Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Wintergirls Delivers the Skinny on Eating Disorders (with Giveaway!)

** This post contains discussion of eating disorders that may be triggering for some readers. **

 Yesterday, Laura enthralled us with a powerful review of Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls (seriously amazing—if you missed it, check it out here!) and since it’s Undercover Wednesday, I’m following up with an insider’s close up at something that plagues up to 24 million people of all ages and genders—mostly female. Mostly female teens.

Oh, and yes I did say 24 million.

Some other not-so-fun eating disorder stats?
(mostly courtesy of ANAD—the National Association Of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, Inc. as well as other various eating disorder websites)

Anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents

86% report onset of eating disorder by age 20; 43% report onset between ages of 16 and 20.6

Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives

Only 1 in 10 men and women with eating disorders receive treatment. Only 35% of people that receive treatment for eating disorders get treatment at a specialized facility for eating disorders

81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat

42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner

50% of girls between the ages of 11 and 13 see themselves as overweight.

One in 200 American women suffers from anorexia.

Two to three in 100 American women suffers from bulimia

There are over 85 books for teens involving eating disorders. Here are just a few:

Perfect by Ellen Hopkins

Just Listen by Sarah Dessen

Skinny by Ibi Kaslik

Second Star to the Right by Deborah Hautzig

Faded Denim: Color Me Trapped by Melody Carlson

Signs and symptoms of someone with anorexia

skipping meals, pushing food around on plate, cutting out certain foods, chewing and spitting

Obsessive with weight

Wearing loose or baggy clothing most of the time

Social isolation

Low self-esteem, self-hatred

Obsessive exercise

Secretive eating

thinning hair, low body temperature (freezing all the time), ammenorhea, lanugo (fine white hair the body grows to keep it warm)

Some just downright sick and ugly facts

There are websites promoting (yes—I said promoting) anorexia nervosa as a lifestyle. Some Pro Ana sites even have a list of Thin Commandments including: You can never be too thin and Thou shalt not eat without feeling guilty.

Websites like Thinspiration post pictures and tips for losing weight. Here’s one of the tips I uncovered:

If you are really craving something specific and are on the verge of a binge, go into the kitchen, prepare it, and then eat it-but do not swallow! Chew it slowly, enjoy it, and then spit it out. Immediately after that rinse your mouth with water at least three times before swallowing a sip so you do not accidentally ingest any calories.

Pretty gruesome, huh?

So, with all those appalling statistics, horrifying symptoms, and sick supporters, WHY do so many women girls continue to spiral into the “all-consuming vortex of anorexia?"

If you really want to go Undercover into the WHY, read Wintergirls.

Laura gushed about the prose, but also the haunting reality. Every page of Wintergirls reveals Lia’s brokenness, her misery. Her despair. It’s an elaborative, gripping, poignant struggle of an eighteen year old on a seemingly never ending spiral into the hell of an eating disorder that not only rips apart her life, but the lives of those around her as well.

To quote Laura: “It was obvious from the very first page that the author had done her research, but wasn’t going to bombard us with unnecessary information.” True that. And the research that Anderson conducted to make everything so real? I know it’s real. I know that everything you read in Wintergirls is true, sound, and totally authentic. Because the therapist that read through her work?

She was mine.

I was the space between my thighs, a dead girl walking on a college campus. I was five-foot six, eighty five pounds and in an eating disorder clinic. I knew I was thin. I thought I was fat.

When I read Wintergirls the first time last May, I couldn’t talk about it, I couldn’t discuss it. And I definitely couldn’t review it. The self-destruction, the pain. The desperation. That character that you read about in books that most reminds you of yourself. For me, that was Lia.

And this post is not about Alison coming out of the Eating Disorder closet, unleashing a skeleton (literally) I locked up for a long time. But I do want you to know that what you read about in Wintergirls is what people suffering from anorexia endure. And not just the physical symptoms. It’s not just about a warped desire to be thin. It’s not just about numbers on a scale. It’s not just about the arrhythmia that keeps you from sleeping and praying you’re not dying or the desperate need to walk for two three four hours after a meal.

It IS about what it’s REALLY like to be a teenage girl with anorexia. And WHY. Something you’re not always going to find in your google searches. But you will find it in Wintergirls. And as I dig deeper into Anderson's novel, I might just give you a little bit of the HOWs and WHYs in this post. (direct quotes from Wintergirls will be in italics)

*breathes deep*

Here goes.

Everything’s Counted for

“Why don’t you have one of the muffins? I bought oranges yesterday, or you could have toast or frozen waffles.” Stepmother Jennifer asks.

Because I can’t let myself want them because I don’t need a muffin (410), I don’t want an orange (75) or toast (87), and waffles (180) make me gag.

One large rice cake = 35. Top it with one teaspoon of spicy mustard and you add 5. Two teaspoons = 10. Rice cakes with hot sauce are better. You eat and are punished in the same bite.

About the same time I decided upon a career as a math teacher, my daily math involved adding calories. Food was never about taste. If it was too good, too many calories, I didn’t deserve to eat it. Many pounds of self-loathing. A ton of guilt.

The daily mantra


Imagine middle school and a bully hurling that catastrophic insult at you every day. Now imagine that bully is you. And you’re saying it to yourself. But instead of maybe five times five days a week, it’s in your head—all the time. It’s a mantra that ran through my head every day, many minutes of that day. Anytime I felt a pinch of fat, scored less than perfect on a test, walked into a wall. Didn’t get that part I wanted in a play. I’d take it out on myself. Punishment was malnourishment. This is Lia. This is most people with eating disorders. It takes a long time and a lot of therapy and support to learn to love yourself again.

Self-imposed perfectionism/Living up to spoken unspoken expectations

I’m not eighteen, I’m twelve, locked into toe shoes, dancing the pas de Mom again, with her standing in the wings, telling me what I’m doing wrong.

Way too Thin FAT

Last time I was locked up, the hospital shrink had me draw a life-sized outline of my body. I chose a fat crayon the color of elephant skin or a rainy sidewalk…I wanted to draw my thighs, each the size of a couch, on his carpet, The rolls on my butt and my gut would rumble over the floor and splash up against the walls; my boobs, beach balls; my arms, tubes of cookie dough oozing at the seams.

Warped self-perception. I went through this same activity. Followed up with my counselors outlining my body in chalk, hanging the two pictures next to each other. For me—the visual was my saving grace. Others aren’t so lucky.

The Control. The POWER.

(someone offering Lia pizza) “Want some?”
One bite, please, and then another and another, crust and cheese sausage sauce another and another empty is strong and invincible. “I already ate.”

(099.00! 099.00! 099.00! Tomorrow will be 098.00!)

Just because I dish it out, doesn’t mean I have to swallow it. I am strong enough to do this the potatoes smell so good stay strong, empty empty the potatoes smell strong/empty/strong/breathe/pretend/hold on.

I’m hungry I need to eat.
I hate eating.
I need to eat.
I hate eating.
I need to eat.
I love not-eating.

Food. Not eating. It’s the one thing in Lia’s life she can control.

Low Body Temperature

She covers me with all of the blankets she has (five) and the jackets from the lost-and-found box, because I am freezing. I drift into the armpits of strangers, tasting their manic salt, and sleep to forget everything.

The Competition

“I bet I’ll be skinnier than you.”
“No, don’t make it a bet. Let’s be skinniest together.”
“Okay, but I’ll be skinnier.”

Like Lia, there was a Cassie in my life. We weren’t best friends, but there was an unspoken pact anytime one of our apparitions appeared in the other’s path—I will be the skinniest girl on campus

The Attention/Seeking Invisibility

People with anorexia are a walking oxymoron. They’re screaming for attention, yet want everyone to leave them alone. And they’re experts in the art of cheating and manipulation. Lying to others comes almost as easy as lying to oneself.

I turn on the tap, lean over the sink, and guzzle until my belly is a big water balloon.

I change into my yellow robe in my bedroom and make sure the quarters I sewed into the pockets aren’t making them droop.

Attention feeds us. Control empowers us. Pounds off the scale satisfy any hunger pangs. And that cheesecake drizzled with chocolate that looks so good I want fifty pieces I don't need it. We don't deserve that anyway.

That's the skinny girl in the mirror talking.

The Danger in Books About Eating Disorders

I don’t want to write this post
I feel compelled to write this post
I can’t write this post
I need to write this post

I exited an eating disorder clinic over twenty years ago, and have had four relapses since. And every relapse was triggered by a movie about eating disorders, a student with an eating disorder, a book about them.

Posts like this, books like Wintergirls? They scare me. Not so much anymore for my own relapse, but for someone else's. Potential eating disorder victims thrive on competing with other stories, they starve for the attention it brings. The disorder can be alluring - for those striving to be model thin. For those in need of attention. For those in need of control.

BUT Wintergirls is different. It's more about Lia’s despair and her misery is CLEAR. It’s not preachy and yet it definitely in no way ever glorifies the eating disorder. It's a book I would recommend to anyone, especially parents, teachers, friends - ANYONE close to watching someone slowly kill themselves to this disease. Unfortunately, more often than not, people with eating disorders CANNOT be helped, forced, or coerced out of their situation. And many times, we have to hit rock bottom before we can climb out of our despair.

I don't know that the story will provide comfort, but it will definitley put you in the anorexic's head. And maybe give a little


IMHO, pain and hope are the heart of truly awesome YA. And there is definitely hope for people battling an eating disorder. Like me. I wouldn't say I'm in the 50% that claims they're cured, I will always be a recovering anorexic, but I've had two healthy pregnancies, two healthy children. And I can go many years months without dropping the F (fat) bomb.

And while Anderson depicts Lia's despair, dare I say, beautifully, she also delivers hope. And not cheesy, after-school special hope. Realistic hope.

So, if you're looking for a real issue book depicted with absolute authenticity, I hope I've convinced you to trust my judgment on this one. Read Wintergirls.

Do you know anyone with an eating disorder? Did this post resonate with you? Have you read Wintergirls? If not, want to win a hard cover copy? Leave a comment on today’s post or yesterday's post (or both for TWO entries!) and I’ll draw one random commenter to win! Winner will be announced Saturday with our comment of the week!


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