Happy Saturday! I don’t have anything to special going on here. The usual errands this morning and more relaxing/hanging out with the boy this afternoon. Oh, winter break
One of the books I picked up from the library a few weeks ago was Gaining by Aimee Liu.
While I consider my eating disorder to be behind me, I’m always looking for new research on the subject. Knowledge is power, right? The more I know, the more I’m equipped to understand my own personality and experiences that led to my own eating disorder, as well as help and support others in their recovery. Eating disorders are endlessly complicated, with no two people experiencing it exactly the same way. The more I understand them, the more I’m able to understand my own issues.
This book is a combination of memoir, research and interviews. With so many different elements, I would have thought the transitions would be jarring and awkward. But Liu manages to present the book in such a way that it flows easily from topic to topic, and from her personal experiences to the experiences of the women (and men) she interviewed. The research presented in the book is all relatively new, ensuring that I actually gained some new information and insights. I consider myself to be well-educated on the subject (I’ve read my fair share of memoirs and research) so I appreciated the new info.
In Liu’s memoir, Solitaire, she discusses her foray into anorexia in her twenties and her subsequent recovery. After a particularly difficult time in her life decades later, Liu finds herself turning back to her old habits. This is one of my biggest fears with my ED – feeling like I’ve beaten it, only to have it re-emerge when I’m 30, 40, 50 or even 60 years old. After going through this experience (and the recovery) Liu decided to look more into what anorexics and bulimics have in common – their personality, their behaviours, and their family life. Basically, she looks at why some of the population develops eating disorders, while the majority do not.
The first section of the book considers genetic factors in eating disorders. There is strong suggestion in EDs that there’s a particular “susceptibility gene” that makes some people more prone to eating disorders over the rest of the population. This could help explain why eating disorders tend to run in families. I’m not going to lie – I found this information disheartening. I know I want kids in my future, so I’m terrified of passing this down. I know the damage it causes, so it would kill me to watch my future daughter (or son) go through the same thing. All I can do is hope that if it does happen, I know the warning signs well enough that I can get them help immediately.
This section also deals with certain personality traits – perfectionism (which I’m going to talk more about in a future post), anxiety, and an obsessive personality, to name a few. While I was reading this section, I was yelling out in my head “me too!”
One thing that particularly stood out to me – the idea that people with eating disorders (some, not all) have a huge fear of failure. That is me, 100%. I was the sort of person who had to do something perfectly, or not at all. In high school, I got an ‘A’, or I decided I didn’t care anymore and would barely pass (or fail) the class. I couldn’t handle trying my best and wind up feeling like a failure. Seeing that it’s a fairly common trait in ED patients made me feel a bit more normalized in that respect.
Overall, I found this section helped me to better understand how certain behavioural and personality traits I have have led to my being more susceptible to eating disorders and disordered eating patterns.
This section looked at issues of identity and relationships with other people, including familial relationships, intimacy, and parenting. Liu makes the case that “genetics make the gun, the familial environment loads it, but it takes the experience of unbearable emotion to pull it” (page 127). Out of the entire book, this phrase jumped out at me the most. For me, my disordered eating patterns jumped into full blown anorexia after going through a particularly emotionally traumatic period in my life (an emotionally and psychologically abusive relationship), so I can see how that “tipping point” occurs and causes a full-blown disorder. The author implemented her own stories and stories from her interviews in a way that really brought home the points made in the research, making it seem that much more applicable to real life situations.
This section dealt with body image and issues of consumer society. Particularly, she discussed the rise in mid-life eating disorders – something that has started to become more common over recent years. She looks at issues of “imitation youth” directed at middle-aged women; the over-present pressure for women to maintain their youth through any means possible. This was an interesting section for me, because I know it’s something that’s going to concern me as I get older.
Agents for Change
I absolutely adored the final chapter of the book. She talks about her interviews with women who have survived eating disorders and have now made it their goal to help other people get help and recover from their eating disorders. After going through one, you know how awful it is and you wouldn’t wish it on your worst enemy. Obviously, I fall into this category (considering that I write about it on the internet) so I loved reading about different people working to help the cause. A lot of the chapter featured on Jessica Weiner, whose an awesome author and speaker on the topic of positive body image.
At the end of the book, Liu states that she doesn’t necessarily see recovery as an end to her illness, but rather an ongoing process of restoration and discovery. I love this approach – although I’m no longer ill, I’m still working on discovering myself; who I am and what my passions are. As I continue on in life, I will continue to grow and make progress in finding my path.
Would I recommend it?
While this is a great book, I hesitate to recommend it to absolutely everyone. Memoirs can be eye-opening, but they can be incredibly triggering as well (Wasted, anyone? As much as I love that book, there were certain points in life where if I had read it, I would have taken several steps back in recovery). In Gaining, almost every interviewee has their weight and/or size mentioned at some point, so if you’re easily triggered by numbers or in a bad place, I’d hold off for a while. If you’re recovered or in advanced recovery and looking to learn more about eating disorder and understand more about why it developed, this book could further that understanding. I’m sure the situations in the book don’t describe everyone whose ever suffered, but I think most would find it useful.
(can you tell I’m a student? Jesus, that was long).
<— Have you read Gaining? What did you think?
<— What are you reading right now?