Discover the many ways others are using their voices, talents, and passions to turn suffering into creativity and hope.
References cited in GAINING
Links to websites and organizations that provide information and referrals.
These treatment facilities offer specialized programs for eating disorders, including men and women over age 21.
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
TO GAIN IS GOOD
gain (gān) – vi. 1. to make progress, improve or advance, as in health or career 2. to acquire wealth or profit 3. to increase in weight, gravity, or substance 4. to increase in speed 5. to win competitive advantage 6. to move forward in time 7. to mature or age
To gain is good. We gain confidence as we grow, status and health as we prosper, and – so we hope -- wisdom as we age. A gain of intimacy is essential for love, of toughness for survival. By definition, gaining is a source of pleasure and progress. Why, then, do so many women (and, increasingly, men) confound the meaning of this simple, satisfying word with shame and dread? Weight is the obvious culprit, but misleading since those who fear gaining the most often have the least weight to lose. It’s not really fat they fear, either, despite what they may say. It’s all those positive, powerful gains that fulfill their deeper hungers. Some tell themselves they don’t deserve a lover who can make them laugh. Others fear any promotion that involves responsibility. Still others instinctively distrust anyone who befriends them. The greatest fear, however, is that gaining will expose some shameful inner truth. It’s not about the numbers on the scale. Deep down, we all know that...
...As I met with the men and women whose stories fill these pages and we compared our oddly parallel experiences and idiosyncrasies, a funny thing happened: our lives seemed to fall into the perspective we had long been seeking. Anxieties that we’d thought shameful – terror of argument, wall-flower shyness, or fear of orgasm, to name just a few – turned out to be problems most of us shared and that had singularly unshameful, often biochemical causes. Experiences that once seemed insurmountable – parental violence, childhood molestation, deep and chronic depression – helped to explain not only who we were as individuals but why as a group we behaved in so many of the same ways. And as we connected all these dots, some of our most persistent tendencies – to manically clean each pot in the kitchen or color code our closets, to time our workout sessions to the second or lie awake berating ourselves for errors in conversation that no one else even noticed – finally began to seem absurd. When I asked Chicago homemaker Lucy Romanello, who had been anorexic for four years, how her husband felt about her ongoing compulsion to vacuum, she earnestly defended herself: “Well, I try not to clean right out from under him!” When I laughed it took her by surprise, but a moment later she saw the humor, as well as the lesson glimmering in her remark. The time had come to stop this charade of self-control. We all had so much to gain.
* * *
1. The author attempts to “connect the dots” to create a complete and understandable picture of eating disorders. What are the “dots” she refers to?
2. Did your own picture of eating disorders change after reading this book? How, and why?
3. In the introduction (p.xxvi), Dr. Joel Yager says, “Know thyself in a very profound Greek way. What is your biology? What is your calling? How are you built? Study your temperament. Be respectful of it.” This book stresses the importance of self-awareness as a key to mental health. Do you agree with this emphasis? Do you think this advice is specific to those with histories of eating disorders?
4. In Chapter 3 (p.44), the author describes being stunned to realize that perfectionism is the exception rather than the rule among high achievers. Were you surprised by the results of the study that proved this to her? What do you think the true requirements are for high achievement – for example, in school?
5. In Chapter 4 (p. 76), former nun Karen Armstrong describes the anorexia that proliferated in her convent as a form of bodily rebellion “against the religious regime we had endured.” What forces within a convent might promote eating disorders? Do you consider religion to be a contributing factor or a source of protection against these disorders?
6. In Chapter 6 (p. 127), the metaphor of a gun is used to describe how genetics, environment, and emotional experience interact to produce an eating disorder. Do you think this is an apt metaphor? Could it be used to describe other mental or physical conditions, or is it somehow unique to eating disorders?
7. Chapter 6 includes the story of a man who has struggled with anorexia nervosa. A Harvard study released after the initial publication of Gaining found that 25 percent of people with anorexia and/or bulimia are male. Does this surprise you? Why, or why not?
8. Chapters 7 and 8 discuss the roles of family dynamics and parenting in the development of eating disorders. What do you think are the most important steps a parent can take to protect their children?
9. Chapter 10 highlights the critical distinctions between compulsion and passion. What do you think are the most important distinctions? Do you think that you operate more out of compulsion, or out of passion?
10. Given what you’ve learned from this book, do you think it is possible to prevent eating disorders? If you were to become an activist in the fight against eating disorders, what are some of the specific actions you would take?