Better With Sprinkles

The Colourful Side to Healthy Living.

Book Review: Gaining.


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 Smile


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.

Personal Factors

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.


Consumer Society

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?


26 thoughts on “Book Review: Gaining.

  1. I read this book a few months ago and I do agree with waiting until you are in a later phase of recovery before doing so. I strongly believe that even when one struggling with an eating disorder reaches and maintains their “healthy” weight and is free from acting out on eating disorder behaviors, there is still growth within recovery in many other areas of life to address. This book addresses this and does a great job at doing so. Having struggled with an eating disorder in the past, I too can relate to the growth that is needed to occur after I reached my healthy weight and was ED behavior free for years. There were areas in my life that ED crept up in, that had nothing to do with food, weight, or exercise. This book helps us recognize those areas!

  2. This is an awesome review! I am a lot like you in the fact that I try to read about eating disorders in the hopes of helping and supporting others. I like what you included about possible triggers when reading these books I am always hesitant to read them because I don’t want to be triggered. But I know I have the ability now to put the book down if it is triggering me. Thanks for taking the time to make such an awesome review of what sounds like a really good book!

  3. This is absolutely crazy, Sam…I downloaded this book on my kindle last night. Alex recommended it to me a few weeks ago, and I finally got around to getting it. I’m really glad to know all of this about it going in, since I was a little concerned. I’ve stayed clear of most ED memoirs till now just in case they were triggering or too emotionally difficult for me, but I was intrigued by the title from the getgo, and I trust Alex’s judgment. The running in families part that you mentioned particularly stuck out to me, since I was told that when I was in treatment a few years ago. I also found out during that time that both my mum and her younger sister had ED histories, but no one had told me before I got sick. Since mental illness runs so strongly in my family, I am absolutely terrified of passing it (or something equally awful) along to my kids, which is why I’m holding back for the time being on deciding whether I want them for sure or not. I’m not sure that I would be strong enough to watch one of them go through this, but we shall see. I don’t want to close myself off to the idea, since I do love kids and had always wanted them at some point until I found that out. Something to keep thinking about, I suppose. Thank you for posting this review today, love 🙂

    • That is crazy, Caitlin! I hope you enjoy the book, as I said, just make sure you can handle a lot of references to numbers before you open it.
      And it is terrifying, but I have to hope that my experiences will cause me to be aware for the first sign of any trouble, and get my kids the appropriate help.

  4. yesss THANK YOU I love reading the perspective people have on this. I really really liked this book but YES I don’t get triggered by books. I read Wasted and totally understand how some people can’t read it. This had less triggering things but still some things I would have people stay clear of.

    • Overall, it’s definitely one of the better books I’ve read on the subject! She’s able to take real life examples and apply to it show how the research makes sense. I learned a lot, I just would hate to point anyone to something that could trigger them.

  5. thanks so much for this post! i can’t wait to read this book and i’ve added ‘wasted’ to my to-read list too, though i may hold back a bit on that one. i’m sure you’ve probably read portia de rossi’s memoir but i found some of that to be a little triggering though i read it months ago. i love learning more about EDs from a research/prevention standpoint and it sounds like this author was in that mindset when writing the book. i definitely have found the more people i meet who have/are suffering with an ED the more similarities i find in personality, family history, grades, habits. like another commenter said above, my mom struggled with disordered eating and exercise when she was my age but i never found out til i was sick. she still has the thoughts sometimes too and when she does she opens up to me, and we support each other. i was also raised in a household that labeled many foods as “good” and “bad”. exercise was taught as something that “earned” you the ability to enjoy “bad” foods. but i also have an organized, type-a personality and am always a go-getter, striving to be better and get t othe next rung on the ladder, even if i’m already at the top. i really am excited to read this book based on your review. thank you so much for sharing and being so detailed!

    • It’s interesting to see how the personality traits between people with ED’s are so similar – you could have been describing my personality right there!
      And I did read Portia’s book – it was well written, but definitely had the potential to be triggering. This one doesn’t go into a lot of specific behaviours, but as I said, numbers are mentioned more often than I would think necessary.

      I’m happy to you want to give it a try! Let me know what you think of it.

  6. What a comprehensive review. You told me everything that I wanted to know about the book, including what stage of recovery you would recommend the readers be in. I will definitely be putting it on my reading list, but I’m going to wait a little while before picking it up.
    From what you’ve said, I know it’ll be beneficial for me. Perfection or bust? hellllllllo that’s SO me. And the bullet/trigger analogy. And my greatest fear in life is having a child who will be affected by my behaviours and/or not being able to enjoy their birthday cake like a normal parent. There are so many things in this post that not only made me want to read the book, but also helped me feel more connected to you, so thank you for that. It’s great to know that I’m not alone with the thoughts I have and to see that someone can have these thoughts and still choose recovery? So inspiring. 😀

    • I think you’d gain a lot from the book Chelsie, but like you said, it would probably be best if you held off for a little while. And you know I’m always happy to help you in any way that I can! ❤ And it is absolutely possible to get away from those thoughts – they won't dominate your mind forever, I promise!

  7. I haven’t read Gaining, but I’m thinking about picking it up after reading your review. Thanks, Sam! A lot of my volunteer work centers around working with girls who have ED’s, so learning more about them, and hearing different individuals’ personal experiences is always something I’m interested in. It’s kind of hard to read through that stuff and be able to relate to it so much, but at the same time I truly believe that my ED happened for a reason, and I want to be able to use my own experiences to help others as well.

    • I love how you do volunteer work with girls with EDs, that’s amazing. And I have the same kind of perspective with mine – I feel like I went through it so I could help others to recovery. One of the agents for change that Liu talks about!

  8. Wow, I’d really love to read this book, especially after reading your review. Thanks so much for sharing 🙂

  9. This looks amazing. I know that the media has influenced me, as has my perfectionist, type-A personality, but I think you can always have a better understanding of the things you’re going through. I also really want to read Porcia de Rossi’s book.

    • Definitely true – it helps in recovery if you can understand why it’s happening in the first place. I’m glad that you’ve figured out what’s influenced you! And Portia de Rossi’s book is fantastic, but it can be a pretty intense trigger.

  10. What an interesting sounding book Sam, and one that has officially been added to my “to-read” list. First, thank you very much for the in-depth review, it’s much appreciated plus I truly enjoyed reading your opinions and thoughts on this all as well. I may or may not be interested in eating disorders 😉 and hearing what others think is important! Especially you m’dear as I respect your opinions greatly. I’m sure that you are right as well in saying that reading this book later in recovery or when you are truly better, is a much better idea, as it could be triggering. I have read other ED books before and while I was not in a vulnerable state, I could see how they could influence me in a negative way
    Thanks again for this Sam and your continuous great ideas and supportive comments 🙂

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  12. Thanks for such a great review! This book sounds really insightful. At this point in my life though I don’t know if I’d read it because I feel really distanced from my ED and it’s something I would prefer to just leave in the past. But if I ever work with individuals with EDs when I’m an RD, I might pick this up to read so I can gain some more insight!

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