A true pioneer in the eating disorders field, Carolyn Costin generously shared her story so you can have hope.
Please enjoy her revised chapter which will soon be in the Revised Second Edition of my book, Just Tell Her To Stop: Family Stories of Eating Disorders.
Carolyn Costin’s Story
Being Recovered Is Possible
Interviewing Carolyn and writing her story gave me so much hope for all who are in recovery, and for their families. I found a great deal of encouragement in her story, and wish that you, too, can know that—for many people, complete recovery is indeed truly possible. Everyone has his or her own definition of complete recovery.
Carolyn embodies the kind of hope that all who are affected by eating disorders can look to for hope and inspiration. She recovered from her own disorder over 40 years ago, and had a successful private practice as an eating disorder therapist.
Carolyn is a firm believer that being completely recovered is possible, and it is a message she believes everyone needs to hear: “You can be ‘recovered’ where the eating disorder is truly gone, a thing of the past that you are not dealing with one day at a time. When recovered, you not only have the absence of symptoms, but you have gained healthy ways to resolve problems or meet needs that you once used eating disorder behaviors to cope with or express.”
Carolyn Costin, MFT, who recovered from anorexia, has specialized in the treatment of eating disorders and exercise addiction since 1977.
In the early 1980s, Carolyn established The Eating Disorder Center of California, which provided outpatient services in several locations throughout Southern California. Carolyn also served as clinical director for three inpatient eating-disorder hospital units. In 1996, Carolyn’s dream of opening the first residential treatment center in California came true when she founded Monte Nido, which grew into a group of world-renown treatment centers nationwide.
Carolyn pioneered the idea that people with eating disorders can be fully recovered, and she openly hired and trained other recovered staff members, which both she and her patients attribute as a huge part of Monte Nido’s success.
After selling Monte Nido in 2015, Carolyn founded The Carolyn Costin Institute (CCI) where she continues to provide both live and on-line education and training for professionals on the treatment of eating disorders. Her lectures and workshops range from presentations at national and international conferences, to local community organizations, schools, and week-long retreats for professionals.
Through CCI, Carolyn also trains and certifies Eating Disorder Coaches to work with clients in a variety of settings as an adjunct to traditional treatment. Although Carolyn trained and used coaches throughout her career, eating disorder coaching has not become mainstream in the treatment community. Carolyn believes this is partly due to the lack of rigorous training and certification programs available for coaches to get the proper skills necessary for the job. Carolyn created a 12-module sophisticated training program which includes a supervised internship. Many of the coaching students who apply have a personal history of an eating disorder, but must be two years fully recovered to be accepted into the program, where there is a special track to help them specifically know how to best use their own recovery and avoid common pitfalls. Carolyn believes coaching will become a normal part of conventional treatment.
Carolyn has written six books and a short manuscript on nutritional approaches that are popular with both professionals and the lay public:
- 8 Keys to Recovery From an Eating Disorder, (with Gwen Grabb co author 2011)
- 8 Keys to Recovery Workbook (with Gwen Grabb co author 2017)
- Yoga and Eating Disorders: Ancient Healing for a Modern Illness (with Joe Kelly 2016)
- Your Dieting Daughter; 2nd edition (2006)
- The Eating Disorder SourceBook, 3rd edition; (2006)
- 100 Questions and Answers about Eating Disorders (2007); and
- Anorexia and Bulimia, A Nutritional Approach (with co-author Alexander Schauss 1997)
Through her own recovery, enthusiasm, and expertise, Carolyn offers hope that becoming fully recovered from an eating disorder is possible.
Driving up to Beverly Hills from Simi Valley in the early 1960s with my mom and two siblings was always a bit surreal. We were heading toward my dad and stepmother’s mansion in Beverly Hills for our weekend visit, a huge change from the home my mother’s teacher’s salary afforded.
We were originally from Texas, and our dad was always dressed in a cowboy hat and boots that elevated his already 6’5” frame about seven inches taller. He was quite a commanding figure, and we looked up to him. Living in the California foothills, my brother, sister and I spent time running around outside, riding horses, and playing tag. We were innocent and unaffected by all that was changing in the world. Fashion and body image were unknown concepts to us.
Our lives were normal until my dad left for London to produce a western play. While there he fell in love with a fashion model. When he and the model returned to the U.S., he divorced my mother—and our lives were changed forever.
The message I received was pretty clear. My dad dumped my mom for this young stick-figure woman, who was a friend of “Twiggy,” the infamous model who set the weight bar for women in the late ’60s.
My experience epitomizes what females in America were beginning to go through. We left the innocence and “norm” of the ’50s for this new way of thinking: women needed to look like shadows of their former selves to be accepted as sexy and worthwhile. Not only was Twiggy popular with all my friends and me, I saw firsthand my dad choose a fashion model over my mom, and that sent an absolutely clear message of what was important and valued in terms of being a woman.
Our lives began changing as fast as our growing bodies—all of this happening during the time when the world was being impacted by the hippie movement. Moving from Texas to the wild and free craziness of Southern California in the early ’60s was a cultural change for all of us. There were so many changes all at once, including going from being a 12-year-old living with both of my parents to living part-time with my mom in Simi Valley and spending time with my dad and my now model stepmother in their rented Beverly Hills home.
Years later, after recovering from the eating disorder that inhabited me for seven years, I remembered a significant incident from that time. It occurred after my dad and stepmother married. My siblings and I were at their Beverly Hills mansion for our regular visit. I walked into the large white master bedroom and saw a closet with big, mirrored sliding doors, filled with my stepmother’s many clothes and interesting full-length coats, including mink and cheetah.
I saw the most beautiful pink mini-dress ever, and couldn’t resist trying it on. This was the height of the ’60s, mini-dresses were all the rage, and I was just becoming interested in fashion.
When I tried it on I couldn’t believe that it did not fit my now 13-year-old body. I was so embarrassed looking in the mirror, I made a vow right then that someday I would fit into that dress. For years I had forgotten this incident; remembering it was an eye opener into a part of my past, a piece of the jigsaw puzzle that contributed to my developing an eating disorder.
Two years passed after I tried on the mini-dress before I developed an eating disorder. Neither the pink mini-dress nor my model stepmother caused my eating disorder. As an eating disorder expert, I now know that my genetic predisposition, anxious temperament, perfectionist personality, dieting with all my friends, cultural pressure to be thin, and underlying psychological issues all contributed to my eating disorder.
As the teen body is growing and changing, it is challenging to maintain a sense of self-esteem. The unintentional damaging messages from the media seep into our delicate psyches, and plant seeds that can bloom into life-destroying disorders. I received the clear message: Thinness is beauty. If you are not thin, you are not special.
By the time I was 15, I had lost 45 pounds. The details of how I suffered with anorexia nervosa aren’t what is important here; what is important is what helped me to completely recover.
I remember feeling like there were two parts of me: the real, healthy self, and this other part that had taken over, the eating-disorder self. Eventually, I realized it’s not about telling the eating-disorder self that it’s bad and has to go, it’s about permanently strengthening the healthy part of the self so the eating-disorder self is no longer needed. It is a person’s healthy self that heals the eating-disorder self. This is not a quick fix but a slow process, just like developing an eating disorder is a slow process.
You don’t wake up one day with an eating disorder, and you don’t get rid of it that way either.
When I am asked how I recovered or what is the most important thing for recovery, the answer is a difficult one in some ways. The real answer to this question is found in my book, 8 Keys to Recovery From an Eating Disorder, because in it I discuss what I believe are the most important key elements to becoming recovered. Personally though, there are a few things in my situation that I think really helped me get better. One thing was that I never battled with my parents. They truly tried hard to understand what was going on in my mind, and I think this helped us not get into fights about my illness and behaviors. Having understanding parents who listened and talked helped me feel like they weren’t trying to take control. This helped me to be honest about what was going on with me.
Control is a word that always comes up with people who have eating disorders. There are many aspects to this, but one thing to note is that collaboration is important in the treatment, not just externally focused or forced change. Behavior change that is forced by outside control will only be maintained while the controlling force is maintained. Unless there is an internal shift, the person will go back to the behaviors because the eating-disorder self will just regain control.
Another interesting thing that helped was…