Three Books That Helped Me Build A Healthier Relationship With Food
One of the best medicines, for me, has been reading. The shame of having an eating disorder tends to create a negative cycle where we further punish/reward ourselves using the very behaviors we know cause us suffering. (And then, of course, many of us are also well aware of this, and add a “second arrow” of shame by beating ourselves up for beating ourselves up.) By reading a wide range of books about and featuring this very trap, I’ve felt far less alone and ashamed. While this is by no means a definitive list of books about eating disorders – and not a substitution for professional treatments – these are the books that have, so far, helped me most. I’m sure there are so many I’ve yet to discover, so please let me know your favorites too!
Sick Enough: A Guide to the Medical Complications of Eating Disorders by Dr. Jennifer Gaudiani
This nonfiction read made me question my own excuses for why I “didn’t really have a problem,” answering so many of my questions with data resulting from Dr. Gaudiani’s decades of expertise. She makes the well sourced argument that one doesn’t need to be obviously anorexic or dramatically binging/purging in order to be physically suffering. Eating disorders often don’t look like the ones we picture; in truth, it is much more common that an eating disorder might not make a person’s body appear outwardly sick at all. I’m not usually easily absorbed by something so packed with information, but this was a surprisingly compelling read. Dr. Gaudiani lays out the myriad ways even “less extreme” caloric deprivation harms the body, and it was excellent motivation for me to consider myself “sick enough” to make a change.
“Practically no one with an eating disorder stops eating and drinking altogether; that is a popular misconception […] patients who restrict calories can have many medical problems that do not cause the blood tests to become abnormal. It turns out that nearly every patient who purely restricts – that is, does not purge – has normal labs.”
The Body Is Not An Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love by Sonya Renee Taylor
This book is as inspiring and kind as its title. I really appreciated the loving and mindful perspective Taylor comes from. I felt seen, understood, and able to believe there is a path forward to radically accepting my body. Taylor also acknowledges the aforementioned vicious cycle of blaming ourselves for disliking ourselves: We scold our bodies, and then we scold ourselves for being caught in beliefs we know aren’t serving us, and which are often directly in opposition to our morals. It’s one thing to preach body positivity; Taylor goes far beyond by delving into why self-love is often much easier said than practiced.
“Splattered before us like bugs on the windshield of life are all the ways we have shrunk the full expression of ourselves because we have been convinced that our bodies and therefore our very beings are deficient. We can also see how our inability to get out of our shame story amplifies our feelings of inadequacy.”
Thin Girls by Diana Clarke
Not only is this a really smart, funny novel, but it’s also one of the most nuanced books about eating disorders I’ve come across. Set mostly in a darkly funny treatment center, it focuses on the connection between sexuality (in this case the protagonist’s repressed queerness) with anorexia. I learned a surprising amount from this novel. Though it’s fiction, there are plenty of facts peppered throughout, such as that queer women are twice as likely to suffer from eating disorders as straight women. I also appreciated the depiction of a male anorexic character, since male eating disorders are rarely explored overtly.
“She’s an abusive lover, anorexia is. She stands next to you before the mirror, combs your hair into silk, and points at your reflection with a manicured finger. Fat, she whispers into your ear. She takes the apple you’ve picked from the bowl, presses her lips to your mouth in its place, tangles her tongue with yours. You don’t need that. She winks and drops the fruit to the floor.”