February is Eating Disorder Awareness Month, when we all make an effort to improve our understanding of the disorders that affect around 8 million people in the U.S. Eating disorders range from anorexia to bulimia to binge eating, and are surrounded by stigma and misconceptions that can be very damaging for those who suffer. And what better way to educate ourselves than reading a book on the topic?
It’s important to remember that not everybody will experience an eating disorder the same way. These are only eight examples — and eating disorders can take many forms, and affect people of all ages, sizes, and genders. So these books will never feel perfectly accurate to everybody — but many bloggers and reviewers with eating disorders of their own have mentioned finding comfort in these particular eight books.
So if you’re struggling to understand what a loved one is going through, or if you’re seeking the reassurance of seeing yourself reflected on the page, then these books might just offer you a glimmer of hope (but do consider first whether you will find these portrayals triggering). If you think you’re up for it, these accurate depictions of eating disorders might help clear some things up for you, or even help you make sense of your own emotions.
1. Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
YA novel Wintergirls tackles the issue of competitive eating disorders, a particularly dangerous kind of peer pressure. As the book begins, Lia's best friend Cassie, who suffered from bulimia, has been found dead — and Lia is left to battle her anorexia with the added guilt of her friend's death. Halse Anderson explores in fascinating detail the different way Lia sees food and her body from those who don't have her disorder.
2. Elena Vanishing by Elena and Clare B. Dunkle
Elena Vanishing was written by a mother-and-daughter team as their way of coping with the daughter's anorexia. It's told entirely from Elena's perspective over a five-year period, and with the help of her award-winning author mother Clare, she gives an intimate glimpse into the anxiety that plagues her.
3. Just Listen by Sarah Dessen
This one is told from the perspective of the sister of someone with an eating disorder. It's an honest look at how difficult it can be to understand what your loved ones are going through — and the damaging effects an eating disorder can have on the whole family.
4. Identical by Ellen Hopkins
Identical by Ellen Hopkins is a pretty gruelling book, to be honest. It tackles a whole range of issues, from sexual abuse to self-harm — and the protagonist's eating disorder is just one part of her mental health struggle, wrapped up in her Dissociative Identity Disorder. Eating disorders can exist on their own, but books like Identical help point out what other symptoms to look for — in case the ED is part of a wider problem.
5. Skinny by Ibi Kaslik
Skinny alternates between the perspectives of two sisters, one of whom, Giselle, is battling anorexia. When the novel brings you inside Giselle's head, it provides a haunting insight into the mental battles that can grip people with this disorder.
6. Stick Figure by Lori Gottlieb
Lori Gottlieb's memoir examines how big an influence culture can have on a person's relationship with their body. For Gottlieb, the culture she absorbed growing up in Beverly Hills in the '70s left her hospitalized with an eating disorder. Gottlieb's diary is honest and funny; while her eating disorder was debilitating, she doesn't allow it to take away her personality or sense of humor.
7. Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi
Proof that fame, fortune and fans can't protect you against mental health disorders, Portia de Rossi battled anorexia as her Hollywood career soared. A perfect read for those feeling overcome by an eating disorder of their own, de Rossi's memoir is full of optimism and hope.
8. Pointe by Brandy Colbert
Theo is recovering from anorexia, and her life is almost back on track — until a friend from the past stirs up traumatic secrets that Theo has been keeping buried. Brandy Colbert expertly weaves together themes of mental illness, disordered eating, and relationships with the story of a young black girl, who is a minority in the dancing world of which she's so passionate to be a part. The complexity of how they all tie together is fascinating and enlightening.
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