The Body Image and Related Disorders Conference (BIRD)

6th December 2019 | Author: Bianca Skilbeck



I got an email advertising a conference I might be interested in; the Body Image and Related Disorders Conference (BIRD) which was to be held in my home town of Melbourne, at Swinburne University.



Now, anyone who knows me, knows that I am a sucker for a good conference. Especially when there is an opportunity for learning and networking, and especially when it is on one my favourite topics; eating disorder treatment and research.


So, I got this email and despite my excitement as I read the program, I didn’t dive in straight away. I have definitely (even in the not so distant past) found myself guilty of overcommitting to what I actually have the time, energy and money for and, as a small business owner, I’ve come to realise that saying yes to every new shiny object is not the best use of my time. Nonetheless, this sounded like a good one.


I asked my supervisor who specialises in eating disorder treatment about her thoughts, figuring that she probably went last year. I wasn’t wrong, she was there. She said that she had found the conference to be quite academic, with a heavy leaning towards research, and less about actual clinical practice; not her cup of tea, given that she’s been in clinical practice for over 20 years and is busy these days running her business.


Fair enough. Nonetheless, I decided to give it a shot. I’m coming to the end of my Psychology degree and let’s face it; all of the research and academia is relevant for me as I approach going in to an Honours and a Masters program. So I bought a ticket and let’s just say, I wasn’t sorry that I did.


Here is what I learned on the day......



The key note speaker for the day was Professor Tracey Wade, Professor of Psychology, who spoke in detail about the role of perfectionism in the development and maintenance of eating disorders.

Tracey made the illuminating distinction between perfectionism and ‘high standards’.

She explained that whilst pursuing excellence is not an issue, perfectionism, which is more related to self-judgement or self-criticism, is what proves harmful and contributes to disordered thinking regarding food, body and weight. Tracey explained how we can help our clients to delineate between ‘perfectionist thinking’ and ‘striving for excellence thinking’, so as striving to do a great job doesn’t have to equal a value judgement about the self.


This was such an interesting distinction that I hadn’t really thought of like that before, and definitely something that stuck with me from the day.


Next we heard from Dr. Siân McLean who spoke about the relationship between adolescents and social media and the impacts on body image. Then we heard from Professor Zali Yager from ‘Body Confident Mums’ who explored ways of working to support a healthy body image amongst mothers.


Dr. Isabel Krug spoke at length about criteria for eating disorders in the upcoming DSM-6, in specific regard to purging disorder. I was lucky to be sitting next to Dr. Krug for part of the morning session, so she and I were able to have an extended conversation about some of my clinical experience and observations regarding purging and bulimic disorders. The morning session ended with Dr. Laura Hart who spoke about collaboration in eating disorder research, outlining the Delphi method; a method which genuinely made me feel excited about the future for research! This is a lucky thing, seeing as it’s going to be my world for a good few years to come.

After the break we heard from Dr. Tetyana Rocks who spoke about the gut microbiome in nutritional rehabilitation in anorexia nervosa

A fascinating and developing research area. Dr Jennifer Bibb talked us though the ways that she uses music therapy in the treatment of anorexia. Then in a talk which probably garnered the most questions and conversations of the day; Dr Douglas Blomeley spoke about a topic which I have given quite a bit of thought to lately; the common traits observed between muscle dysmorphia and anorexia nervosa, and the gendered natures of the two disorders.

In the last session, Dr. Gemma Sharp spoke about body image and the role of popular social media platform, Snapchat.

Amy Malcolm helped us to understand some of the differences between body dysmorphic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Dr. Francesca Beilharz spoke about her research on a visual training program and body dysmorphic disorder and Toni Pikoos talked about the importance of assessment for clients who are undergoing cosmetic surgery procedures.


Professor David Castle, Chair, Department of Psychiatry, St Vincent’s Hospital and The University of Melbourne was our charismatic and entertaining opening address and Dr. Suzy Redston, Department of Mental Health, Austin Health provided the closing address.



All of the presentations were brilliant; I’m not sure if you counted, but yes, all 12 of them in just one day!


Needless to say, my brain was full and exploding by the end of the day; but so was my heart.


I’d heard so much quality information through the day, but more than that, I’d had so many engaging, affirming and encouraging conversations with other eating disorder professionals. I’ve been self-employed now for over six years and studying part time for all of that. It’s not always the most social lifestyle, as you might imagine. So to be in a room full of people who are interested in the same things I am interested in and to just be a part of it, was really exciting for me.


One of my favourite aspects of the day was the diversity in the room. In what was around 175 delegates, the room was full of everyone from psychiatrists, psychologists and academics, to counsellors, dietitians and other kinds of therapists. In the room there were people who experienced disordered eating themselves and people who cared for someone who did. There were many voices in the room and a genuine feeling of collaboration and coming together to explore options in a way that respected a diverse range of knowledge and experience.


Oh, and I bet you’re wondering what the food is like at an eating disorder conference?


Rest assured, our morning tea, lunch and afternoon were as delicious as I would have hoped and even came with as many real, barista made coffees as we could drink.


I won’t say it was perfect, BUT, what I will say that is that the whole day provided and met a high standard, and I very much look forward to next year’s conference.

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