Years ago Laura was brave enough to publish her story about her family's involvement in her daughter's recovery from anorexia. Since then her momentum has steadfastly inspired caregivers of those with eating disorders to become involved in, advocate for, and support their loved one's treatment. She has given parents and caregivers confidence they can play an integral part in their loved one's treatment and they are not to blame for their loved one's illness. Her support for understanding eating disorders as brain-based has been an important force in the eating disorder field. Her ability to speak out against body size prejudice has been unwavering and timely. Many thanks to Laura Collins for her continued vision and dedicated work.
F.E.A.S.T. Advisor, Chris Haltom, PhD, CEDS
By June Alexander
Laura Collins has a lot to do with the fact that I have been able to write six books on eating disorders in the past six years, and am writing another three.
The reason is simple. Laura believes in me.
After recovering from a four-decades-long eating disorder in 2007, I began to write my memoir and set about exploring the ED field – the online support, the research, in a bid to further understand what had happened to me.
If you can imagine someone walking out of a deep dark jungle after being isolated and lost in wilderness for four decades, that was me. Suddenly here I was in brilliant sunshine, in the open, free to explore – and very soon I found Laura on her soapbox. She was the first parent that made sense to me.
Feeling passionate about helping to expose the vagaries of Ed, I sent my memoir draft manuscript to Laura. She wrote back immediately and so began a deeply meaningful friendship. Her blurb on the back cover of ‘A Girl Called Tim’ reads:
‘From lost years and relationships, to found treasures of grandparenting and a worldwide audience.’
My son said at the time: ‘Mum, Laura gets it.’
Yes, Laura gets it.
This mother, parent, carer, advocate extraordinaire understands what living with an eating disorder is like; she understands with uncanny insightfulness, the eating disorder effect on the sufferer’s psyche; and in seeking answers, she walks where others fear to tread.
I am (many) years older than Laura but in many ways feel like her child. You see, and I am weeping while writing this, my mother did not understand my eating disorder. From the age of 11, when AN took hold in my brain, the illness progressively sabotaged and eventually destroyed our relationship. My mother would occasionally say ‘I want my June back’ and I would cry and sob within ‘I’m in here but I can’t get out’. As the decades rolled by, my mother (and father, and sister) lost sight of the real me, and I lost them. Oh, the pain of feeling misunderstood, alienated, rejected, by one’s own family. By the time I achieved recovery, to show them against rather strong odds, that ‘hey, I’m back! I’ve been here all the time, but this illness suppressed me and I’ve worked really hard to escape’, they did not want to know. It was too late. They had built a life without that June of long ago. The loss.
But, hey, here is Laura, a mother, believing in me, a woman in her fifties but in many ways still a child. My family did not understand me, but Laura did. Immediately. Never mind that she was 10,000 miles away. She helped instill in me, this long lost child, a sense of belonging, of being worthwhile. Laura lovingly injected a strong dose of self-belief, and with it, a sense of family.
Laura was astounded when I said I wanted to help her help families; that I wanted to help educate parents and carers in family-based and other evidence-based treatments; that I wanted to help disseminate the research findings in a way that doctors and families, and sufferers, could understand.
Laura couldn’t understand why I wanted to help families. ‘You have right to be feeling, angry and resentful,’ she said.
Laura, the answer is you: your empathy, your innate ability to see the person beyond the illness, to encapsulate feelings, and to fearlessly voice them on the world stage.
Laura, you work magic with your pen, with your talent for standing on the soapbox, tap dancing on Ed at all levels, on behalf of everyone, everywhere: sufferers, parents and siblings, medical profession, researchers.
You inspire with your unwavering passion and courage to do what has to be done to raise awareness, find answers, save relationships, save lives, save families. Create families.
You helped make all my suffering seem worthwhile. You welcomed me on board. Thank you, Laura, for helping me find my life purpose.
Laura, you get it.
PS: I felt I was meeting the Queen of England when introduced to Laura for the first time at a NEDA Conference in Minneapolis in 2010. My happiest moments include attending the inaugural F.E.A.S.T. conference in 2011, serving on the F.E.A.S.T. Board and more recently the F.E.A.S.T. Advisory Panel. It’s so good to see the AED recognizing your amazing contribution to the eating disorder field.
I would like to add my voice to the many, many voices who I’m sure will be chiming in to convey their thanks to Laura as she receives the achievement award at AED. I credit Laura with singlehandedly changing how treatment providers view, involve and support families across the world.
My daughter was diagnosed with anorexia 7 years ago. Unlike other illnesses that a child might develop, we were not provided with information on her disorder, support to figure out how to navigate treatment or any practical strategies to help us feed our daughter at home by our physician. Instead, our daughter was given a firm lecture on why she needed to eat more, handed a stack of papers with nutritional information and sent home. We were told to come back in a couple of weeks and if she continued to lose weight, they would recommend either hospitalization in a local psychiatric unit which had did not specialize in eating disorders or a residential program 2000 miles from home. We were devastated and fraught with anxiety about where to turn.
I among thousands of other parents around the world credit Laura Collins Lyster-Mensh for saving our daughter’s life. I can not imagine what would have happened had we not found her book, Eating with Your Anorexic, and the parent forum, Around the Dinner Table. Both provided us with tools that empowered us to intervene with our daughter, search for the best care available and speak up when we didn’t think things were moving in the right direction.
Later, I would have the honor of working alongside other parents to assist Laura in realizing her dream, the development of a parent run advocacy and support organization, F.E.A.S.T. Taking Laura’s example, my husband and I have become more active in attempting to improve local services in our state. I am thrilled Laura is winning this award and while this seems so trivial given the enormity of what Laura has done for my family and so many others, “thank you” Laura from the bottom of my heart.
Jennifer McFarland-Whisman, Ph.D., BCBA
I'm very happy to comment on Laura's huge influence over the last few years on me as a person and my family.
When my daughter Alice was first diagnosed with RAN, we were shocked and completely ignorant of what lay ahead of us. We were fortunate that early on I chanced across FEAST and ATDT, and through them was recommended to read Laura's book "Eating with your anorexic". It empowered and inspired me to refeed my daughter and basically feed her back to health.
Laura has been a great role model for calm consistency in the way I deal with all the ignorance surrounding eating disorders. I owe her a great deal, and think she work she (and in fact everyone connected with Feast) do, deserves huge recognition and thanks.
Laura has been a friend, an advisor, a peer and a superstar to me for over a decade. Without Laura I would certainly not have become involved in advocacy, and might even have given up on the eating disorders world and, sadly, on my daughter. Thank you Laura for all that you have done and continue to do for all of us.
When my daughter was first diagnosed with anorexia, I was overwhelmed with all the new information, the new way of life and the sad outcomes that I read about. Not to mention the awful awful thought that someone would think that I was responsible for giving my daughter this horrible illness! The earth felt a little shaky under my feet!
After desperately searching for information, I found Laura’s book, “Eating with Your Anorexic". I was still a bit overwhelmed and wondering, if it was true that I had caused her anorexia, how was I supposed to help her through it? Especially because I didn’t really know what I did wrong in the first place! Laura helped me see past that and have the courage to mother my girl during this time, as I had through all her life. She referred to the children’s book, “The Runaway Bunny”. I had the book and took it out and read it. This simple child’s story of a mother bunny’s strong love, rescuing her baby through all sorts of misadventures was just what I needed at that time!
I didn’t have to make this any harder than it already was. I could be my child’s mother with all the fierce love that I had inside of me. At a time when my mothering felt shaky and undermined, I thank you Laura for helping me be my girl’s mother, through thick and thin and to the ends of the earth and the end of anorexia.
When Laura asked me to be on the advisory board for FEAST, I could not have been more thrilled. The thought of working with someone who has been such an inspiration to me was exciting. Laura has been there for thousands of families and providers since she began her work at FEAST. She has helped support us through the difficult endeavor of recovery and learn how to navigate this complicated system. We need more people like Laura in this world to help make it be a kinder and gentler place to live.
As a former eating disorder sufferer, I have found Laura's work to be life changing and instrumental. I met her through my friend Charlotte Bevan, who very sadly passed away earlier this year. I met Laura online through Charlotte when I was "in recovery" and she has helped me stay on the right path so I can now say I am completely recovered. She is always "there" via Skype, email or Twitter to reach out and lend a hand when things are wobbly or whenever I need a question answered. She has taught me so much about the illness that I had. I am extremely grateful for all her work. She thoroughly deserves to be recognised for all that she does.
I first became aware of Laura Collins and F.E.A.S.T. when my daughter was 21 and had been alternating between all three of the major EDs for a decade. She was not living with us, and my husband and I felt helpless in the face of her extreme suffering. Reading Laura's book, Are You Eating With Your Anorexic, and participating every day on the Around The Dinner Table forum gave us the tools we needed to help steer our beloved daughter in the directions she needed to go for remission. Five years later she is relatively free of ED behaviors and relieved of much of the ED thinking, and working on comorbids. I firmly believe our daughter would not be in the healthy place she is in now if it had not been for Laura's book, F.E.A.S.T. and ATDT. Her calm compassionate confidence, coupled with excellent on-the-ground information about what COULD help, were the keys for us. Thank you forever, Laura!
Stephanie Milstein unearthed this old facebook post from Laura in response to something that Carrie Arnold posted:
My favorite anecdote about Laura is about how hard she has worked to keep FEAST really about parents and families and no sense of influence by anyone else. When we were at the Renfrew conference years ago we went out to dinner. I wanted to pay but she wouldn't let me- and I am an advisory board member and do FBT all the time. I was just trying to say thank you for all of her and FEAST's hard work, but she said no- FEAST doesn't take money from providers. I was very impressed. I did make a personal donation to FEAST later that month :)
Laura Collins Lyster-Mensh means so much to so many of us--people she knows, and most generously, people she doesn't know. We all admire and have benefited from her strength, in fighting not just for her daughter's health but for all our children's health, her persistence in looking for good treatment, her generosity in reaching out and reaching forward to make good information and support available around the world. She has not only been an advocate herself, but has inspired, taught and supported a new generation of advocates. We are deeply admiring, and deeply grateful.
Leslie Feder, F.E.A.S.T. Chair
One thing that we can say is that Laura gave many if us a place/ forum for airing our distress, anger and then a way to harness that energy and turn it into a positive force. Many parents became activists, moderators, educators and professionals.
I have told Laura this and I want you to all know it as well. My daughter has been hijacked by "ed" and hasn't been in our lives for 5 years. I truly believe that the work Laura has done via F.E.A.S.T. is helping other families get treatment that works and is helping them avoid the horrific treatment failure that my family experienced. It has been a joy being on the F.E.A.S.T. board and serving alongside this brave pioneer!"
Becky Henry, CPCC
Laura has shown amazing strength, wisdom, patience, grace, fortitude and courage throughout the years. I am proud to be one of Laura's thousands of admirers and I have deep respect and love for her. Laura deserves the Eating Disorders Academy Advocacy Award for her unfailing and unstoppable efforts to advocate that all who suffer and are affected by eating disorders. Congratulations Laura and thank you for bringing your voice and your passion to this cause!
With deep respect,
I think it is important to note that Laura has brought to the world the support so few of us family members were able to find by attending national and iternational ED meetings. We established a very special club to support each other that others were not able access.
I have enormous admiration for Laura. She was one of the first to advocate for better understanding of the cause of eating disorders and more effective treatments. While sometimes (refreshingly) provocative, her efforts have had substantial impact on changing the playing field because she is smart, dedicated, and right. I am delighted to see her get this well deserved award