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

Newsletter

"A must read for carers, loved ones, eating disorder professionals and students"

June 11, 2011

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I'm happy to share a wonderful review for RESTORING OUR BODIES, RECLAIMING OUR LIVES.
My thanks to www.beautifulyoubyjulie.com for this:

June 9, 2011

I feel very fortunate to have been given a copy of the latest book by Aimee Liu, ‘Restoring Our Bodies, Reclaiming Our Lives’ to review for you here at Beautiful You. The fortunate feelings have arisen because I consider it to be one of the more sound and also inspirational books on eating disorders I have ever read; a work I would gladly recommend to any person whose life has been touched by an eating disorder.

In my many years as a counsellor and eating disorder advocate I have read many books about eating disorders. Some have been very necessary from a clinicial perspective, but a little dry as a whole. Others have been more personally based accounts and autobiographies about the harrowing journey someone has gone through to recover from an eating disorder. Many of these stories I have found profoundly moving, and the individual perspective has given me an indepth insight into someone’s struggle that often only the raw words of a personal story can convey.

‘Restoring Our Bodies, Reclaiming Our Lives’ is a wonderful blend of contributions from academics and the real life experiences and anecdotes of brave individuals who either are, or have battled, with an eating disorder. It provides a rich tapestry of professional guidance and personal insight that I have not seen in any other book on eating disorders to date and is therefore a wonderful blend of the academic and personal.

Gifted writer and eating disorder survivor Aimee Liu has edited ‘Restoring Our Bodies, Reclaiming Our Lives’ and considering her other works in this arena including Solitaire and Gaining it could not have been in better hands. Aimee has gently peeled back the eating disorder journey into six main parts – Turning Points – Setting the Stage for Recovery – Treatment – Restoration – Discovery and Wise Minds.

Each part contains excerpts from some of the worlds leading experts in the treatment of eating disorders. While this may sound impressive in and of itself, it’s what they have to say and the way in which they say it, that has impressed me most. I love how each of the professional contributions speak directly to the mind and heart of those who are trying to journey towards wellness and away from their eating disorder. Each appear to write with them as the audience in mind, offering both gentle tips and bold suggestions on everything from the power of journalling, to how to choose the right therapist to how to believe in yourself and grasp hold of a new life beyond the cruelty of an eating disorder. It is exactly the way I would have wanted to be requested to write for an important work such as this.

Each part of ‘Restoring Our Bodies, Reclaiming Our Lives’ also has contributions, some small, others larger, from eating disorder survivors. Their words are soulful, inspiring, and I have no doubt will be a guiding light to anyone reading who has at some point in time been near to where they once were. They share what things helped them with their recovery, do’s, don’ts, feelings of ambivalence but also determination, how others supported, how others hindered, and what recovery means to them now. There surely could not be more powerful words for someone still struggling to read, especially knowing they are connecting to the person who has written them in the knowledge that they have once personally experienced the depths of the illness that they are currently battling with.

I also wish to make mention of how each of these personal contributions do not ever make mention of things such as food rituals, calories consumed or not consumed, or someone’s weight. I consider each of these things to have the distinct potential to trigger and actually promote harmful feelings in someone with an eating disorder, rather than be helpful in any way. While this is just my personal opinion, I also know from many eating disorder survivors and those still struggling that they dislike reading such things too and have found it has given them ideas on how to collude with their eating disorder and even made them feel like they were not sick enough because they did not weigh what someone else did or eat the way they did. ‘Restoring Our Bodies, Reclaiming Our Lives’ is refreshing to me by not including this information and understanding the power of what is not said, leaving the power of words beyond calories and weight to hold court.

‘Restoring Our Bodies, Reclaiming Our Lives’ comes with my heartfelt recommendation. Not only is it a wonderful book for those in recovery to read, it is a must read for carers, loved ones, eating disorder professionals and students wishing to enter this field as well. All proceeds from Aimee’s work are being given to the Academy for Eating Disorders making it just another reason to consider it a sound purchase.
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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