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One of the first books I ever read about eating disorders was Marya Hornbacher’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia. When I read her words, I instantly felt connected. Maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t the only person in the world who struggled with food. In a recent conversation with Marya, she told me that she shares her story so that people can experience “less aloneness.” I felt less alone.

For me, Wasted also served as a mirror to see the truth about my own life. And that truth was scary. My tattered copy is highlighted throughout noting all of the thoughts and behaviors that Marya and I shared. If Marya has a real, life-threatening eating disorder and I relate to her so much, than I must have the illness, too. I felt validated. I began to move more wholeheartedly out of denial and toward getting better. During our discussion, Marya confirmed that this is, in part, why she wrote Wasted in such a graphic way. The book’s frightening detail has triggered recovery in countless individuals as evidenced by the thousands of letters she has received over the years.

My tattered copy
My tattered copy

Of course, some have complained that Wasted is triggering in a negative way. In other words, people have said that they read the book and learned eating-disordered “tips and tricks.” Knowing this, Marya, who has devoted her work to tirelessly helping (not hurting) people, told me, “I wish I’d done that differently.” She has, in fact, grieved the fact that some have chosen to use her book in the service of their eating disorders. She even used the word “horrified” to describe her feelings on the matter. Like most authors, it hurts to know that some might use well-intentioned words in a negative way. However, Marya said, “There’s no undoing the person that wrote it or the time that they wrote it.”

In many ways, a book is like a snapshot—a person frozen in time. Sometimes, authors do get a chance to “thaw out” a bit in the form of new editions. As of this year, both Wasted and my first book, Life Without Ed, have been released as updated versions. Interestingly enough, neither one of us had reached a complete recovery when we wrote our first books, but both of us talk about it now.

In fact, Marya’s new afterword speaks strongly for recovery—a full one. She told me, “I speak a lot on full recovery as opposed to we’re always going to deal with this, which I know is a valid point of view, but I think a lot of people don’t actually deal with this forever. I feel that full recovery is a real possibility.”

There is nothing triggering about her afterword except that it might lead you to make a drastic change in your life, for the better. Marya’s words are authentic and to the point. While she doesn’t sugarcoat the hard work of recovery, she does assure that healing is attainable and within reach. She writes:

Healing requires one thing above all: it takes action. This will not be done for you. Eventually, you, yourself, will have to choose how to do it, how to live…Recovery is a choice.”

When it comes to books as well as other resources, you can make pro-recovery decisions or not. “If you read Wasted and it’s not helpful to you, put it down,” Marya says.

Marya actually encourages you to put all recovery books down every once in a while. She explained, “If you’re in recovery, begin reading beyond recovery. Begin reading beyond your obsession.” I couldn’t agree more. I hope this blog series with Marya will inspire you to pick up a fiction book (maybe even her novel!) or one about gardening or anything beyond your struggles. Remember: we recover from our eating disorders in order to recover ourselves. If you have read my second book Goodbye Ed, Hello Me, you know that Marya is one of my writing heroes due to the fact that she has explored a wide array of topics in her work. Stay tuned here to learn about her other books.

Cover of Wasted
Wasted, Updated Edition

About fifteen years ago, I was lying in my bed curled up with Wasted. Back then, Marya probably never believed that her book would go on to sell over a million copies in the United States and to be published in sixteen different languages. And I, never—not in a million years—thought that I would actually have the chance to connect with her, much less to write my own books about recovery. I wasn’t even sure that I could recover. But, over and over, I kept making the positive choice (sometimes slowly and often kicking and screaming), and I learned that anything can happen! Life has come full circle for Marya and for me, and it can for you, too. As Marya says in her new afterword, “never, never, not ever, I repeat never give up.”

 

 This post is one in a Life Without Ed Birthday Blog Series celebrating both recovery and the Tenth Anniversary Edition of the book, which was released recently along with the audiobook

 

 

 

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  • Taylor

    This is wonderful! I am so glad that there is something out there that people can read and realize that they are not alone. That is a huge step for anyone. Congrats Marya and thank you for sharing your story to help inspire others to get better

  • Shannon Cutts

    Beautiful. Never ever EVER give up. Recovery is a choice. Love this! And (may I just say) as a fellow recover-ee (and reader-turned-writer post recovery) I am so grateful to the authors who inspired me with their honest, truthful, heartfelt words right when I needed them most – thank you, Marya. Thank you, Jenni. 🙂

    • Shannon, you are the best! It has been a fun and interesting road…hasn’t it? I still remember the first time you called me regarding your idea of http://www.mentorconnect-ed.org/ …and look at it now. Love.

      • Shannon Cutts

        Haha….and I’m still hanging in there – with encouragement and support from dear friends like YOU. 🙂

  • Alexandra

    To be honest, I read Wasted because I heard it could trigger relapse, etc and I was in the midst of a full-blown one. What I found though was that it did just the opposite for me. It scared me, gave me a reality check, shook me up, threw me down and said “Listen up, your illness is not a game. If you die from this, you are dead. That is it.” I realized that I was dead on the inside but since my body was still functioning, I had a chance. I am very grateful that I read that book because though it was for the wrong reasons, it helped me in all the right ways. I choose recovery.

    • Hi Alexandra – Thanks so much for sharing your insights. I love how Wasted ended up helping you in the end! I, too, found the book to be quite a reality check. I am very happy to read that you choose recovery. Keep making that choice!

  • Jessi

    There are those days when I feel like I’m the only one suffering-like maybe there’s nothing more to me than ed. Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever be free from ed. I’ve read Wasted and am currently reading Life Without Ed, and I have found them both to be so encouraging. I feel a little less alone, a little less hopeless and a little more excited to discover who I am without my eating disorder. It’s books like these that give me hope that there is life beyond ed; there are people who have fought against ed, that have come out on the other side. Reading these books gives me the strength to keep fighting and I couldn’t thank you enough for sharing them 🙂

    • Thanks, Jessi, for sharing your story here. I am so happy to hear that our books have been helpful to you. One thing is for sure: you are not alone. And another thing: you CAN get through this. Like Marya says above (and like I have said a lot, too): never, never, never give up. Full recovery is possible. Keep fighting.

  • Juliana

    I’m very grateful for the stories that you both have told. Similar to many others who will respond have battled an eating disorder over the years. After a series of inpatient and outpatient treatments the thing I learned the most was exactly what Marya said, recovery is a choice. This statement feels like knives sticking into you all over when you are sick… you think no way I am not choosing to live this way.. it is out of my control. However, when you start to let go of that false sense of control and realize only YOU can change and only YOU have a chance to a better life, only then can you start living in recovery. I am proud to say that since choosing to live I have finished my undergraduate degree, obtained my masters degree, gotten married, gotten into PhD programs in psychology, started writing a book, and had my first son. I never believed I would be where I am today and I know for certain that the stories out there like Jenni and Marya keep me honest. These stories also remind me where I have been and where I am now. I do know there were points that perhaps stories like wasted kept me in my eating disorder, but once in recovery this book reminds me of where I never want to return. Books like life without ed gave me hope for the future.. even when I thought it was hopeless. Thank you for helping me save my life.

    • Hi Juliana – Thanks so much for sharing your powerful story here! I can’t wait to read YOUR book! I really appreciate your kind words of support. It means a lot.

  • Runinger

    I am slowly reading Life WithOut ED. I have only been in OutPatient for 4 weeks, prior to being partial and inpatient for 7 months from a 13 year recovery (I was 13 when I had a secert I didn’t even know was ED). I was just crying today over the fact each week the voices become much louder and the urges are much harder to resist (and I resist from fear of consequences). Thus far Jenni is the first author I have been introduced to in ED recovery and when I read and focus on that one chapter- it’s very worthy of deep though and reminds me daily why to keep moving forward to that next right step. Thank you jenni. You sound amazing- maybe one day I will get to meet you in person-

    • I would love to meet you someday! Thanks so much for your support of my work. Keep working hard in recovery. For added support, you might want to download some free recovery tools here: https://jennischaefer.com/resources/#resources-for-recovery

      I know that recovery road can be very bumpy. Just make sure that you stand back up each time that you get knocked down. Never, never quit. Full freedom really is possible.

  • Carmen Schiralli

    This was one of the first books I read about EDs. I am currently struggling with one and I’ll start to recover but I’ve been stupidly crawling back to my comfort zone of the ED. I loved this book because it was very in your face and didn’t beat around the bush as much as other books do. It also didn’t have a fairytale ending. “And she went to recovery and lived happily ever after” and I really appreciate that because it’s not that simple. You don’t just snap your fingers and stop starving and purging. It has helped me in the sense that I do not want to end up like Marya (in the book no offense). And it’s also helped me to not feel so isolated in my bad habits thanks

  • As someone who has recovered from bulimia, I LOVE that you have included
    the point to pick up a book about gardening (i.e. an interest.) I
    didn’t recover until I started making room for the rest of my life
    beyond my eating disorder. When I began getting involved in activities I
    enjoyed (which lead to activities and people I love) I started focusing
    more on life and became less hung up on the details of eating. Then I
    realized that there wasn’t such an exactness to eating, which helped me
    relax about eating balanced meals, lose weight (because I stopped undereating which always lead to overeating) and get on with my life. So pick one small thing
    today that has nothing to do with eating, exercise, etc. – even just read one article in
    a magazine. Start to make room for your interests.

  • Einelorelei

    This book is a must read for all therapists. Marya really captured how it feels to have this illness and the hoplessness it makes you feel. However, if you are still struggling with the eating disorder or if your own grasp on recovery is a bit shaky, it may be a good idea to wait until you are in a better place before reading it. I speak from experience.

  • samantha

    I really have full admiration for Marya’s personal and very moving insight into what can be such a soul destroying and emotional journey living with an eating disorder. I have battled Anorexia and Bulimia for over 24 years now and I wanted to share how reading Wasted was like reading some of my experiences , the graphic nature of living with the daily rituals ,obsessions and feelings of guilt,despair and loss of life. I have not found a solution to my eating disorders and I am not in recovery but I would like to one day share my story in hope that I can offer some support and a life line to those who may be able to identify with what I have been through and how I survive the days that can be a challenge. Marya’s book offers insight in a way that alot of books on Eating Disorders will not explore. Written by someone with a lived experience often enables readers to gain knowledge psychologists and the medical profession can not or will not offer.I recommend that Wasted, be read by current Psychologists and therapists so a deeper understanding of Eating disorders can be acknowledged and the approach to supporting individuals with Eating disorders can be more empathetic and positive. Samantha