04/28/2011 08:45 pm ET Updated Jun 28, 2011

Food for Recovery Thought

A recent article in the New York Times today gives an important overview of the many different definitions of recovery from anorexia. Also, the article is sure to spark debate among ED veterans, professionals, and families about just how elusive recovery really is.

I was quoted in the piece with some of the perspective I've gained while working on my new book Restoring Our Bodies, Reclaiming Our Lives. Although it's not clear from the quotes, I'm actually a true believer in FULL recovery, both physical and psychological. I applaud Ellin for highlighting the cognitive, emotional and other psychological aspects of recovery, in addition to the gains of weight stabilization and healthy eating behavior.

She and I talked at some length about the role of the insurance industry in "restricting" the definition of recovery in order to deny coverage for extended treatment. Space constraints prevented her from examining this critical issue, but I hope the Times will pursue it in another article.

I am a little concerned, though, that readers may view this article as bad news for those in recovery. To brighten the picture, I'd just like to stress a few important points that did not make it into the piece:

  • 1. The sooner you begin treatment with a professional eating disorder specialist, and the more you yourself genuinely want to recover, the greater your chances will be for full recovery.
  • 2. No one can agree on a single timeline or pattern for recovery, because every case is different. The time it takes to recover will necessarily depend on age, physical condition, the degree of severity and duration of the illness, the quality and duration of treatment, and the strength and health of relationships and support networks -- among other factors.
  • 3. This article focuses on anorexia nervosa -- implicitly, restricting anorexia -- which has the highest level of genetic vulnerability of all the EDs, and is the most difficult to treat. That said, restricting anorexia nervosa also represents the smallest piece of the eating disorder "pie." Vastly more people wrestle with binge eating, bulimia, and EDNOS. It's unfortunate that the article did not have a broader focus, since the prognosis for full physical and psychological recovery is much more encouraging for these other eating disorders.
Personally, I absolutely consider myself fully recovered. The key for me lay in recognizing that the half-life of eating disorders -- free of food obsessions and compulsions but still mired in self-criticism and perfectionistic thinking -- is far from a full life of health. As long as I remained stuck in the half-life, I remained vulnerable to relapse. Writing my last book, "Gaining," and working with an extremely gifted therapist on my whole life's health helped me reach full recovery at last.

Fortunately, more and more ED therapists now take a much more holistic view of treatment and of health. As a result, many of the contributors to my new book also consider themselves fully recovered. I hope you will find wisdom and inspiration in their words. Recovery really is within reach.