Eating Disorders: A Complex Struggle

The books I'm reading for my project: 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder, Life Without Ed, Appetites, and Unbearable Lightness.

The books I’m reading for my project: 8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder, Life Without Ed, Appetites, and Unbearable Lightness.

After acquiring all the books for my project, I created a streamlined guide of the eight keys to recovery from an eating disorder so I could avoid flipping through two books at once while close reading the memoirs. Even though the guide I made consists of four pages, for the sake of brevity, I’ll list just the titles of each of the keys here:
1) Motivation, Patience, and Hope
2) Your Healthy Self Will Heal Your Eating Disorder Self
3) It’s Not About the Food
4) Feel Your Feelings, Challenge Your Thoughts
5) It is About the Food
6) Changing Your Behaviors
7) Reach out to People Rather Than Your Eating Disorder
8) Finding Meaning and Purpose

Unbearable Lightness, the guide I created, and sticky notes. Lots of sticky notes.

Unbearable Lightness, the guide I created, and sticky notes. Lots of sticky notes.

Even though I’ve read a decent amount about eating disorders, going through Portia de Rossi’s memoir with the recovery strategies in mind really revealed the complexity of the illness. Her job as a model and actress, her father’s death and her mother’s expectations, and her repressed homosexuality all contributed to the anorexia that took over about 20 years of her life. Eating disorders aren’t just about food – they can stem from childhood abuse, a need for control, a desire to feel special, cravings for perfectionism, and an assortment of other personal factors. Reading about de Rossi’s recovery inspired me, and applying therapeutic techniques to her situation made me even more excited to work as a therapist for people with eating disorders one day in the future.

I cannot wait to see what I learn from reading the two other memoirs, Appetites by Caroline Knapp and Life Without Ed by Jenni Schaefer. I’ve also started thinking about the creative part of this project, and I’ve drafted a character analysis for my first short story. Right now I’m debating whether I should also create an annotated bibliography of research articles that relate to the intersection of therapy and writing, because that would create a balance between creative writing and tangible research findings. But, for now, I will end this post with a quote from Unbearable Lightness that resonated with me and pertains to feminism.

“By starving myself into society’s beauty ideal, I had compromised my success, my independence, and my quality of life. The images of stick-thin prepubescent girls should never should have had power over me. I should’ve had set my sights set on powerful businesswomen and successful female artists, authors, and politicians to emulate. Instead I stupidly and pointlessly just wanted to be considered pretty. I squandered my brain and my talent to squeeze into a size 2 dress while my male counterparts went to work on making money, making policy, making a difference.”

But now, through writing this book and acting as an advocate for a host of societal issues, Portia de Rossi is making a difference. For people all throughout the United States, but more importantly, for herself.


  1. I love your approach to this project!! I just finished reading a memoir called “Not All Black Girls Know How To Eat: A story of Bulimia”. Like Portia’s experience with anorexia, Stephanie’s (the author) experience with bulimia was about much more than just food. She had experiences with childhood molestation, poverty, and abandonment that all culminated in her use of food as a drug. Really disturbing, but her recovery is inspiring! Looking forward to reading about your progress Thomas! Thinking of you!

  2. jearmstrong says:

    Thomas, your comment that eating disorders aren’t just about food really interests me. In my research, I am reviewing studies that have been conducted on eating addiction in both animals and humans. All of the articles I have read focus solely on the biological and neurological proofs that eating addiction exists. These studies seem to be saying, “It is all about the food.” Although eating disorders and food addiction are two very different topics, I think it is fascinating to learn about how your research is taking on a food-related topic from a psychological, life-experience focused perspective. Of course, life experiences also play a role in the origins of food addiction. I have simply made the choice to focus on the scientific aspect of the phenomenon. I cannot wait to hear about what else you uncover in your research.