4 books: Restrictive Eating & Women's Self-Denial

Unbearable Lightness, by Portia de Rossi
Going Hungry: writers on desire, self-denial, and overcoming anorexia
Gaining: the truth about life after eating disorders
Appetites: why women want

I frequently read in subject ‘clumps.’ Upon reading an interesting fact or blurb, I typically search for more books and articles in that area until my interest has run its course. In this case, what sparked my inquiry into restrictive eating disorders was, for me, a very unusual source. Though it is extremely uncharacteristic for me to read celebrity auto/biographies, I did read Portia de Rossi’s Unbearable Lightness: a story of loss and gain (2010). I had been watching “Arrested Development” DVDS from the Library and absolutely loved the show; so when I saw she had written a book, I quickly placed a hold on it and was pleased and surprised by how much I liked it. With a strong, consistent voice, de Rossi presents her thought-life as she developed her eating disorder and progressed into full blown anorexia and recovery.  As I read more on the subject, the following three books came out on top.


Going Hungry: writers on desire, self-denial, and overcoming anorexia
(2008) edited by Kate Taylor, includes essays that largely focus on excessive restricting, but they also explore how that pattern of restricting passes beyond food to relationships, intimacy, self-awareness   -- even consumption of material goods --  in a quest to remain a self-contained unit, wanting and needing nothing to combat hurt and disappointment.


Gaining: the truth about life after eating disorders
(2007) by Aimee Liu, offered a fascinating exploration of what restricting offered to women – the rewards they experienced and felt that went far deeper than just a super-skinny body: essentially, the void it tried to fill.  Gaining includes the author’s personal experiences, those of other women, and existing research on anorexia, including the characteristics, personality traits, and early-life experiences shared by many female anorexics.


Appetites: why women want
(2003) by Caroline Knapp, also provides much food for thought, going quite a bit beyond just eating disorders to hunger and desire  -- of all types --  and why women feel compelled to deny them.  Appetites includes numerous interviews with women, excerpts from classic feminist texts, and sociological statistics blended together in such a way to present a work that could be categorized as a cultural study.  This title would, I believe, serve as a wonderful pick for a women’s book club that enjoys a more cerebral selection. For those with young daughters I believe it is particularly compelling as you are forced to realize the various gender characteristics you may unintentionally promote, even while, at the same time, each day you hate having to live under them and suffer their ill effects (‘promotion’ by virtue of the example we set as we accept them in our own lives). A reviewer on Amazon (“LCC”) adeptly summed up the general thrust of the book: “[it] focuses on the psychology of women and how society impacts women’s desires and sense of entitlement.” Appetites looks at what it means to feed, truly, the body and soul… and why so many women instead believe they deserve to starve.

All four of these books ultimately aim to explore what it means  -- and the difficulty in the struggle --  to become healthy and whole. They are not “how-to” manuals for eating disorders.  Rather, they cause you to think about the voids you may feel and the importance of dealing with those issues straight-on rather than acquiring self-destructive behaviors. They also will help you understand the thought-processes and impetus behind someone you love who is living with an eating disorder.

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