The Anna Westin Act vs. the Recovery Model, and why eating disorder clinicians need to take off their blinders and catch up to strengths-based, peer-support approaches used with all other severe mental illnesses

I think the fact that a recovery model of care hasn’t been applied to treating eating disorders highlights a unique prejudice found both within and without the mental health care system toward individuals who battle these conditions. I have my own opinions as to why our voices are given little heed – including that anorexia is widely perceived as a superficial obsession with thinness when in actuality it masks psychological distress far more complex, as well as many professionals’ conviction our opinions should be dismissed as the irrational notions of “malnourished, broken brains.” But this prejudice is a discussion to save for another time.

I do think it’s important to emphasize however that severe and enduring eating disorders – along with long-term substance abuse — are very misunderstood conditions. Both often have little to do with their outward manifestation, but are behaviors individuals resort to to cope with undiagnosed and complex, underlying conditions, life distress, “problems in living” (as Thomas Szasz would say), poor socio-economic circumstances and barriers, etcetera. It has always struck me as odd that much of the addiction community notes how many substance abusers  have “co-morbid” mental health conditions. This way of looking at things is somewhat misleading, in my opinion. For some individuals, the “co-morbid” mental disorder does not simply exist alongside the addiction; the mental disorder is what causes the addiction. The same can be said for most people who battle eating disorders. It’s what underlies that diagnosis that is the true “disorder.” (While I take issue with our current system of “mental disorder” labeling in general, I’ve written about that subject elsewhere on this site.)

Substance abuse and eating disorders share common ground in not only being possibly the most stigmatized and misunderstood mental disorders in the nation, but in that both conditions’ treatment have been largely hijacked by private, residential treatment centers mysteriously sanctioned as sound medical care by our government. I wonder if the eating disorder and addiction communities could reap gains by joining together to fight to eliminate stigma and obtain greater funding to establish more recovery model-oriented treatment alternatives.

I’ll end this somewhat disjointed, final post by exhorting readers to also contact their local media outlets. If Donald Trump’s bewildering domination of the Republican primary contest demonstrates anything it is this: The only people with power in America today are 1) The media, 2) Entertainers/celebrities, and 3) Big Money. Consumers, voters and even good-hearted politicians have minimal power as compared to these Big Three, if you ask me. If we want to have any hope in forcing all sectors of society to view and treat severe eating disorders through the recovery model paradigm which should have been applied to us long ago, we have to get the media and celebrities involved in our campaign. Otherwise, the eating disorder treatment conglomerates will continue to hold sway over the lives of people who are either dying or living miserably, all unnecessarily.




House of Representatives:

Theodore Deutch, FL
Zoe Lofgren, D-CA
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen R-FL
Paul Tonko, D-NY
David Young, R-IA
Leonard Lance, R-NJ
David Price, D-NC
Alcee Hastings, D-FL
Matt Cartwright, D-PA
Robert Dold, R-IL
Brendan Boyle, D-PA
Collin Peterson, D-MN
Keith Ellison, D-MN
Erik Paulson, D-MN


Amy Klobuchar, MN-D
Kelly Ayotte, R-NH
Shelley Moore Capito, R-WV
Tammy Baldwin, D-WI


*I’d like to extend a special thanks to Marsha M., the one reader from Connecticut who, over the past eight months, clicked the “donation” button on my Web site, in an effort to support my writing.


2Interview with Ira Burnim, legal director of the Bazelon Center, in August 2015.


4Touyz, S. & Hay, P. (2015). Severe and enduring anorexia (SE-AN): In search of a new paradigm. Journal of Eating Disorders, 3(26).


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