Birth, Babies, and Beyond

Pregnancy, birth, and parenting

Eating Disorder: What Is Recovery?

What does recovery from an eating disorder really mean?

Do people with eating disorders ever truly recover? I mean, doctors can point to patients who are maintaining an acceptable weight (thin but not too skinny) and to those who no longer binge. But what do these statistics really say about how these men and women are coping? 

In today's New York Times, Abby Ellin, author of Teenage Waistland, a memoir and investigation of fat-camps, questions the concept of recovery. In the piece, Ellin writes about Dr. Suzanne Dooley-Hash, an emergency room physician, who had suffered from anorexia since she was a teenager. The doctor is considered recovered because, for the most part, she is not starving or vomiting. But she still obsesses over food. And, when work gets stressful, she stops eating. A relapse. Or does her constant fixation on food mean that she was never really cured or never went into remission?

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

"Does it (recovery) mean ‘functional?" Dooley-Hash is quoted as saying. "I'm a physician at a really high-powered institution, and I've published in well respected journals-I'm functional. I don't think functionality is necessarily a good measure.The myriad of eating disorder studies seem to suggest that there are as many causes and nearly as many treatments as the number of people who suffer. There are teenagers who are dying (literally) to be skinner. And others who are not as concerned so much about the model-thin body but feel the urge to purge themselves or to disappear from the world. There are young boys and girls who get help right away and somehow seem to power through. And as I've written earlier, there is an increasing number of older women who are binging and starving. Some of them are relapsing, but many have been starving for decades. 

One of the problems is our cultural obsession with dieting and the valor of sticking to rigid meal plans. It's getting trickier to draw a line between someone who suffers from an eating disorder and someone who is noted for their discipline. The experts, according to the New York Times, say about a third of sufferers are chronically ill, a third die from the illness, and a third recover. The catch, as Ellin, writes is that no one really knows what recovery is.

Randi Hutter Epstein, M.D., is the author of Get Me Out: A History of Childbirth from the Garden of Eden to the Sperm Bank.

more...

Subscribe to Birth, Babies, and Beyond

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.