It's alarming when you hear the stat that more than 24 million Americans are living with eating disorders — so when National Eating Disorders Awareness Week comes around, it's important to reach as many people as possible in as many ways as possible. I'm one of the many living in recovering from an ED, and in my own personal journey, one of the things that's helped me most is books. I'm hoping that sharing this list of 10 titles that hit so many different notes about what it's like to live with and recover from an ED will help those struggling — and those who just want to understand, too.
OK, turning to books during NEDA might not seem like the obvious answer, but there's so much to learn from others' stories. Reading what others have lived through can give everyone with tools they need on the path to recovery, as well as help others understand what people with EDs experience. It seems like we all know someone who has been affected — and as someone who has been through it, I know that being able to relate to others' experiences made me want to take the steps to work towards recovery when I was in denial.
So, in the spirit of the "awareness" part of NEDA, share this list, and pass it on to anyone you think it might help. Even if there's just one book on here that makes a difference, that's still significant — 'cause anyone who's been through an ED knows that anything that's a step forward on the path to recovery is a step in the right direction.
Body Outlaws: Rewriting the Rules of Beauty and Body Image by Ophira Edut
This is one of my all-time favorite anthologies on body image. Although the content isn't focused on restricted eating, it talks about many of the root causes that allow eating disorders to thrive in our society, like fat shame, body dissatisfaction, beauty standards, and media messaging. This is a great introduction to the world of body positivity, and the diversity of stories included showcase how complicated yet beautiful the journey of body love is. It's a great read for understanding the environmental factors that can contribute to eating disorders.
Goodbye ED, Hello Me by Jenni Schaefer
I read this book during the beginning of my eating disorder recovery, and found it to be uplifting. It offers a lot of practical tools for navigating recovery, and also details the recovery story of its author. This is a great book for those early on in their journeys, or who want to find some renewed hope. The main point the author makes is that recovery isn't an easy journey, but it’s a worthwhile one. It’s normal to run into roadblocks and when you do, forge ahead instead of giving up.
Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain by Portia de Rossi
This is the memoir of actress Portia de Rossi, whose story is centered on her battle with bulimia. She tells her story candidly, and even though it's rooted in Hollywood, those with everyday lives will see themselves in it, too. You'll connect with her raw emotion and admire her strength. Choose this book if you want to read a first person account of living with an eating disorder — you can hear what it's like to be in recovery, too.
Massive by Julia Bell
This young adult novel centers on a 17-year-old British girl named Carmen, whose mother thinks that being thin is the answer to all of life's problems. This rubs off on to Carmen, who develops anorexia. It's amazing to watch Carmen internalize her mother's comments, and see how they end up affecting her. If you're not suffering from an ED yourself but what to learn first-hand what it’s like to have one, this is a good pick. Heads up: this one could be a little triggering if you are struggling with an ED yourself.
Hungry: A Young Model's Story of Appetite, Ambition and the Ultimate Embrace of Curves by Crystal Renn
Another celebrity memoir, plus-size model Renn's story is different from de Rossi's in that she was thrown into the modeling industry at a young age, has anorexia and exercise bulimia, and isn't thin by conventional standards. She offers a glance into the problematic modeling industry and how it allowed her maintain an eating disorder, which isn't surprising. Still, there's a lot to learn here. This book offers a lot of detail, but is written without any prior assumption of ED knowledge. Renn's main message is that people with eating disorders come in all shapes and sizes, and you really can't judge someone’s eating habits based on her weight. If you’re like me and are an eating disorder survivor who isn’t thin, this book is a great read.
Healing Your Hungry Heart by Joanna Poppink, MFT
If you want to read a practical, how-to guide to eating disorder recovery, or learn about how you can help someone in the recovery process, this book is for you. Psychologist Joanna Poppink offers very clinical, technical information in an accessible and easy-to-read way, making this book more of a pleasure read versus a textbook. Poppink not only offers practical advice, but also covers subjects like sexuality and family relationships that are often affected by eating disorders, yet not really discussed as a part of the healing process. This book leaves you with a solid roadmap to navigate recovery with, and is also a good read for to those who want to help someone in their recovery process.
Brain Over Binge: Why I Was Bulimic, Why Conventional Therapy Didn't Work, and How I Recovered For Good by Kathryn Hansen
This book is on the controversial side, since the author suggests that traditional methods of recovery are not effective for most. Regardless, it's been helpful for many people, so it's worth inclusion on this list. This memoir details the recovery journey of bulimia sufferer Kathryn Hanson, who didn't find the "traditional" methods of ED recovery helpful. Instead, she developed her own set of rules that involve some amateur neuroscience: ostensbily finding your triggers and getting your brain to form new patterns around them, since a lot of binge behavior is related to your brains addiction to patterns. If you've tried recovery practices before that didn't do much for you or you, you aren’t alone. Alternatives work for many, and there isn’t one road to recovery.
How to Disappear Completely by Kelsey Osgood
Author Kelsey Osgood was hospitalized three times during her struggle with anorexia, and learned firsthand about the troubling world of in-patient facilities. She used her experiences to write a book that addresses many of the common myths about the disease, while also telling her own story of survival. This memoir shows that the stereotypes we as a society hold about eating disorders are not only wrong, but also dangerous. Pick up this one if you’re in recovery, and also if you want to learn firsthand what hospitalized recovery is like.
Food to Eat: Guided, Hopeful, and Trusted Recipes for Eating Disorder Recovery by Lori Lieberman and Cate Sangster
I find a lot of joy and relaxation in cooking, but often find the process to be difficult because of the present triggers. I’ve noticed that there aren’t a lot of resources about food for those in recovery, and was delighted to find this cookbook written by a dietician and an eating disorder survivor. In the preface, The authors acknowledge how food can often be an awkward subject for family and friends of those in recovery and encourage loved ones to use food as a starting point to discuss this topic. I agree — and that's why I found this book to be refreshing. It offers advice on how to get past your ED voice and learn to appreciate food for its nourishment.
The Eating Disorders Sourcebook: A Comprehensive Guide to the Causes, Treatments, and Prevention of Eating Disorders by Carolyn Costin
If you have an eating disorder, or want to understand and help someone who is, this is a great reference book to use. This book covers everything from learning how to identify an eating disorder, to comparing treatment options, to how to support a loved one in her recovery journey. The main takeaway with this book is that treatment is not enough — it’s how you live day-to-day that really matters when it comes to recovery.