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What Does Eating Disorder Recovery Even Look Like?

Hi. I’m Carolyn. I’m the editor in chief of SELF and the host of our wellness advice podcast, Checking In. In this week’s episode, we’re talking about eating disorder recovery.

Today, our listener Sara wants advice on how to heal from an eating disorder—she estimates that she’s lived with bulimia for 12 to 15 years. “But if you want to be honest about it, it’s been a lifetime of back and forth yo-yo dieting, restricting fasting, being bullied, and struggling with body image issues,” Sara tells us. And as a Black woman, she says she’s found it hard to find resources or examples of healing that speak to her, or that reflect her personal experiences. Maybe because there’s a myth surrounding who these conditions actually affect.

“As I’ve done research on my own eating disorder, I have found that there is not a lot about the healing process,” Sara says. And she says what resources and information she has found has been very generic. “It’s very frustrating,” she says. She wants people to know: Anyone can have an eating disorder. “For the record, eating disorders are not skinny white girl diseases,” she says.

New episodes of Checking In come out every Monday. Listen to this week’s episode above, and get more episodes of Checking In on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

To help Sara out, I speak with Erikka Dzirasa, M.D., M.P.H., a psychiatrist in Durham, North Carolina, who specializes in treating eating disorders. And she says that Sara is totally right: Our cultural beliefs about who has eating disorders are fundamentally flawed—and those misunderstandings can interfere with people getting the care they need. “It’s important to know that for Black people and Indigenous or other people of color, because they don’t necessarily get treatment sooner, they suffer in silence for much longer periods of time, meaning that over that time their eating disorder may actually get worse,” Dr. Dzirasa says.

In this episode, Dr. Dzirasa shares a ton of valuable information about what eating disorder recovery looks like—including the fact that there’s not a fully agreed-upon definition of “recovery” to begin with. Meanwhile, we discuss what diagnosis and treatment would look like under ideal circumstances, and she explains that eating disorders often require multiple medical practitioners to help with treatment—perhaps a nutritionist, a psychiatrist, and a general practitioner to help with the medical conditions that might arise from eating disorders. And she shares some composite examples from her own practice of how her treatment might vary to account for cultural differences from one person to the next. She also gives helpful tips about how to support a loved one with an eating disorder, or how to ask for help from your loved ones and community if you’re trying to heal from yours.

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