Last month I was interviewed by U.S. News and World Report for an article about healthy weight loss after pregnancy, in which I shared about my technique of not weighing myself as part of my 30-year recovery, and how that had helped me navigate the minefields of keeping my bulimia at bay while gaining enough weight without obsessiveness during my three successful pregnancies more than twenty years ago.
In my conversations with the reporter, Anna Miller, I shared my strong feelings about the need for the media to devote more space to the stories of long-term recovery instead of what I kept reading and hearing about in the news.
For example,any internet search on middle-aged women and eating disorders results only in stories about what a sorry lot we are. In fact, the main information that jumps out of Google on this topic is that we are suffering in greater numbers than ever before, that we are clogging treatment centers, and that the longer you have an eating disorder, the worse your prognosis. Conclusion: zero hope if you want to know if long-term recovery exists at all and that the tough slog into early recovery will have a long-term payoff.
And to make matters worse, middle-aged women are apparently mental health disasters in every category, including alcoholism, prescription drug overdoses, suicide attempts and depression, too. What in the world is there to look forward to if our attempts at happiness and health are overwhelmingly ending in such misery?
The reporter agreed with my observation, and suggested that her editors’ desire to run their annual weight loss stories around January 1st would be more powerful if they were paired with several stories about eating disorder recovery, or “weight gain.” Consequently, a groundbreaking article that I’ve never seen before at this particular time of year just went live: My Weight Gain Success Story: Five eating disorder survivors share the pain and triumph of the path to recovery.”
I would love to see this article kick off a new wave of media reports on stories of hope that people don’t just get better initially – that we get better and stay better. The biggest problem I can see in the eating disorder world, thirty years after I was one of its pioneers in bringing attention to the disorder, is that we are too focused on idolizing celebrities who come out of rehab and go on talk shows right away to breathlessly share their harrowing exploits with food.
It’s not news any longer that stars and ordinary mortal alike develop eating disorders and go to treatment centers, so let’s move on from focusing the spotlight on this vulnerable, barely-tested group. Let them settle into life and all of its post-treatment challenges before they get in front of a camera or microphone.
Unfortunately, there are so many books and media stories about short-term recovery that it has crowded out the unexciting stories of long-term recovery, but those are exactly what we need to fill in the gaps in eating disorder literature. U.S. News and World Report has done something important today by taking the emphasis off of dieting and putting it on stories of hope in this realm, including two – my own and my friend Diane Cameron – who have made it to and through midlife without relapse, and who can honestly say that our lives have only gotten richer, wider and more powerful since putting food in its proper place a long time ago. If we can do it, you can, too.
More than 25 years ago, U.S. News and World Report came to visit me at our farmette in Boring, Maryland, and report on the thousands of letters that I’d received in the months just after “My Name is Caroline” was released in 1988. Twenty-five years later, it’s rewarding to know that the scrutiny I received after my first four years of recovery has led me to this place of peace, and the knowledge that my daughter’s generation has so much more to look forward to for role models than I ever once imagined.