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Changing Guard at F.E.A.S.T. HQ

Important News Flash! There is a changing of the guard in the leadership at F.E.A.S.T.

After serving F.E.A.S.T. for many years, Leah Dean(Executive Director) and Lisa La Borde (Outreach Director) will pass the baton to a new team. Both Leah and Lisa will continue to play roles for F.E.A.S.T. as valued and experienced Board members, but both are able to take a well-earned breather from day to day management after all their sterling efforts to date (see more below). They are owed a huge debt of gratitude by everyone who has had any dealings with F.E.A.S.T., in whatever capacity, these last few years. Thank you, to both of you, for all that you have managed so competently, courageously and courteously!

Lisa and Leah

Leah and Lisa have been a perfect “double act”, and Leah has also been generously offering her time, as support and safety net, while a new duo step up to the plate together next month.

From November 1, Belinda Caldwell will step into the Executive Director role as F.E.A.S.T begins this next transition,and Erica Husain (as chair) will help to shape and carry out the Outreach Director role to support the work of the Executive Director.

But more on that will follow.

For those of you who would like to know more about where we are now and how we have got here…


A Bit of History

It has been eight years since F.E.A.S.T. was founded as response to the parlous state of treatment that was commonly found at that time, and the added insult that parents and families were, by and large, treated with suspicion and required to “disengage”.


F.E.A.S.T. emerged onto the eating disorders scene with some challenging Position Statements, one of the most controversial perhaps at the time that: “Parents Do Not Cause Eating Disorders”! Thankfully we have moved swiftly onward from there, to the extent that some may even wonder as they arrive at F.E.A.S.T.’s welcome mat today why that statement was ever a priority.

Foundations – a first Executive Director  

For all of these beginnings, we have to thank Laura (Collins) Lyster-Mensh; the parent of a child who felt the insult keenly as her daughter was offered suboptimal treatment and her family assigned its only role – to sit in the waiting room, fit to cut a cheque, and fetch and carry, but to play no other active role in treatment.  The situation seemed to require more urgency to this particular parent, so …

Laura took the initiative to gather information, her dignity and the support of other parents and, from her kitchen table, founded an organisation aimed at empowering all parents who found themselves in similar circumstances. Empowered in understanding; in having a voice; in having a role in treatment; in helping each other and, importantly, in shaping the understanding and the development of what was (and is) to come in eating disorder understanding and treatment.

Early Days

Laura served as Executive Director of F.E.A.S.T. from 2009 until the end of 2012. In that time, she oversaw the growth of the online peer-to-peer supporting forum – Around The Dinner Table; six Position Statements; the establishment of a group of professional advisors and supporters; a recipe book; a “Magic Plate” drive; a F.E.A.S.T. award for parent advocacy; regional and other task forces (including Australia, New Zealand, UK and Canada); two US based F.E.A.S.T. conferences and one in the UK; collaborations with the AED to publish and distribute first line medical advice; the first of the F.E.A.S.T. Family Guide series of booklets; management of countless volunteers and media outlets behind the scenes; a series of taped interviews of families published on the website; the first F.E.A.S.T. blog; a campaign or two; a new website, the publication of various articles of interest, and a membership that rose from 0 to more than 2,000 individual members from 41 different countries over the period of her tenure. In addition she has been a voice on the phone, online, in person at various events across the globe – from Sydney to Salzburg, from London to New York and Washington, and plenty of places in between. She has given more than one keynote address; and she has guided and answered to several rotations of Directors of the F.E.A.S.T. Board, who run the 501(c)3 not-for-profit organisation that is F.E.A.S.T.. She was also the recipient of the 2014 Meehan-Hartley Award for Public Service and/or Advocacy from the Academy for Eating Disorders (AED).

Building on Foundations

By the end of 2012 Laura was, understandably, ready to pass on the baton, and did so to the current Executive Director, Leah Dean– architect by training, mother by vocation, eating disorder caregiver by necessity, and the person most qualified (and fortunately also willing!) to take responsibility for how F.E.A.S.T. might best fulfill its mission for the coming years, starting January 2013.

Leah has created a committee structure for the volunteers to work within; managed a major fund drive; written several guest articles and blogs; seen an Israeli task force join the band of already existing regional task forces, and has helped to oversee the 2014 appointment of Lisa LaBorde inthe new supporting role of Outreach Director. She is also co-chair of the AED Patient-Carer Committee, and a member of the AED conference organising committee for the internationally important ICED conference in Prague 2017.Leah had already been responsible for managing much of the database and communications for F.E.A.S.T., as well as the re-design of the 200+ page website, before she stepped into office. She is an extraordinary administrator and quickly brought all of the backend work up to speed with the work that was leading from the front. She has continued to oversee the mainstays of the F.E.A.S.T. programme – the online forum, three new F.E.A.S.T. Family Guides, a new blog, a third F.E.A.S.T. US conference, but has also added much that is new.

She has also overseen F.E.A.S.T.’s involvement in the pioneering of genetic research into eating disorders. As the ANGI initiative, looking to find genetic data to support the biological research that will inform understanding and tailored treatments for the future, was joined by the AN25K challenge, F.E.A.S.T. worked in international collaboration with the UK charity Beat, Kings College London and the Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to support the creation of Charlotte’s Helix, and allow the UK to contribute to this important global and collaborative research initiative. Charlotte was a F.E.A.S.T. family advocate – a board member, a friend to many Around the Dinner Table and beyond, and it was in her name and in her nation that this charitable endeavour was set up, with the direct support of her “F.E.A.S.T. family”.

Increasing the Outreach

On the Outreach desk, Lisa LaBorde has managed the necessary for F.E.A.S.T. joining two MOM marches on Washington, and planning a Lunch and Learn, hosted by Leah, while there; strengthened social media engagement – becoming involved in the Twitter-sphere, contributing to numerous Tweet chats and livestream webinars, and adding a F.E.A.S.T. closed Facebook group as adjunct to the F.E.A.S.T. FB page and the Around the Dinner Table Online Forum. She has been responsible for building new relationships with numerous other advocacy organisations and adding to our band of professional advisers, and created a “Five Questions” series of interviews on the “Let’sF.E.A.S.T.” blog which has included multiple stakeholders.

Under Leah and Lisa’s leadership, membership numbers have moved from 2,300 in January 2013 to more than 7,000 members today.

Leah and Lisa have represented F.E.A.S.T. individually and together at numerous events, helping to raise F.E.A.S.T.’s profile with a wide audience. Perhaps the icing on the cake of their term in office has been the collaboration with a coalition of eating disorder organisations to reinforce the messages of the “Nine Truths about Eating Disorders”, published in 2015 (and now in multiple languages), featured on our home page, and widely publicised. The Nine Truths draw from and amplify the messages from the Position and Mission Statements and F.E.A.S.T. principles where F.E.A.S.T. first found its voice. This collaboration, perhaps more than any other, cements that F.E.A.S.T. has entered the mainstream and that others are listening to and taking confidence from what F.E.A.S.T. has always believed to be true: not only do parents not cause eating disorders, but they can also be one of the most powerful agents in helping to support effective treatment, and change!

Here and Now!

Families Empowered And Supporting Treatment of eating disorders, is what F.E.A.S.T. stands for. I know that there are many reading who will want to join me in thanking all those responsible for raising F.E.A.S.T. Each has built on the foundations that were given them, and we are eager to continue to do more. F.E.A.S.T. relies on its members and other supporters for all of its resources – willing hands, specialist expertise, financial – all are used in helping families become empowered as important stakeholders in appropriate and successful eating disorder treatment wherever they may be. Please stay engaged, and keep in touch!


Erica Husain (Chair, F.E.A.S.T. Board of Directors)

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