Writing: Eating Disorders, Dysfunctional Families, and Other Fun Things

My writing and research space.

My writing and research space.

While conducting the reading and analysis portion of my project, I also began writing. Even before the first stage of my project, I created a guide to Carolyn Costin’s 8 Keys to Recovery From an Eating Disorder. This document consisted of a summary of each of the eight keys, along with some of the writing exercises she included in the book. For example, with Key 3: “It’s Not About the Food,” I wrote a paragraph about how an individual’s personal life and biological makeup might facilitate the formation of an eating disorder. Then I incorporated a few exercises, including one titled “Your Traits – Assets of Liabilities” which involves writing about how certain personality traits might contribute to the creation of an eating disorder (e.g., perfectionism). The guide totaled to a little more than 800 words.

I moved onto a nonfiction piece next. At first I scoffed at the idea of reflecting on my own experience – I thought I had figured it all out in high school, and I did not want to waste time exploring myself instead of finding ways to connect with others. However, after writing the short piece and examining my motivations and behaviors with a more focused eye, I walked away with a deeper comprehension of the factors that put people at risk for eating disorders. With the suggestion of my advisor I added a small reflection about how I felt before and after writing the piece, which tied into the intersection between writing and therapy. The personal piece consists of about 1700 words.

Then I invented Aaron, the protagonist of my ten-page short story titled “Both You and Me.” Seventeen-year-old Aaron’s eating disorder stems from a difficult and nuanced relationship with his family, especially his high-achieving older brother who goes to Yale. Writing this story forced me to transcend myself and think about my main character and the development of his eating disorder: I felt like I was playing both the psychotherapist and the writer. For example, I needed to create conflict between Aaron and another character, so I had Aaron say something along the lines of “you know guys don’t get eating disorders.” Not only did that piece of dialogue create conflict, but it also showed how an unhealthy mindset contributes to negative behaviors. Because Aaron assumes that only females develop eating disorders, he disregards own self-damaging actions. I wrote an introduction to Aaron’s character titled “Hunger,” which totals around 2600 words, and the rough draft of “Both You and Me” concludes at about 2700 words. After I revise “Both You and Me” with a couple of people’s feedback I will go back and annotate it to highlight specific sections that pertain to the development of eating disorders in general.

I have produced about 7,800 words, and I am content with that. Now I just need to revise and annotate “Both You and Me,” obtain a folder to sort and gather my writing, and think about how I can use what I have learned this summer when I go back to William & Mary. Of course I will also publish one final post in a few weeks – the bittersweet conclusion to this fun, emotionally draining, and fulfilling project.


  1. Hi, Thomas,
    It’s so exciting to read about the evolution of your project! I particularly like that you include a reflection and exercises from Carolyn Costin’s book, a nonfiction, personal piece, and a fictional piece in presenting your project. In doing so, you allow your reader access to both the psychological background behind Eating Disorders, as well as a more artistic, nuanced portrayal of eating disorders. Pairing analytical writing with creative writing ought to provide for a more complete intellectual and emotional experience and understanding for your readers. Best of luck with your revisions; it sounds like everything is coming together nicely!

  2. mattadan says:

    I’m very impressed by the blend of nonfiction, personal reflection and creative writing that you are incorporating into your project. It’ll be interesting to see how these different facets influence character development in “Both You and Me.” It sounds like you’ve really immersed yourself in your work and I’m excited to see how your finished product addresses this sensitive yet vitally important issue.

  3. A+ workspace, includes cookies and sticky notes. But actually, I’d really like to read what you’ve written this summer! It’s always nice to read about experiences similar to my own (perfectionism, what?), and it’s even cooler to head about it from a male perspective. I’ve only ever personally known girls with eating disorders, and I’m excited to hear what you have to say. I’m impressed at your ten page story and pretty embarrassed by my paltry six pages. Speaking of, I’m also happy you got into nonfiction! Personal essays can be fun, and I’d like to read one in your voice.

  4. remerrimangold says:

    Thomas, I’m so impressed by how much you seem to have poured yourself into this project. I love the direct and indirect ways you went about doing this, both by writing what sounds like a deeply personal short story, and by writing a reflection on the process of writing that deeply personal short story.

    I think that an ideal way to wrap up this process of self-discovery would be to try to publish your work in some way, shape, or form. So many people, particularly those dealing with an eating disorder, could stand to benefit from reading a short story written by someone who clearly understands what they’ve gone/ are going through. It seems to me that there’s a real dearth of creative writing that touches on important issues like eating disorders. Maybe you can be one of the steps in fixing that!

    I love the multi-faceted approach you took here to exploring this topic.

  5. I remember talking to you about your project last year when we first started to think about what we each wanted to work on. Even then, way back in those early months of fall semester you had a good idea of where you wanted this project to go. While talking to you this entire summer it has been amazing to see how much your project has progressed through out the entirety of that time.

    Having some of my own personal experience with eating disorders I think it is really great that you not only read about eating disorders and how to recover from them through books but also that you reflected personally on it for a while. It does not matter if you suffer from an eating disorder or if you know someone who does, reading facts from books does not come close to how it feels personally reflecting on it. That is a journey on its own and I like that you wrote reflections about how you felt before and after writing your personal piece. Like a lot of self-help books it is very easy to read and write about “the steps to recovery from eating disorders” and the facts of eating disorder but it is not that nearly that easy to actually go through those steps or live with the disorder and I feel like that is something that you should think about deeply when writing Aaron’s story.

    I am so excited about you presenting this project not only because with the rising fight against obesity and the importance of weight eating disorders are becoming more of a scarier reality but also because I was there when you started to conceive the idea. You kept me along the entire time you worked on the project and I cannot wait for the big reveal. You have done an amazing job with all your work and all your hard work I believe has paid off. I look forward to talking to you personally about your personal piece and also Aaron’s story. Really good job!!!