Some of the most meaningful work I’ve done has been taking a negative situation from my past – my eating disorder – and using it for good. I’ve taken my struggle and turned it into a passion for helping others. I get a lot of questions about how to get involved with eating disorder advocacy and volunteering, so in honor of NEDA Awareness Week I thought I’d share them! 1. NEDA Walks
When you register for a walk (which is really just a short stroll), you set a fundraising goal and ask family and friends to support you. You can also sponsor someone else. Get a group of friends together and spend a morning making a difference! They are SO inspiring.
If there isn’t a walk in your area, start one! NEDA is wonderful to work with and so incredibly helpful in the planning process. Click here for more information on how to start a NEDA Walk in your city.
2. NEDA Navigator
NEDA Navigators are volunteers who have first-hand experience with eating disorders and are well into their own, or their loved one’s recovery. If you are firmly in recovery or are a friend or family member of somebody that has struggled, you can be a Navigator!
Email email@example.com to request information about becoming a NEDA Navigator
Once selected, NEDA Navigators go through a training program to learn to how be of support, things to say and things not to say, and what lines not to cross, such as not providing any medical or professional advice.
Navigators get a NEDA email address and are set up with contacts for an email relationship. They reach out to provide support, and provide a sounding board, understanding ear, resource for treatment options, and more. It’s incredibly rewarding to develop a relationship and be a mentor, role model, and part of someone’s recovery process.
3. Attend a NEDA Conference
Once a year NEDA holds a weekend conference, and there is no better way to get involved and learn a lot about what’s going on in the world of treatment and advocacy. You can go as a general attendee, or even apply for a scholarship from NEDA. There is even a buddy program for those attending alone so they have someone to hang with.
I attended a NEDA conference on scholarship in 2013 and did nothing but learn, connect with other people just like me, feel totally inspired and insanely empowered that I was able to beat such a terrible disease. To read recaps of that conference, check out NEDA Conference Day One and NEDA Conference Day Two.
2015 conference and scholarship details have not yet been released. Check out the 2014 website to see what it’s like.
4. Contact a local treatment center
The way I became the Charlottesville NEDA Walk coordinator last year was through a simple email. Before I started school at UVA, I did some research on any eating disorder or body image programs on campus, and found the women’s center. I sent an email asking if there were any ways to get involved, and suddenly I was walk coordinator.
The way I got involved with an eating disorder research project was by emailing my previous pediatric doctor and asking if she knew of anything going on in St. Louis. I told her I was interested in volunteering or working in the area that spring, and suddenly I was her research assistant on a new project. I was thrown into the process of writing an IRB, learned about new treatment methodology, and got great experience for a future in medicine.
So my advice is reach out! Do some google searches, send emails, and don’t be afraid to ask. Let others know that you are interested in helping and you never know what you’ll find.
5. Lobby in your state or on a national level
NEDA’s STAR Program is a group that legislatively advocates for awareness, education, early intervention and prevention programs, funding for research, and improved access for the treatment of eating disorders. If you are interested in policy and advocacy, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
I found out about Missouri’s lobby day through my mother, who is an eating disorder physician, but you can also Register to receive Advocacy Alerts from NEDA. Don’t be afraid to join a group at your state capitol to share your story — sometimes these politicians don’t know much at all about eating disorders and putting a face to a disorder makes all the difference. Lobbying at my state capitol was one of the most moving, empowering days of my life. You can also write letters to your local or national legislators supporting change.
I hope this helps you find the perfect way to get involved. Let me know if you have any questions about these options. I’m always happy to chat!