GAINING:
The Truth About Life
After Eating Disorders

Essays, Articles, & Nonfiction Works
by Aimee Liu

RESOURCES
These treatment facilities offer specialized programs for eating disorders, including men and women over age 21.
Discover the many ways others are using their voices, talents, and passions to turn suffering into creativity and hope.
Links to websites and organizations that provide information and referrals.
References cited in GAINING
Books
How do anorexia and bulimia impact life AFTER recovery? GAINING is one of the first books about eating disorders to connect the latest scientific insights to the personal truth of life before, during, and especially after anorexia and bulimia.
"I've read countless books about eating disorders, but I've never seen one like this. Combining the professional wisdom of leading experts with personal experiences from women and men all over the globe, this book fills a gap on the recovery bookshelf. Anyone who has been touched by an eating disorder needs to read this."—Jenni Schaefer, author of Life without Ed
America's first memoir of anorexia, and one of the earliest books about eating disorders, originally published in 1979

YOUR LETTERS

Artwork by reader Nicole Havekost

This page allows you to post feedback and share comments with other readers. We'll be adding new topics for discussion from time to time, so check back often!


Dear Readers:

It means the world to me to hear your stories and thoughts, and especially to hear that GAINING is as helpful to many of you as writing it was to me. While I conducted my research I found my view of myself, my body, and my mind radically, profoundly, and wonderfully changing. We are all so much more interesting and powerful than we tend to believe!

I now think of RE-COVERY in terms of REstoration + disCOVERY. In other words, an exhilarating blend of restoring someone long forgotten and discovering someone vitally new - both of them equally YOU. By this definition, recovery is a lifelong process, a source of strength, not shame.
I honor you for joining me in this remarkable journey.

- Aimee

YOUR LATEST LETTERS

Click and type in a question or comment

I SO APPRECIATE HEARING FROM ALL OF YOU. I WISH I HAD THE "MAGIC ANSWER" FOR EVERYONE. THERE IS NO SIMPLE CURE FOR THESE DISORDERS. HOWEVER, THE ONE THING I KEEP HEARING FROM THOSE WHO ARE SUFFERING IS, "I FEEL SO ALONE." YOU CAN CHANGE THAT! IF YOU HAVE TROUBLE CONNECTING TO PEOPLE, PLEASE CONSIDER ADOPTING A PET. TAKE AN ART OR WRITING OR GARDENING CLASS. CREATIVITY IS AN EXPRESSION OF LOVE, AND LOVE CAN SUPPLY THE HOPE AND CONNECTION YOU CRAVE. IT'S NOT ABOUT FOOD OR WEIGHT. IT'S ABOUT CONNECTING WITH OTHERS AND THE WORLD IN WAYS THAT TELL YOUR EATING DISORDER TO "GET LOST!" BECOME AN ACTIVIST FOR YOUR OWN SOUL. FOR AN HOUR EACH DAY, DO SOMETHING OR SPEND TIME WITH SOMEONE YOU LOVE. -- AIMEE

Thank You for your book. For many years, I have asked "now what?" and searched through piles of "recovery" books in the self help aile at the bookstore hoping for something and someone talking about life AFTER having an eating disorder. As I just discovered your work at 30 years of age I have been going through a set back and what leans toward a relapse only to realize through your guests' stories that I already had a serious relapse a mere 3 years ago without my permission and with all my denial. I hardly realized it as I was not the starving 14 year old trying to fit in anymore but a medical student in stress and without much control. My life constantly flies out of control, my control, as a physician and my eating habits somehow become so easy a target for me. I struggle with this disease to this day but much more enlightened. It seems a daily war but one that Anorexia at this point is not winning. I do get fatigued, frustrated and wish for that easy way out at times but I don't give up. I do not know at this point what keeps me going, maybe my good old stubbornness. In any case, I am still fighting and searching within myself for the answer to that question that seems ever lasting in my mind, "now what?" And most importantly, " who am I now? Who am I without my eating disorder that so strongly seemed to define me?" Your book supports me in that I am not alone in these struggles and questions. It proves to me that I am on a good road, be it my own.
Monika

Aimee,
I read your book Gaining and was so relieved that I am not alone although I knew I wasn't. Having been bulimic, anorexic and exercise anorexic as well for 25 years at 37 I am finally over it. What hurts me most is that my family and husband liked me better when I was anorexic because I was easily pushed around had no self esteem. The range of emotions you experience when you start to heal is unbearable at times because you are no longer suppressing anything through starvation. I really have no will to live I don't like my life but for some reason I have cut out the 3 hours of exercise and starvation and eat normally and workout when I feel like it. I don't know why I am even trying to get better. Something snapped and said no more but I have no support in my life. I have no one. Anorexia and all eating disorders (for me) are so isolating. The isolation is so painful. I feel like I wasted all those years stuck in the eating disorder fog and I can't seem to move on. I am tormented by missed opportunities and chances at fun and happiness. It is really hard to just forget and pretend that life was not wasted.
Thanks, April


j

May 2010 - I just began reading your book - "Gaining" and I find that I am trying to "fit" myself into one of the ladies you are writing about. I had AN 36 years ago. I am now 57 and still have issues. I eat certain food for breakfast, do not eat lunch or snacks, and dinner is large and have snacks at night before I go to bed. I now have trouble controlling the amount I eat at night. I do not sense the feeling of full or if I do sense it at times I just keep on eating. When I read your stories of people who were diagnosed in their youth and still have trouble gaining, I find myself jealous. Again I feel different than other AN's - I do not have the ability to walk away from food like I used to and I am so very tired of the battle. My life is passing by and I am miserable and so very unhappy. I have contacted the Cleveland Center of Eating Disorders this evening, but I already am feeling like I will not be able to get help from them - some type of "red tape" will cause this effort to fail. I am seeing a therapist for my depression so I am trying, but getting no where. I will continue to read your book, carry through with the Cleveland Center if that is open to me and check in with your web site. I am so tired of this controlling my life. JMD

Yes, the half-life of an eating disorder leaves you far from a full life indeed. I am a huge fan of Dr. Mark Warren and the Cleveland Center. I trust you will be in good hands. It's imperative that you work with someone who understands the linkage between anxiety,depression, and ED.

I have just found out I am about three or four months pregnant and I have only gained about ten pounds.My lower stomach gives me problems at times and I have no appetite at times. I was wondering if this is normal.

THIS DOES NOT SOUND LIKE CAUSE FOR ALARM BUT I AM NOT A DOCTOR, AND THIS IS DEFINITELY A SUBJECT YOU SHOULD DISCUSS WITH YOUR DOCTOR. I CAN TELL YOU TO TAKE EXTRA GOOD CARE OF YOURSELF AND YOUR BODY DURING YOUR PREGNANCY! AND ENJOY THE EXPERIENCE!

Dear Aimee,
I've had an ED for years (I have no idea when it started actually).
I was wondering if the reason we obsess about weight is because our fears are, in fact, real. I believe thinness is power, maybe not because of media influences but because through my own life experiences I've observed peoples reactions to me at varying weights. I'm validated by my thinness and that, to me, is addictive.
I want so badly to believe that a person can be themselves, at the healthy weight they were created. However, that just doesn't seem to be reality.
I don't obsess with small things and I'm not a perfectionist, but if I don't work out or if I've eaten I've failed myself so detestably I wonder if I'll be able to face tomorrow.
Have you really found you can truly be happy not being skinny?

THERE IS TREMENDOUS FREEDOM IN RECOVERY FROM EXACTLY THE TRAP YOU DESCRIBE. THE KEY TO RECOVERY IS TO EXPLORE AND DEVELOP ALL THE MYRIAD WAYS YOU CAN DISTINGUISH YOURSELF WHILE BEING HEALTHY AND GOOD TO YOURSELF. CREATIVE PURSUITS SUCH AS WRITING, PAINTING, BUSINESS. YES, THERE IS VALIDATION FOR BEING SKINNY IN OUR WORLD, BUT IT'S THE MOST SUPERFICIAL KIND OF VALIDATION -- TEMPORARY AND DESTRUCTIVE. TRUE SUCCESS COMES IN ALL SHAPES AND SIZES.

I just picked up a copy of your book by chance. I am 35 years old and have been bulimic since I was 13. I went from 210 lbs to 130 over the course of five months when I was transistioning from junior high to highschool. My weight finally got down to 108lbs (5 ft 4 in) and I still felt unbelievably fat. Over the years my weight has fluctuated; but I never linked it to the whole mess of other psychological problems I had. I never linked the humiliating anxiety attacks, absolute terror of commitment or any type of intimacy with the disorder.
I entered counseling a few months before finding your book. I did not even mention the bulimic episodes in counseling because in my mind I had them under control. A whole set of circumstances has forced me to examine my problems. I am so grateful that I found your book at exactly the time I did. I am hopeful that it is just in time to save my thirteen year old daughter from following my lifetime patterns by facing the entire set of problems in my life while she is still paying attention!

Thank you for turning your skills to address this subject. I cannot express my gratitude enough!

Thank you
Catherine Haskell

THANK YOU, CATHERINE, AND TO ALL OF YOU WHO WROTE BELOW. I'M SO TOUCHED BY ALL YOUR LETTERS AND THRILLED BEYOND WORDS TO HEAR HOW GAINING HAS HELPED YOU. THANK YOU FOR SHARING YOUR STORIES!!!
AIMEE


Thank you so,so much! I am giddy, euphoric and coming along in the exhilarating ride of recovery. Can't thank you enough.

Warm wishes,
Sabine

I have been a fan of your writing for a long time. I’m not only a fan of your because of your writing but also because you one of the first people who wrote of their experience with having an eating disorder. I first read your book, Solitaire, over 15 years ago after I was diagnosed with anorexia. At that time there were still many unknowns about eating disorders and very few books on the topic. So when I found your book I was excited to find I wasn’t alone.
I was thrilled when I heard you came out with a new book, Gaining, especially after finding out what it was about. Through the years I’ve had my points of recovery or what I called remission. I call it remission because eventually I would fall back into the same old patterns. I always know that it was going to be something I would have to live with for the rest of my life. It started to dawn on me that just because I met my goal weight or weight what was average for my body shape and size I still managed to fall back into the trap of ED. Though all the counselor and doctors insisted that all I had to do was bring up my weight and maintain it along with cognitive therapy everything would fall into place. I knew there was more to recovery than just gaining the weight back. Cognitive therapy is good but it doesn’t work magic. It’s something you have to practice regularly and some times that’s hard to do.

I’m 29 years old and have been struggling with an eating disorder, anorexia, for over 15 years. I have had my ups and down throughout the years with points of remission. I was raised in a single parent home by my mother, who recently passed away suddenly. She was my best friend, my life and my rock when it came to dealing with the eating disorder. Since her death I find myself quit lost. Ironically though, I haven’t lost any weight. I’ve actually gain some. How I’ve manger to do that I haven’t a clue. There are days I find myself questioning, though, why I’m even bothering to try now that my mother is gone. My mother and I always discussed sharing my story someday to help other. Now that she’s gone I would love nothing more than to do that, share my story with others.
The original purpose of my email was to ask you for some guidance with writing my own story. But I just saw on your webpage that you are looking for stories for your new book “Back to Live”. I would love to share my story. If it reaches one person I’d feel like all my struggles were worth it.
thanks Krissie

oh sorry, i forgot, my name is Raquel :)

hello Aimee:I am a 16 years old girl and im strugglin with eating disorders since the age of 13: i started with a binge ED, I gained weight and decided top lose it by starving myself... then i stopped starow iving and starting binging again, but this time i always purgued. now i´m almost recovered, but i still have to struggle a lot... i wonder: when will this end forever?

READER COMMENTS ON VARIOUS TOPICS


• FAMILY HISTORIES

The book has given me the courage to talk with family members about eating issues - I've already spoken with one of my aunts about the history on my mother's side of the family and have a call in to another aunt to discuss my father's side of the family. My mother's sister had no idea that I'd experienced eating disorders, and it was very liberating to talk about it with her.

My biggest concern now is to get truly healthy about this so that I don't warp my daughters. My oldest (8) has every one of the traits you list that predispose a girl to eating disorders, and realizing that is highly motivating to me to heal myself, for her sake.

My grandmother told me that she remembers a time in her life when she could only eat cabbage. She was hospitalized for a "nervous breakdown." They did not know what eating disorders were back then. I joke about the fact that on my mother's side of the family you are either an alcoholic or have an eating disorder.

perhaps you'll be interested in contacting me for the perspective of a person who has a lot of the triggers for anorexia (narcissistic anorexic mother, food and weight obsession, identity and differentiation issues) but has NOT become anorexic. In reading your book, I have figured out that the crucial trigger I lack (thank God) is perfectionism. The other interesting thing I'd like to share with you is the story of my grandmother, who was always weight-obsessed but did not become anorexic until her mid-80s when she broke her hip and she began to lose control of her once-independent life.

My mother was very emotionally abusive to me. At age 8 she had me sucking in my stomach. She told me no man would ever want me. She looked at me in disgust and disapproval. At age 13, away for 6 weeks or so visiting my dad in Boston, I decided I could not take her not loving me anymore and the only way she would love me is if I mirrored her thin size 4 body. So I worked out 3-4 times a day, EVERYDAY, and ate only a half a sandwhich for the entire day. That was before bulimia got me. I got the notion to try throwing up from a movie called "Kate's Secret" starring Meredeth Baxter. Instead of getting me to see how bad it was for you, I was so desperate to fit in and make my mother happy that one day after the final blow from my mother, her saying to me "you look pregnant", I went into the bathroom and made it happen. I never had a hard time standing up to my mother. I told her I hated her and I almost ran away. My dad was not around he lived in Boston, my parents were divorced when I was 5 years old. My dad has been my saving grace in a sense. He showed me unconditional love all my life and I gravitated to that and pushed my mother away. That only made her more angry. Not only did I look like my dad and nothing like her, but I loved him more. Here's the clincher, my mother is a social worker. A social worker gone wrong, you could say. In my adult years I've learned some things about my mother. She's had two nervous break downs in the past 5 years. She is now medicated and can actually talk to me like I'm a person. I can't help but think, if she had been medicated during my formative years perhaps things would have turned out differently…my mother really does fit the profile of someone with an eating disorder. However I have never been made aware of her having one. I don't think she does. she's naturally thin and has a small frame. Maybe she has one and I just don't know it. She does, however, suffer from anxiety, depression, and OCD. My father, while not suffering from anorexia or bulimia, is a compulsive over eater and a compulsive gambler. Happily I can say with the help of several support groups, therapy, and his Church my dad's been free of gambling for several years now. Gee do you think I have a genetic predisposition to an ED??


I have a cousin Colinda in Holland who is 36 (started around 20) and near death because of her Anorexia (Our Aunt who studied as a dietician has had it for 45 years (her mother’s sister) and Colinda’s sister Pauline had it as well, but recovered) Colinda has been to clinic and when she came out she went right back to her old ways. She used to be a beauty pageant contestant and now she’s lost her apartment, job and now lives with her parents burdening them with her cleaning obsessions, etc…

I grew up at the UCLA Eating Disorders Clinic. My mother worked there much of my childhood as an administrator. Dr. Yager was my mother's boss and a very close friend of our family. That being said, I spent a lot of time in that office noticing that most of the people working there were overweight, including my mother and Dr. Yager, with the exception of my mother's best friend at work, who I know must have been suffering from anorexia, even though no one actually said so. This was a strange environment to spend many of my afternoons when school was out. I remember noticing the painfully thin women waiting for their appointments and the "normal" looking ones, too. Now I understand so much more about what was going on. As an adult, I can see that my family has always had a history of eating disorders that were never actually diagnosed. Yet, I always knew something was wrong with the contradictory way in which we lived. We weren't allowed to have ice cream or Coke in the house, so when my father brought it home, we had to finish the carton before my mother came home. We were being raised on the Pritikin Program, yet my mother drank a 6 pack of coke every day at work. I remember going to friends houses just to eat bc they had "forbidden" foods like pop-tarts in the pantry and sour cream in the fridge. I was constantly teased about my mother's weight, and about my strange health food lunches from home by kids at school. Now that I have a daughter, I am trying to sort this out and live normally- every meal time brings up stressful memories.

I have never been clinically diagnosed with an eating disorder but my lowest scale weight was 90 pounds and I am a muscular 5'6" girl. My sister on the other hand battled anorexia and later bulimia for over 12 years. She was hospitalized, hooked up to feeding tubes and near death many times in her life. In college I did a paper much like your book "Gaining" all on her eating disorder, I interviewed her and wrote about my personal feelings toward her disease. What I never realized was that all these feelings and personality traits were not "normal" because I possess many if not all the same traits. Both she and I were competitive gymnasts until our later teens. Many think that this support made us sick but I personally feel that we were born with this disorder.

i had my third flair up of anorexia in my mid thirties and was thin enough that i couldn't get pregnant. i am always on the verge, even having had counseling, and would like to set a healthy example for my son. i know you were looking at
families, temperment and genetics - i wondered if you had come across any
families who also had bodybuilders? i use over-exercise and restricting to
control my weight, and my younger brother has gotten as big as a house as a
bodybuilder. he is 5' 9-10" and between 260-270 pounds and gets totally
freaked out when he weighs less that that. we have talked that it is the
reverse of what i do. i was trying to disappear, and he was trying to get
so big that my dad would have to see him. he was once in counseling, and
then when asked to give up compulsive lifting while they were working
together, he instead gave up counseling. it breaks my heart when i look at
him… his bodybuilding is all consuming. when he is getting ready for a
competition he often can't hold down a job because of all the eating,
lifting and cardio. i am certain he is sterile from the steroids, and he
has even taken things like thyroid medications without having a thyroid
condition.

My family or origin was extremely dysfunctional—emotionally and psychologically abusive; both parents were very narcissistic—and I always attributed my anorexia to that, and to the fact that we lived all over the world, moving about every three years from when I was 6 years old until I left home at 18. I still believe the lack of love and support growing up had in impact, but understand so much more after reading your book about how predisposed I was to developing an eating disorder. Both of my sisters also had disordered eating and body image issues at last contact; however, I have not seen or spoken with them or my mother for close to 20 years. My father died in 1988. I have been in therapy almost continuously since I was 18; today I go primarily for quality of life.

I am Caucasian and my husband is Vietnamese, first generation immigrant, his parents lived with us while Leslie was growing up so she had the typical Asian family foundation that education is everything and you have to be "the best of the best". Leslie has been struggling with restricting anorexia and over-exercising since she was about 17 (with all the pressures of being valedictorian at a very competitive high school.) I have always been convinced that those baby traits and toddler behaviors I noticed in my kids when they were young must have been in their genes because they stick with them forever! And for all the time I've spent studying and wondering about the origins of these obsessions in myself and my daughter, it had not occured to me that the perfectionist, rigid, oc types on both sides of my family tree had anything to do with it... now it makes so much sense! I remember everyone gasping in disbelief at a picture of my mother in her early twenties, shown at a slide show at their 50th wedding anniversary...she looked about a size 6 and I had always thought she had been a 14 all her life! Now I see that Leslie must have got a double whammy in the genes department...both parents contributing to the almost inevitable mix. So, speaking of genetics, of our three children, Leslie, the oldest, (we have two sons, three and seven years younger than her) seems to have inherited most of her personality and physical characteristics from her Dad. She is definitely a driven, hard working perfectionist who's said she wanted to be a doctor since she was three. It took me the longest time to convince her Dad that what she was doing was not healthy and was more psychological than anything else. I think he had never heard of this in Vietnam and even going to med school in this country, it wasn't something he could understand well. (By the way, I am a registered dietitian, but only practiced for a few years before taking over managing his practice and raising the kids. I am not blameless, though, and Leslie has claimed she only followed my example by wanting to eat healthy, low fat foods and stay slim as I always had modeled for her- I now stay between 120-130

I am the mother of a delightful, sweet 20 year old with bulimea. She is the daughter of a man who never finds anything that his kids do as "Good enough" All four of our children have suffered under his expectations, (which I , in retrospect, fortunately escaped through divorce. Since I wasn't good enough, he had an affair)Interestingly enough, this man is just of average IQ, 100, and is still able to make others believe they are inferior So, there you are. Personality plays a big part, no matter the IQ or profession

My father was a chief in the Navy. He was very rigid and controlling and had very high expectations of me.

• TREATMENT FAILURES/​SUCCESSES

UCONN basically declared me a lost cause since I hadn't been making any progress with their treatment, and I was no longer given access to any of their psychologists, doctors, nutritionists etc.. they pretty much jsut expected me to drop out of school to seek treatment. But thanks to the incredible faith of my Mother which I gave her no reason to have with how I was going, she let me stay in school, and she picked me up every weekend that semester (an hr and quarter drive) to come down to Fairfield county to see Dr. Mickley and a nutritionist in Greenwich and a psychologist in Westport. And with that sort of professional help, I was finally able to start moving the right direction. I stopped exercising for 2 months (although I found it impossible to just be sedentary and I went for half hour walks every day), and I finally started to gain weight...

With this path of potential recovery, I am sadly finding terribly sporadic approaches from a multitude of therapists. I am fortunate to have several relationships with adults in the psychological field, all of which appear to have a different perception of anorexia and bulimia nervosa. I found this so discouraging for two reasons. Firstly, I lost hope for effective treatment because I realized how vague an area eating disorders are. And secondly, this incertitude left a very large area for inquiry on how to go about treatment, and I found myself the one in the relationship looked to to provide answers. As I'm sure you can emphasize with the state I'm in, I am in no position to answer questions about myself, especially my disorder, objectively.

All I'm left with now is these negative comments all of my teachers put forth resonating in my head. I would gladly die right now, at least it would allot me some relief! And to top it all of, my therapist insist I eat lunch today, and she was SO indignant that I did. Of all the days, I felt lethargic and bloated..from a disgusting salad. It was actually an attempt to salvage our relationship whom yesterday told me that I was hardly thin enough to eat a little as I claim to. I had an inkling that she still dealt with an anorexic personality (she's stated she has had an eating disorder in the past the day that I met her and that I was it), but I assumed that it was just my negative perception. But that comment, among others, solidified it for me.
Maybe you can help me with a decision. I'm struggling with whether to let her go or not. I don't want to have wasted all the time I've invested with her. Yet, I've ignored the fact that we aren't compatible from day one, and now it's escalated to where we are communicating so poorly that she wants to put me in a day program..which scares me to absolutely NO end. I fear I'm in a quandary

At age 40 years, and after becoming nearly housebound with heart problems, low blood pressure, fainting attacks etc., I sought medical help. Over the past 10 months I have been consulting a wonderful psychiatrist and have managed to raise my BMI to nearly 18. My body is coming alive and I feel so much better. I am, however, apprehensive. Coming out of one's shell to 'face the world' so late in life is frightening....

I know that I have to start eating and overcome this, but I'm having problems staying focused. How did you do it, staying focused? I have looked into support groups, but where I live in Ohio there aren't any offered. My parents are very supportive of me and I sometimes feel that I have let them down, going through this again. I am seeing a psychiatrist that specializes in eating disorders and sometimes I stop and think, "Is he really helping me?" He has put me on Lexapro and Buspar and sometime I wonder if these are working.

my final therapist appointment got me to talking with my therapist and I
cried to her about how difficult it was to try to do the recovery as an
outpatient. I would cry every single night, without fail, exercise every
night without fail, hate myself every night with out fail. And this struggle
tore me apart. My mother knew this and wanted to know how far it would go
until I would need to be an inpatient. Jan ( my therapist) told her that she
would wait until I dropped under 100 pounds. At first I was thrilled. Giving
an anorexic the opportunity to freely lose 5 more pounds was like feeding an
addict their addiction. I then had a grasp of my logical side of my brain
and told her that I NEEDED in patient treatment. Her suggestion was that I
tell her how I felt about entering the inpatient treatment here at John's
Hopkins. I openly told her that I had actually been thinking about it a few
days before and I decided it would be best. SO here I am, a week and two days into my treatment so far and I can say it is the most miserable thing, but the best thing for me. The same phrase can be said about the anorexia.
I feel like being 15 is giving me such an advantage in this battle, I know
this is true. But at the same time, it gives me years more than some others
to have a slip and relapse. This process here is the re-feeding process.
The way I phrased it is that "we have trained ourselves to empower our
minds/​bodies to restrict the foods, now we have to use that same power to
re-feed ourselves." In other words, the reason we develop these disorders in
more cases is to have power, and what we need to do instead of complaining
or saying we can't, is just training the power to be used in a different way.
now I wish I could use my own advice.

I had anorexia nervosa since the age of 5 years old now Im 27 years old nad I lost the hope of recovere I tryed for to long just get worse I dont balive is possible to have a life Ed free so what u know that I dont know about recovere what is the secrete

I responded to in-patient treatment, in a then cutting-edge program that you did not mention and might not know about. At the University of Minnesota (in the mid-70's) there was a government funded double-blind study led by Elke Eckhardt MD. At the time there was no differentiation between anorexia and bulimia. The treatment I received was Behavior Modification and sounds barbaric now, but worked for me!!!! It didn't work for alot of people, but it saved my life. I was mentally forced to eat my way out of negative consequences but what worked for me was that it gave me the permission to eat and gain that I wouldn't give myself. By the time I did gain significant pounds, the mental acuity kicked in that allowed me to start to break the crazy belief system. My newly improved nutrition seemed to feed an improved cognitive functioning. And the spiral went upwards instead of down. Of course it took another 10 or more years to start to feel fairly normal about food. And then there was the 10 plus years fighting major depression. I was there in 1976, and they did a 10 year follow-up in 1985 where I went back out there for testing: Cortisol levels etc etc. Going back there set me off again, as if I had to prove that I could still "do it". But not for long. Once I got home from the institutional environment, I found my way out again. Today I live in Vermont (15 years)...not that far from Bennington; and my horses are my saviors.

I found a therapist, highly experienced through work in the field and her own personal recovery, whom I've been seeing her privately and in a group too. The group is composed of women 45 and over and breaks my bewildering isolation (I look attractive to so many women since I am very low in weight and fit an image most middle-aged women aspire to). Your book thrills me. It expresses so fluently my dilemmas and confusion. I have made great progress in the past couple of years working in therapy. Now, at last, I have real evidence that I can feel my feelings, make mistakes and be at peace with less than sublime--even be 'ordinary'.

I have to say that with being in and out of residential, iop, outpatient treatment, it was the dbt skills with meal that helped me really find recovery from anorexia.

i have been on zoloft several times in the last ten years and found it helpful. i started again right after my son was born. i have done talk therapy several times as well, and biofeedback training in grad school, which really helped a lot. i have since lost all of the tapes, but sometimes talk myself through the the one exercise i still remember. both of my therapists have been very good… even though i have been in treatment for an eating disorder, i have never really thought i had one since i have never been under 100 pounds, what i consider the threshold. guess it is just another way of pretending that you're all right.

It's very encouraging that, at least, some of the medical profession and researchers are realizing that weight gain does not equal recovery from an eating disorder.

I believe I have finally laid the groundwork and found the right therapist who will truly help me manage what seems like a chronic illness. We both realize there are deeper issues at work - that I have to learn healthier ways of coping with my anxieties. I have lived with such a horrible disconnect of WHO I AM for so many years it seems like an uphill battle trying to find what makes me happy, as opposed to what I think others believe will make me happy.

One thing I'd like to learn more about is the supports for survivors of ed. Too often, I meet people who have an eating disorder rather than someone who was able to let it go and have a successful recovery. It's hard to be hopeful sometimes. I feel like there should be groups for survivors who are not active in their illness...but tempted everyday to slip. I also feel like a sponsor program, similar to the AA 12 step notion, for individuals who are fighting the beast. The battle of recovery is extremely difficult and it would be nice to experience inspiration and guidance from someone who has been through it. I love therapy...support groups...classes...and books, but sometimes I wish there was someone I could call when I'm surfing the urge, feeling excited about a healthy choice, or attend an ispirational event. I wish there was more support that could be utiliized on "the outs"...in the real world. Women with eating disorders such as myself are surrounded by unhealthy minds, struggling and fighting minds, and the frequent flyer hospital/​treatment system... We need inspiration, admiration, and hope.

• RELAPSE TRIGGERS

After pregnancy had, I thought, cured me of eating disorders, my anorexia resurfaced shortly after Hurricane Katrina. I stopped eating when it became clear that we were going to be displaced for a while, and I lost more than ten pounds during the six weeks of our evacuation in Houston. Your book is really helping me to see that many things I thought were completely unrelated to my food issues are connected.

I recovered partially in my early 20s, but relapsed severely in my late 20s after my first relationship with a man who I loved dearly ended. I felt a failure and again very lonely. Between ages 30 and 39 years my BMI remained below 15 (kg/​m*m), and for 6 months it fell below 14. I have severe osteoporosis.

I am 34, mother of 2 girls, a successful lawyer, and currently recovering from my third or fourth bout with anorexia. Like the others, this most recent was triggered by a devastating emotional blow, in this case, a marital crises. Even now, at my age, on Lexapro, in therepy, knowing all I know, I can't get over how my very first reaction to despair is to want to lose weight.

after 30 years of drinking, I got sober this past year and guess what cropped back up - I stopped eating again. I thought when I got "over it" in college, it would never come back. Wrong. Your book helped me feel like I am not alone with this and helped me understand why it might still be something I struggle with at times of crisis. I am not in the place I was then - I seem to be able to not go that far down the scale, so to speak - but it was a bit scary to feel those things again.

I've been aware of my problems for many years and have gone through years of "feeling" recovered. But I always find my way back to my 'old habits'. It wasn't until I started reading your book that I truely understood why I came back to them. I had done really well for about 5 years until my wedding to my husband loomed and stress and control took over and the fear of getting fat and not fitting into my dress drowned me. I quickly dropped almost 20 pounds in a month. After the wedding and some help from friends and family, I gained back the 20 and moved on. 4 years later I gave birth to my son and though I felt like I hadn't turned to my old ways, I knew I wanted and had to loose the baby weight. I kept telling myself I wasn't 'anorexic' any more and couldn't be because of my son. But looking back, the habits I used to loose weight were textbook. I HAD to be the skinniest new mom, I NEEDED people to tell me "WOW, you just had a baby?" My breaking point happened about a month ago when I started counting calories...something I promised to never do again. I became obsessed and the day my husband asked if I'd done the laundry and I hadn't, I started shaking violently and screaming at myself for failing him as a housewife, failing my son, anxiety had taken over and I was smack in the middle of my demons… I've always compared my disorder to alcoholics. I'm a dietholic. As recovered alcoholics can't have a drink, I can't diet, take diet pills, or even excersise more than walking I couldn't wait for the 'eating disorder' section of health class. I took GREAT notes! The Tracy Gold story was my favorite movie. She actually physically showed me how to be anorexic. These of course were over 10 years ago and I try to stay away from books and movies that could 'train' me.

I am 37. I have been bulimic 15 years. I never had eating problems or even thought about dieting or body image in high school, or even college. However, when I began a career in TV news, I started bingeing and purging. I thought I looked fat on TV. Over the years, as I realized I could not handle the intense scrutiny of being the "TV lady" and living up to others' expectations, bulimia became my coping mechanism. I finally quit last December after hitting a wall and realizing I no longer understood who I was under the public facade.


• CONNECTION/​RECOGNITION

mentoring is my passion because my mentor literally saved my life just by NOTICING that something was wrong in my life, even though she wasn't too sure what it was. Probably not unlike your story and many others out there today, at the time I developed anorexia/​bulimia, no one I knew of had ever heard of either. But just her concern opened the door for my recovery process to begin, and that was enough. Pretty miraculous...looking back now.

I am still in somewhat of a denial phase, although I don't know why.
Reading your book is hard but it is making me look at what I am really doing
to myself. Like some of the women in your book, I have gone back to school
to get my Master's Degree in Counseling this year; my youngest daughter has
just left for college and now it is time for me. Anyways, I just wanted to
say thank you for writing this book. It takes away some of the shame I feel
for having it, and it's nice to know that I am not alone.

I have identified with so much of what I've read in your book, about identity, perfectionism, lack of spontaneity. I always knew I did this to feel in control when my life felt like it was spinning out of control, but I never saw the other pieces I'm now seeing in your book. I feel like I am connecting the dots for the first time in my life. I also watched the segment on Today this morning, and I was blown away by your last comment, about hearing from husbands about their wives with histories of eating disorders and how their wives withdraw emotionally. That has been a HUGE deal in my marriage, and I never connected it to the anorexia at all.

I have just begun your book and need to tell you that I feel I have found my family. Thank you for writing and talking about this mysterious netherworld that I have lived in for the past 30 years.

With help from your book, I have been able to be honest with my husband. He has always known I have an eating disorder, but I hid from him that it was still active. Now he knows and he was incredibly supportive and loving. I am seeing a therapist who specializes in eating disorders tomorrow. I have seen therapists before, but never been honest about the extent of my eating disorder. It feels freeing in a way to know that with this therapist I will be totally focusing on the recovery process.

It was very hard for my family to understand my bout with anorexia. They still don't get it, ten years later. My mother has the book now and has told several of her friends to get it to understand their now-high-school-aged daughters. I left all the post-its from my review in the book so she could see which parts I felt were most important. My sister went out and bought it after I told her I was doing a review. She had heard it was coming out and thought it would be useful for her to read before I even suggested it.

Story after story, I found myself exclaiming out loud "Oh my God, that is ME!" and staying up late into the night fueled by the feeling of being understood. I truly believe that your book is going to be the beginning of my TRUE healing. I am going back into therapy with the wonderful insight and self awareness that reading your words has brought me. I did not realize the behaviors and patterns of my daily life still reflect the tumultuous time I went through. My mother was anorexic at age 15, which is the exact age I became sick. And as I now begin thinking about starting me own family, I want to do as much work as I can on myself in order to prevent this from happening to my daughter or son.

it is just such a relief to tell someone some of these things and know that they know
exactly what you mean.

It is as if you walked into my head, pulled out the pieces of all my disordered, anxious and perfectionistic thoughts, and put them together into some kind of cohesive thing that can be understood.

• INSIGHT/​SELF-AWARENESS

It is nice to find someone that understands this disease. I feel like craziness isn't
acceptable in my house, so there is no point in trying to discuss why I might be having a bad day. You have probably heard this many times, but if I would just eat, there wouldn't be any problems. Any thing else that I think might contribute is just ridiculous. I think that educating myself on all aspects of this disease, and knowing that others share the same thoughts and feelings, and I am not a freak, will be my salvation.

I had zero self esteem growing up. I wanted to be invisible so I hid from kids that could have been my friends. A positive thing I got from my mom, I think anyway, is an inner strength. It may be buried under my ED, but it's there and every so often I can and do tap into it. I have no problem standing up for myself. Funny I've come a long way with confidence, college helped me escape my mother's prison. In college I blossomed and graduated, however during college I continued to binge and purge on and off

it helped me to realize that recovery is not black and white. there is no right or wrong to it, it's just accepting yourself, all of you, and coping with life in a healthy way. There are so many things that you write about that ring so true to me. Not everyone thinks the way I do? I should know that but it was helpful to hear. I was incredibly anxious as a child...I pulled out my hair starting at about age 3 or 4. I am hardwired to be anxious, but I recognize now that I can be in control of my interaction with the world. I have to exert myself and stop being passive in this world. But first, I need to figure out who I am and what I want to be...sounds so silly to hear a recently promoted associate professor of medicine say that. ..Two weeks ago I did make the decision that I need to be normal again. Just like many of the people you have written about, I know exactly when I came to that realization. My therapist was really worried that I wasn't thinking clearly and might faint because I'd been fasting. He brought me toast and tea. Not that I could eat it, but it finally dawned on me that someone thought that I might actually be worth saving. That, coupled with the warmth of our first really sunny spring day, helped me decide that I want to just be normal and be around to watch my children grow old. I need to do whatever I can to ensure that they avoid this wretched affliction despite their "hard wiring".

I can't believe that my life, my personality, my obsessions and issues are not normal! Although reading this book is very challenging to me I know it is true! I need to read it and I thank you for having this positive energy towards the disease and ultimately helping others. I have bought your book for friends with the disorder and both my parents so they too can experience what I am feeling.

I understand your freezing in front of a camera. If I had dealt with anorexia, I don't think I could have pulled it off. But as a bulimic.. well, it was just another way I lived a double life. Celebrity is such a relative thing, and they love their TV folks here. As my name and face became better known in the community, I pulled further and further into myself and away from people. You mention disconnect in your book. I am completely disconnected from who I am, what I really want, and what really makes me happy.. and I can point to my previous job for finally pushing me there….I left TV at the height of my career and a lot of people couldn't understand why. Of course, I know I left because I had reached a point where I could not live the way I was living any more. I was a screaming depressed bulimic perfectionist with anxiety issues. Now that I've left I have the space to focus on my issues - so many of which are eloquently explained in your book: perfectionism. Trying to find ways to cope with anxiety. Thinking someone else I love will make me a whole person. Never feeling like I do enough, that I'm not worth all the good things that I have earned -- I've always wondered how I actually GOT to where I am.

I have learned things about myself I NEVER KNEW..at 45 i thought i pretty much had myself figured out..I am shocked...and i really mean that...

it opens my eyes to make healthy choices based on my authenticity and values....not ED

Readers
"weigh in"
on various topics
raised in GAINING


LEARNING TO SEE THROUGH THE BLINDNESS OF EATING DISORDERS


I recently had a fascinating online discussion with one of my readers that I’d like to share with you. It energized both of us. I hope it will do the same for you!
-Aimee


From: Megan
Sent: Sunday, September 30, 2007 7:26 PM

Hi Aimee,

I have been bulimic for 18 years. While I have sought recovery a few times, the treatment programs were obviously not successful. I loved "Gaining", and I have people in my Facebook group "Bulimia - Living with It" reading it. (By the way, before you shake your head, my group is not pro- "ana or "mia", it is a group for bulimics in all stages...tips are not encouraged, only support).
There is one girl in my group who is legally blind and has never even seen Mary-Kate Olsen or Nicole Richie. It just goes to prove what I keep trying to point out - that the idea eating disorders are "caught" by other girls and celebrities and the media is a very superficial viewpoint.

*

Hi Megan,
Your group sounds quite amazing. Blind and anorexic-- Of course, it makes sense, but I've never come across the combination before.
Aimee

*
Dear Aimee,
The woman in my group who is blind yet also has an eating disorder, is so lovely and intelligent - it's hard to imagine a person who can't even see yet wants to be 'like' the accepted norm. Right now she is feeling like a failure because she wasn't able to complete the so-called "Master-cleanse" - a fasting diet that consists of a recipe of a liquid detox. It's funny and ironic to me (and to other members) that we often wish ourselves that we were blind so as never to have laid eyes on the "ideal" celebrity figure, yet here we have someone who still adheres to the so-called ideal figure/​body, and cannot even see what it really is.
- Megan
*


Dear Megan
Your mention of the “Cleanse” makes me irate! Not at you, but at the quacks who promote this dangerous idiocy. I met a beautiful woman recently who got sucked into this fraud --not only was she sick at the end of it, but she was so defensive in the classic ED ways. These fads are SO irresponsible. Think about the parallel message for cars: your beautiful Mercedes Benz will run like a dream if you just completely empty out the gas tank and force it to function for 10 days on lemon juice and syrup instead of its normal fuel. INANE!!!!!

Anyway, with all your friends, please spread the word that eating disorders are NOT about beauty. They are pantomimes. The blind connection is so fascinating, because anorexia screams at the world "I feel invisible." Or "I feel empty" or "I feel hollow."
Bulimia screams at the world "I have to get rid of the feelings you're forcing me to swallow." Or "I'm too ashamed or frightened to feel and experience all that I crave."
The "thin ideal" is just a prop, really, that the subconscious seizes as a means of getting the deeper message out: HELP, I'M LIVING OUTSIDE-IN.
- Aimee

*
Dear Aimee,
In my group, we are certainly all aware that EDs are not about beauty. That's what makes it so painful - how can we as intelligent, empathetic and mostly reasonable women have these irrational thoughts and do such destructive things? It drives me crazy (even though I know I do the same thing), how everyone seems to write with a disclaimer: I know I'm pathetic, I know it's crazy, I'm so stupid, etc. I even wrote in one discussion thread about the frequent use of the word 'pathetic'. I think every member who has ever posted has described themselves this way at some point. Everyone thinks of themselves as a less worthy, less deserving being.

There are many "pro-ana" groups on Facebook, and I've seen many of my own members join them, and I go and check them out to see what is being said. It really depresses me how much EDs have become a "fad" - girls wish they were anorexic and see out "thinspiration". I end up joining sometimes because I want to bicker with the people who are joining only to make fun of and scold and insult people with EDs. I've pointed out many times that EDs are not about weight and food, despite the perpetuation of this myth by the young and immature girls. It's just such a mess. In my own group, I've made it clear that we are not discussing the best diet pills or other "tips", but I welcome advice on keeping in the best health possible. You may disagree with this, as have others, but it irritates me to no end that medical personnel will not tell you how to keep yourself as safe as possible, so as not to encourage bulimic behaviours. Over the past 18 years (I'm 32 now), I have been told over and over again how I'm going to have teeth falling out, or strokes or heart attacks, and this did not stop me from being bulimic. In my twisted mind, the risks were worth it. I had asked many times over the years how to reduce the damage on my teeth, and I was only told "stop", there's nothing else you can do. I did not care. In my group we have a whole discussion thread devoted to keeping your teeth healthy. The way I see it, is you can get to a point where you've damaged yourself so much that it's not worth trying to get help anymore. (Who wants to live longer with nasty teeth or bone-density loss?).

The blind member who tried the "Master Cleanse" - we all said to her that we were worried because it would drive her right into heavy bingeing (you deprive yourself so much so you wind up heavily bingeing, more than usual), and she acknowledged this, but said she wanted to do anything to "give her body a break" from bingeing and purging...yet she knew that really it wasn't healthy and completely unrealistic. She spent $70 on the maple syrup alone from EBay (it's one of the ingredients) and lasted about two days before she couldn't take it anymore. And now she has posted that she's a failure, and I'm sure these feelings will be expressed in bulimia for weeks to come.

-Megan

*

Oh Megan-
YES! Keep jumping on that destructive self-talk. We live in a society that bathes us in lies, to such an extent that we are conditioned to believe them. Just remember: NO ONE can live up to a lie -- ever.
And this is NOT OUR FAULT.
The whole goal of a commercial culture is to keep us dissatisfied so we keep buying and consuming more products. Remember that the cigarette manufacturers load cigs with chemicals to make them more addictive; such tactics may be secret but they are hardly uncommon. Addiction represents multi-billion dollar profits in a host of industries, including fashion, exercise, and food.

The solution is not to starve ourselves but to get smarter about these outside pressures AND ourselves.

Aimee