Sep 18

“Almost Anorexic”: Just Short of Standard Diagnostic Criteria

Psychologist/professor Jennifer J. Thomas, PhD, and author/public speaker Jenni Schaefer have co-authored the new Almost Anorexic: Is My (Or Loved One’s) Relationship with Food a Problem? This book belongs to a series from Harvard Medical School’s The Almost Effect (“ALMOST is too close to ALWAYS”), which recognizes that many people could benefit from care before certain conditions become full-blown.

“The truth is that the majority of people with eating disorders do not fulfill anorexia nervosa’s diagnostic requirements, nor do the countless others who loathe their bodies and struggle to eat normally,” say the authors.

We know from clinical and personal experience that the gray area between normal eating and anorexia nervosa is home to a great deal of pain and suffering for many people. Their lives can be just as out of control, unmanageable, and miserable—if not more so—than those with anorexia. That’s why we wrote this book: to identify and provide guidance for people who struggle with forms of disordered eating that are not officially recognized and often go untreated—what some clinicians have termed ‘diagnostic orphans.’ We call this once-overlooked category almost anorexic.

Recovered sufferer (and co-author) Schaefer states in The Huffington Post: “When I was lost in my eating disorder, I waited many years in the purgatory of almost anorexia before finally getting help, which I did only when my symptoms finally met obvious diagnostic criteria.”

The “almost anorexics” are usually assigned EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) per DSM-IV or OSFED (Other Specific Feeding or Eating Disorder) per the new DSM-5. These “other”-type categories often serve as barriers to getting the treatment individuals need in order to normalize their relationship with food.

The video below introduces the book:

Selected Reviews

Kitty Westin: “I wish Almost Anorexic had been written when my daughter was ‘almost anorexic.’ This book might have given us the information we needed to intervene before our daughter moved into full-blown anorexia, and it might have helped us save her life.”

Leigh Cohn, coauthor of Current Findings on Males with Eating Disorders: “Eating problems are often ignored by assessment tests, health care professionals, media coverage, insurance companies, and even the person who is suffering. This book will help millions—including men!”

Evelyn Tribole, coauthor of Intuitive Eating: “Health practitioners and clients alike will appreciate the useful tools, charts, and case studies…Ultimately, this is a guide that will help you (or a loved one) get your life back.”

Aug 13

“Mirror Mirror Off the Wall” By Kjerstin Gruys: Mirror Fasting

Sometimes you have to do something extreme and crazy in order to find balance and sanity in the end. Kjertstin Gruys, author of Mirror Mirror Off the Wall

Isn’t it what’s on the inside that really counts? Of course! you say. But most of us, although we’ve heard that often enough, haven’t really been shown it. Not enough, that is, to offset all the other kinds of messages we continually receive regarding the importance of our looks.

An option for some, when for various reasons striving for a perfect body no longer appeals, is mirror fasting, i.e., abstinence from mirrors in order to learn how to reprioritize one’s values. As Kate Murphy states in the New York Times, “Those who have engaged in the exercise report that not seeing themselves helped them see themselves more clearly.”

One such faster has been Kjerstin Gruys, a doctoral candidate in sociology who also is a recovering anorexic. As a self-described “body-image expert with a body-image problem,” she made the decision to give up all types of reflective surfaces for a year. Her new book Mirror Mirror Off the Wall is an outgrowth of her blog about that process, A Year Without Mirrors. 

Why’d she do it? The ultimate trigger was trying on wedding dresses—all that emphasis on how she was going to look. In an interview with USA Today Gruys explains, “I thought it would give me a fighting chance to put those body image insecurities in a smaller place. I wanted to think less about my body. I wanted to spend more time viewing myself as a whole person who has talents and relationships.”

To help her through this challenge, Gruys enlisted a good support system, including her therapist.

Six months into it, she reported (according to Time), “The biggest challenge has been emotional. I realized how much I’ve relied upon mirrors to feel okay throughout the day, to explain why the day is going well or isn’t.”

By the time she got to the wedding, she’d achieved positive results. But, states Jenifer McKim, The Boston Globe, the author’s body image struggles definitely hadn’t ended:

Here the narrative drags as Gruys battles more insecurities — including new concerns about her weight, a botched hair dye, and a ‘coming out party’ where she worries about not liking what she sees and feeling horrible about feeling horrible. She does eventually conquer these issues. She blogs about her weight and pledges to be ‘unapologetic’ about her body. She realizes, after much introspection, that her hair crisis stemmed from self-doubt that she sheds. When she finally looks into the mirror, surrounded by friends and family, she likes what she sees.

Additional Reviews of Mirror Mirror Off the Wall

Publishers Weekly: “Gruys admits to her all-too-human insecurities and describes her sometimes-difficult effort to live life without defining herself through beauty. Her story encourages others to do the same. This book should be required reading for those women who struggle with body-image issues—and even those who don’t.”

Caitlin Boyle, author of Operation Beautiful: Transforming the Way You See Yourself One Post-It Note at a Time: “I couldn’t put this book down—as I flipped through page after page, I found myself nodding along with Kjerstin’s astute observations. It’s high time we stop picking ourselves apart and start focusing on what really matters: something deep inside, beyond what any mirror can reflect.”

Abigail C. Saguy, author of What’s Wrong with Fat? “Interspersing this personal account with insights from sociology and psychology research, Gruys shows how her own struggles are taking place within a broader social context, thereby holding up a mirror to contemporary American society. Highly recommended for anyone who has felt herself peering a bit too intently in the mirror.”

May 16

Calling People Fat: A Trend That Reclaims the Word

Two new books are notable for their contribution to the discussion on whether food is an addiction and whether calling people fat is appropriate and/or helpful. Well, the first book is, anyway; the second doesn’t actually mean to be.

Morning Joe anchor Mika Brzezinski‘s book gets personal. In Obsessed: America’s Food Addiction–and My Own she owns up to her own significant struggles with eating and body image issues, hidden previously to the world because all we see is her thinness.

An excerpt from her Introduction:

This is the book I have been afraid to write . . . terrified actually. It deals with an issue that is radioactive for me. How I eat, diet, and look has tied me up in knots my entire life, and I know I am not alone. I have been held hostage by food since I was thirteen years old. My body started filling out more than the figures of other girls in my class, and that set off what has become a thirty-year battle with my body image. Food has been my enemy. My determination to be thin has led me to extremes, and I’ve done damage to my body and my mind in the process.

What “extremes” exactly? Nanci Hellmich, USA Today, lists the various issues: “For years, she has maintained a cycle of overeating, starving, binging, running. She has struggled with multiple eating disorders, including a brief bout with bulimia, binging and purging, and a type of exercise bulimia where she would gorge then run for 10 miles. And one psychologist said she had an unhealthy obsession with eating healthful foods, which some call orthorexia nervosa.”

Brzezinski made a deal with another journalist, her best friend Diane Smith. The latter, perceived as “fat” and unhealthy by Brzezinski—who told her so—would strive to lose a desired goal of 75 pounds; the former, perceived as “skinny” and unhealthy by Smith, would try to gain 10. And they would write this book about their experiences.

It doesn’t matter what size you are, they advise, your eating and emotional issues can be just as in need of tweaking as the next person’s, and people have food issues for all kinds of varying reasons.

While Smith is against shaming people by calling them “fat,” Brzezinski advocates talking even more about people being “fat.” Another part of her book’s Intro: “Remember the days when people whispered about cancer and called it ‘the big C,’ as if naming it bestowed power? Now we’re doing the same thing with weight problems. We need to stop the whispering, start talking louder, and use the F-word: fat.”

But let’s not forget that “fat” is not in fact a disease like cancer. Nor is “skinny” for that matter. The “cancer” is not fatness, it’s the eating, the emotional issues. Calling people fat and shaming them about their size is still a no-no in my opinion.

Meanwhile, popular comedian Jim Gaffigan‘s new book is Dad is Fat. Although about parenting his five young kids, being “fat” is clearly a theme for him. His standup routines also often focus on food and eating.

Nov 28

“Sophie” (Dying To Be Like All the Other Girls)

For the first time in years, I recently heard the song “Sophie“—released on Eleanor McEvoy‘s album Snapshots in 1999—and it really caught my attention. First, it’s so achingly poignant. “A Customer” on Amazon, for instance, called it “… the saddest song I’ve ever heard.”

Second, I wondered if it had ever found an audience among a certain population, namely those with eating disorders. Because this track by McEvoy, a 44-year-old Irish singer/songwriter, is the tale of a young female’s anorexia nervosa and its effects on her family.

What I discovered was quite an awesome revelation. As McEvoy’s Amazon bio states, this song “…has touched the hearts of people around the globe who suffer from eating disorders, thus leading to over one million hits on YouTube.”

Although it had apparently taken a while to catch on, by 2009 an article in the U.K.’s newspaper The Observer was able to report, “…in the era of the internet ‘Sophie’ has been rediscovered and grown into a sleeper hit, an anthem that is touching, inspiring and consoling thousands of anorexic girls around the world.”

Indeed, go to YouTube and you’re faced with choices: many uploads of various little films set to the song’s music and lyrics—by those for whom the meaning of ‘Sophie’ is all too personal.

Lyrics to “Sophie”:
Sophie cannot finish her dinner
She says she’s eaten enough
Sophie’s trying to make herself thinner
Says she’s eating too much
And her brother says, “You’re joking, ”
And her mother’s heart is broken
Sophie has a hard time coping
And, besides, Sophie’s hoping
She can be like all the other girls
Be just like all the other girls
Living in an ordinary world
Just to fit in, in the ordinary world
Just to fit in like an ordinary girl.
Sophie’s losing weight by the minute
How did things get this bad?
Sophie’s family, they don’t understand it
Gave her all that they had
And her sister won’t stop crying
‘Cause her father says she’s dying
Sophie says she’s really trying
Problem is, Sophie’s lying.
She can be like all the other girls
Be just like all the other girls
Living in an ordinary world
Just to fit in, to the ordinary world
Just to fit in like an ordinary girl
How did she get this way?
How did she get this way?
Through trying to hide it.
What does it take to say,
What does it take to say
She’s dying, Sophie’s dying too­
… Be like all the other girls
Be just like all the other girls
Living in an ordinary world
Just to fit in, to the ordinary world
Just to fit in and be like all the other girls
Be just like all the other girls
Living in an ordinary world
Just to fit in, to the ordinary world
Just to fit in like an ordinary girl.