Wednesday, April 27, 2011

A Letter to the Editor in response to "In Fighting Anorexia, Recovery Is Elusive"

The following is my response to the article In Fighting Anorexia, Recovery Is Elusive published by the NY Times which can be found here

I discovered an article online - entitled In Fighting Anorexia, Recovery Is Elusive on the NY Times website this morning. The contents, or rather overall tone of the article, were shocking to me. As the title implied the article had a defeatist attitude regarding those suffering from eating disorders and their journeys towards recovery. Ending on the note of one medical professional saying that she felt you would always keep your eating disorder with you.
My first thought was that this was irresponsible journalism as undoubtedly numerous sufferers of varying eating disorders would read this. What would the consequence of that be? As a sufferer of various eating disorders for many years I can tell you what that consequence would be for me if I was not in the place I am mentally at the moment or if I did not have any form of support. In fact, the article despite those aforementioned things did plant a small seedling of the following: if full recovery is not attainable then why continue treatment? Why strive for something being deemed elusive by professionals? Why set yourself up for failure?
This alone was not what prompted this letter. Something I found incredibly distressing was -- the credibility.
The article contained several quotes from various people including medical and mental health professionals, eating disorder activists, professors, and a past eating disorder survivor turned author. If all of these people are contributing to an article that diminishes hope in recovery then why should I have hope? These people know a great deal more. Wondering why they would do this, I decided to investigate further and the results were shocking.
Some journalists cultivate their ideas for stories from their findings, allowing them to form themselves. I do not believe that was the case with this article. In the course of the day I have managed to discuss the article with (or track down the thoughts of) three of the eight persons quoted as well as stumble upon a fourth's views which they posted online. NONE (zero) of those four liked the outcome of the article. I also managed to find the views of someone who was interviewed but whose comments did not make their way into the final article. They had passed along a message of hope within their interview. A few highlights of my discoveries:

Dr. Le Grange via an email correspondence, "I work  mostly with adolescents with AN and have a very optimistic outlook when it comes to recovery. In fact, our own work clearly demonstrates that the majority of adolescents fully recover. I am indeed sorry that the NYT writer put my words in a context that would reflect a more somber outlook for this disorder."

author and eating disorder survivor Aimee Liu, "Although it's not clear in the piece, I'm actually a true believer in FULL recovery...  am a little concerned, though, that readers will view this article as bad news for those in recovery.... Personally, I absolutely consider myself fully recovered." the rest of her musings can be found via Gurze (

Kathleen MacDonald, "I think it is very sad when people who are suffering share their story of NO HOPE...they are doing such an injustice to the field, to those who suffer, to those who know someone suffering, etc...and most of all, to themselves."

Johanna Kandel whom was interviewed but not included, "Although I am thrilled that they are profiling eating disorders, I am beyond disappointed and saddened with the overall tone of the article."

 Compare these highlights with the overall tone of the article. You would not think they were the same people as the views expressed in the article as a whole (including the title itself) in no way correlate with what I found. I was told by a few people that they expressly made it clear to the author the importance of hope and that full recovery IS indeed possible. By killing that hope or making the issue murky, it could possibly result in the death of some individuals with eating disorders expressly those that have not reached out for help, who are currently struggling, or people who might struggle in the future and stumble upon this article.

This article is a good example of creative liberty going too far. When the end product is a creative cut and paste project eliminating the essence of each of the interviews conducted what is left? Not the views of those interviewed or the truth, but rather the author's views - or what the author thinks will make a hot discussion piece. I can assure you one thing all of her credibility was lost in my mind and I truly think either a retraction, clarification, or second piece (perhaps written by those people whose viewpoints were skewed in this article?) should be printed.


I will also be sending a shorten (150 word) version. This is such poor journalism.

I do think it brings us back to the question that Serra posed before though... what does full recovery look like?

I think the lack of consensus fuels things like this... (not to say what the author of the article did was okay, because of that - her journalistic integrity still leaves much to be desired)

but I also think there will never be a consensus as it looks different for everyone (in my opinion)

also on a happier note:

make sure you go check out my giveaway post asking you why YOU are worth recovery (which I fully believe exists)! Click Here!


I'm so glad to see discussion around the NYT article about anorexia recovery.
For the record, I didn't like the phrasing "a bout of anorexia." And I felt the article was way too negative.
Also, I'm pretty sure I didn't say recovery entailed having "absolutely normal" relationships with food. Because who does, in this culture?
--Harriet Brown


  1. Well done you for questioning their credibility so eloquently. Having worked as a freelance writer in my past I tend to be very skeptical about the journalistic merits in pieces such as this one - this smacks of the same cynical attention grabbing sensationalism (albeit more subtly) as the piece on the 'fat' ballerina. The journalist has drummed themselves up quite a bit of exposure without being overly concerned as to the full effect that taking away hope can cause. I was very pleased to read Aimee Liu's follow up piece - as even I felt very saddened by the message conveyed by the NY times.

  2. You didn't need to withhold my name --I stand by what I said :)

  3. Awesome job with this piece. As a person in recovery or recoverING from anorexia, the article left me with lots of doubts and can be very harmful to MANY people struggling with recovery or even their eating disorder.

  4. That _NY Times_ article really depressed me. I wouldn't have thought to track down the people interviewed for their REAL views as opposed to how the journalist re-contextualized what they said. Or the people who had different views who the journalist chose not to include.

    Good work on this one. I still feel the shock and confusion of the article -- and I did have thoughts like "why bother?" and "I'll never be better than this" but I feel a bit better reading this letter. Thank you.

  5. @Sarah - that's the reason why I wanted to post this in addition to sending it in. The way shortened version may not get published and does not manage to convey it in the same way.

    I, admittedly, was at an advantage when it came to tracking down people quoted as I am connected to them through activism.... I'm also glad a couple of the people quoted (and one I did not even contact) in the article have commented on this letter.

    I think it's important for people to realize that things did get lost in translation and that hope SHOULD NOT be lost. There is hope. There is full recovery. There is life after an eating disorder - a great life full of opportunities.

  6. Abby Ellin's article on the elusive nature of recovering from anorexia is accurate but one of the true culprits impeding recovery is elusive from the article; the power of the external influences of the media that fan the flames of the anorexic's discontent and subsequent behavior. Once a certain amount of recovery has been attained, maintaining her recovery in the face of the constant pressure to be thin, is a certain recipe for relapse and a key ingredient in recidivism.

  7. I do agree that the media can play a role in how long recovery takes,also that the relapse rate for anorexia is high (possibly because of this), however, regarding the article? It's misuse of interview quotes to formulate a final product that over half of those interviewed do not agree with is wrong.

    I think the question that has been garnered from the interview - what is full recovery - is its only valid point worth taking home.

  8. SO glad you wrote this, Kat, a thorough and damn good job.

  9. I emailed the NYT to alert them that the statistic they wrote about 1/3 of people with anorexia will die from the disorder is *wrong*. The mortality rate is commonly stated as 10% although studies usually range from 5-25%. The Times editor said the writer got the figure from several sources. However, I cannot imagine this to be true!!! I am a professional in the field and have never heard that grim outlook. In fact, I have seen a multitude of studies on mortality that never get near 30%.

    It's true that about 1/3 of people with anorexia will get into substantial recovery. But that also means that 2/3 will either fully recover or partially recover. Even in those women I've worked with who have not reached a full recovery find that they improve their lives significantly, have more meaningful relationships, are able to stay present and engaged in jobs, families, and personal interests.

    I believe a full recovery is possible. I've WITNESSED IT! And I've witnessed many partial recoveries (like the woman in the article)!! I have yet to meet someone who is fully or partially recovered who isn't proud of his/her achievement and wishful that they had started their path toward recovery sooner.

  10. @Jaime - I've never heard the rate to be as high as 1/3 either - The most common figure I hear is up to 20%. Which is a lot, but not nearly 1/3. Also, if you look at NEDA, ANAD, EDC, NEDIC, and various state run health websites you will not see 1/3 anywhere.

    I think this article is extremely detrimental as it is taking some facts, creating others, and twisting more to prove a point that those quoted do not even support.

    The saddest part is that if you google the article or search on twitter you will discover that several people suffering have latched onto this as a reason to NOT fight as hard - a girl on tumblr said this solidifies her belief that she's wasting her time and doesn't have a reason to continue fighting. Yes, that is her eating disorder talking, but the article fueled that.


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