The Truth About Life
After Eating Disorders

Essays, Articles, & Nonfiction Works
by Aimee Liu

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
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



February 4, 2008

I’ve been so impressed by the early entries to the “Give Eating Disorders a New Name” contest that I’m hosting at
I’d like to share them with you. These suggestions really speak to the true experience of this unique body-mind relationship.

The entrants have given me permission to post their ideas and comments so that we can inspire others in coming weeks to send their ideas to

Take a look and put on your thinking caps! The contest will continue until February 26. I am now gathering a group of eating disorders experts to help me pick the winners.

I really think there are terrific insights in these suggestions and comments. Read on:

From Julia Temple-Mcneill:
• “S.E.A.S.” self evaluated anxiety syndrome
I have had an ED for 27 years and it leaves me washed
out like the sea can. Also, we make our own
evaluation of our worthlessness, nobody makes us hold
onto these feeling. In the air of hope, the tides can
always change, perhaps washing IN healing.

From Tricia Kuchan:
• Genetic identity syndrome.
I understand that research is finally proving that genetics play a part in this devastating illness. I have been fighting for years for freedom and a life. I lacked an identity my whole childhood and it traveled with me until I found an eating disorder to claim who I finally was. It has taken a lot of hard work to
discover who I am and I am only just beginning.

We need people to understand that an eating disorder is not about food but about a destructive fight in our minds. It is hard to fight for recovery when we don't even know who we are fighting for.

It is a catch 22 because having an eating disorder is finally having an identity. Giving it up is the scariest thing because we feel like we are going back into that void of being nothing again. I truly believe the only way out of the disorder is slowly finding things that give us an identity outside of our disorder. Only then can we begin to let go of our devastating illness that in the end was never really our fault because we were genetically predisposed to this life of hell.

From Dana Leigh Tidwell :
• “Inappropriate coping syndrome.”
I hate being lumped into that category of an “eating disordered person”. Not only is it it I had for a repnaccurate, it is not placing the importance on emotions. It is not about the actual eating, it is about what is going on behind the fact we feel compelled to act out.

From Kate Semmens:
• “Dissociative syndrome” (the mind and body are dissociated from one another)
• “Maladaptive coping syndrome”
• “Deprivation addiction”
I am a soon to be 24 year old woman who has struggled with anorexia and related problems since 2002. I am now finishing my last semester in graduate school (masters) and will probably go on to get my doctorate, but I find that my eating disorder is both a coping mechanism and a hindrance that holds me back from achieving many things. There is much of my life I wish to change...

For instance, I have, in my own terms, money anorexia, where I have an extremely difficult time spending money on myself, accepting gifts from others, etc. I will go to the grocery store and even if I can convince myself to get a certain item my other side argues that it is too expensive. I also do not buy myself clothes, never go out to movies, restaurants, etc because it costs money and I do not feel I am worth the expense. I used to love riding horses but because it is a very expensive sport I have stopped. This also presents a problem in getting help and seeking out treatment, for my ED mind argues it is much too expensive and I will probably relapse and it'll be a waste. One cannot function in this world without spending money on themselves, so I know I must get over this.

Also, I've noticed that although I've managed to suppress most emotions, guilt and shame have not gone away and are huge issues in my life presently, almost to the point of paralyzing me. I know they are irrational but they are so overpowering at times.

From Marilyn Mandel:
• "Nourishing Syndrome"
• "Sustenance Deprivation"
• "Sustenance Support"
• "Feast/Famine Crisis"
• "Feast or Famine Defense"
• "Nurturing Reception"

From Laura Collins:
• "Not-eating disorders"
AN, BN, and BED share a common quality: erratic and restrictive eating patterns. I think that's a useful connection.
Beyond that, the real question is what category to put these illnesses: anxiety disorders, personality disorders, endocrine disorders, autoimmune disorders?


With great thanks to all of you,


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Anorexia's Red Herring

Too-skinny models may be a factor in spawning eating disorders, but they're just one of many.
By Aimee Liu

Published in the Los
Angeles Times,
September 22, 2006

THIS WEEK in Madrid, heroin chic was prohibited. For the first time, the organizers of a major international fashion show recognized that by showcasing emaciated models, the fashion industry promotes eating disorders. Under pressure from the Madrid government, medical associations and women's advocacy groups, the Assn. of Fashion Designers of Spain finally rejected morbidly thin models.

When selecting models for this year's Madrid fashion week, which ends today, the designers set a minimum body mass ratio (calculated on the basis of height and weight). Their required ratio was 18 — meaning a minimum of 119 pounds for a 5-foot, 8-inch woman. The bar was by no means high. For ordinary mortals, a ratio of 18.5 qualifies as underweight. Even so, five of the 68 auditioning models flunked.

To understand why they flunked, we need to look beyond the fashion industry to the true causes of eating disorders. These include genetic predisposition, temperament, family dynamics and personal trauma. I know; modeling fueled but did not cause my own adolescent eating disorder nearly 40 years ago.

Twiggy was my generation's Kate Moss. I fixated on her at age 13, and by the time I started modeling one year later, I'd dropped 30 pounds. Being skinny became my identity. At 5 feet, 7 inches, I didn't weigh more than 100 pounds again until I was 21.

My anorexia ultimately destroyed my career.

Models were — and still are — paid to make fashions look good, and that meant fitting sample wardrobes. Reigning teen cover girls Shelley Hack and Colleen Corby understood this. In dressing room lunches between shoots, I'd watch them wolf down tuna salad sandwiches while I pretended not to be hungry. They were lucky, I told myself, they could get away with eating. I began to lose jobs when I became so thin that stylists couldn't even pin dresses on me to look right. Still, I felt I couldn't eat.

Like many anorexic models, I was drawn to the fashion world because it reinforced my anorexia. I would be willing to bet that most, if not all, of the runway models disqualified in Madrid fit the same pattern — as do many emaciated gymnasts and ice skaters.

Three years ago, I began interviewing medical researchers as well as middle-age women and men with histories of anorexia and bulimia. I wanted to find out what we know now that we didn't know in the 1970s, when I quit my self-imposed hunger strike. I learned that researchers now are discovering genetic links between eating disorders, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Genes also shape the temperaments of people who are prone to anorexia and bulimia, although the mechanisms for this are still poorly understood.

A landmark 2003 British study found that certain innate childhood traits, such as perfectionism, inflexibility and cautiousness, each increase an individual's risk for anorexia by a factor of seven. Someone like me, possessing all five traits measured in the study, is 35 times more likely to develop an eating disorder than a daredevil who happily wears mismatched socks.

Further, eating disorders are triggered not by pictures of Kate Moss but by sudden or cumulative experiences of intolerable emotion, such as shame or fear. Puberty unleashes a natural tidal wave of these emotions. Adolescence also happens to be the age when rates of sexual abuse soar, academic and social pressures intensify and parents become a source of embarrassment rather than solace. It makes sense that this is prime time for eating disorders. Obsession with weight offers a distraction. Extreme weight loss signals distress.

It also makes sense that rates of anorexia and bulimia spike in middle age, when many women again face emotional turmoil. Women over 30 now make up a full third of residential patients at the Renfrew Center, a Philadelphia treatment facility specializing in eating disorders. Divorce, grief, the empty nest — all can trigger illness if the individual possesses a genetic predisposition.

The onset of eating disorders is like the firing of a gun. Genetics form the gun. Cultural influences such as the fashion industry and familial attitudes about weight then load it. And intense emotional distress pulls the trigger.

Healthier figures on international catwalks may help to disarm the gun. However, of the more than 40 women I interviewed, only a handful had ever paid any attention to fashion. When they started starving, they were asking for help, not admiration. Those models who failed the test in Madrid need treatment, not rebuke.

Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times