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Bostonians Changing the World

MGH’s Dr. David Herzog has brought eating disorders out in the open

The psychiatrist has helped improve women’s body images and can be partly credited with Vogue’s skinny model ban.

Dr. David Herzog.

Graham Smith

Dr. David Herzog.

IN MAY, editors of all 19 international editions of Vogue pledged to ban models who they believe suffer from eating disorders or are younger than 16. While the move won’t radically alter the glossies or end women’s struggle with their body images, it’s a step in the right direction, and Dr. David Herzog deserves part of the credit for that. The 65-year-old psychiatrist has spent a career dedicated to transforming the way we view and treat eating disorders.

Anorexia was misunderstood and bulimia was ignored when he founded the Eating Disorders Clinic at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1981. At the time, physicians and psychiatrists typically did not know how to handle patients with anorexia. In 1982, Herzog was featured in a People magazine story about bulimia, and after it appeared, desperate letters started pouring in to him.

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The initial clinic evolved into what is today the Harris Center for Education and Advocacy in Eating Disorders at MGH, with Herzog as its founder and director. (He also launched the Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy & Action in Washington, D.C., in 2000.) Herzog has become an expert in the field, one of the first to advocate treatments that combine psychotherapy with medical and nutritional monitoring. The center has been instrumental in publicizing awareness about eating disorders. Beginning in 1997, free public forums have featured healthy celebrity role models and fashion industry titans like Vogue’s Anna Wintour and designer Diane von Furstenberg discussing the media’s effects on women’s body images.     

Herzog says “breaking the silence” among families is key, as when Arianna Huffington recently spoke at a Harris Center forum about her two daughters’ eating disorders. Herzog now blogs about the topic on The Huffington Post. “I’m a doctor first in all of this,” says the Newton resident and married father of two boys. “I love what I do.”

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