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.
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.
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.”