshop thinking about all the patients of mine who could benefit from exposure with response prevention (ERP).  In effect, Dr. Waller’s point was that ERP can be a powerful tool for the treatment of anxiety, including the anxiety we see in patients with eating disorders.  Through ERP, patients learn that anxiety is short-lived and will decrease without the need for compulsive behaviors (cutting food into small pieces, purging, restriction, etc).  However, many clinicians don’t take advantage of this powerful tool because we are anxious about 1) making our clients anxious (as is the goal in ERP), and/or 2) not implementing the procedures correctly.  The bottom line was that we should be using these techniques; as Dr. Waller put it, “like your patients enough to push them” in treatment.  I was so excited by this workshop that I added Dr. Waller’s book, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Eating Disorders: A Comprehensive Treatment Guide, to my Amazon wishlist.

So there you have it, folks: my top 3 conference moments.  If you found this stuff as exciting as I did, I encourage you to consider attending ICED 2016 in San Francisco (May 5-7, with a clinical teaching day on May 4; for more information see http://www.aedweb.org/ICED2015/future.php).  Additionally, if you have any questions about this stuff, or the research world in general, feel free to reach out to me; as one of your Research Co-Chairs, it’s my job to help you bridge the gap between research and practice. 

Meg Martinez is a doctoral student in Emory's clinical psychology program studying with Dr. Linda Craighead. After receiving her bachelor's degree from Yale University in 2010, Meg worked at the Columbia Center for Eating Disorders in New York, NY.  Under the leadership of Drs. Tim Walsh, Evelyn Attia, and others, Meg was involved in cutting-edge research projects including a large clinical trial of a novel pharmacological treatment of Anorexia Nervosa.  Currently, Meg's research interests focus on the development and evaluation of novel psychotherapies for the treatment of Anorexia.