Babette Rothschild, the Series Editor of 8 Keys, explains in her introduction that the purpose of the 8 Keys series is to provide intelligent, thoughtful help from highly experienced professionals. In this case, Carolyn Costin and Gwen Schubert Grabb are not only psychotherapists who are highly trained in working with people with eating disorders, but both women have suffered with their own eating disorders. Costin has written two previous books on the subject, Your Dieting Daughter and The Eating Disorders Sourcebook, and also helped her coauthor, Grabb, recover from her eating disorder.
The two women came together to write the 8 Keys to Recovery From an Eating Disorder in order to extend their help to the “more than 20 million people in the US alone [who] suffer from an eating disorder.” They note, however, that it may be useful for the sufferer’s family and friends, as well as mental health professionals.
Since both authors are familiar with eating disorders on professional and personal levels, they understand that each person will have a unique recovery process. For this reason, the book is not regimented and is designed so that you are free to skip around and read what interests you. To make it more personal, the authors include many writing assignments to help readers engage.
Most important, you don’t have to be completely ready to recover before you begin reading this book. Costin and Grabb write “we don’t consider lack of motivation a weakness or problem; we understand it.” They know that there often is a feeling of ambivalence toward recovery; they believe their job is twofold: to help their readers deal with this and to continue to motivate them.
Because these authors work so hard to make this text a personal experience for each reader, and since they are so familiar with the intricacies of the illness and steps in the recovery process, I would highly recommend them to anyone suffering from an eating disorder — especially if you feel alone. These two strong women are proof that you are not alone and that you can recover.
Costin and Grabb are gentle in their guidance. They do not push their readers, but consistently encourage and motivate. They explain everything thoroughly, so that readers aren’t just receiving advice, but are actually learning about the recovery process. They also take the time to explain that their goal is for the reader eventually to recover. They are careful to use this word instead of “recovering” or “in recovery” because they both feel that being recovered is reaching a state of acceptance and having a proper perspective on food, weight and your own physical and mental health. Additionally, they both feel that they are recovered and therefore want to help others feel the same.
While the goal is clear, Costin and Grabb don’t believe that recovery itself is a linear process. This is why they encourage readers to explore the chapters in random order. They also are careful to explain that during the recovery process “your motivation, patience and hope will come and go.” This is a constant reminder that the path is long, but their friendly and gentle advice will be by your side. As shown in the quote, they directly speak to you as a reader, so you feel quite intimate with them.
To make it even more personal, the authors encourage readers to keep a journal to document feelings and experiences during the process. They give writing assignments in each section as prompts, and include example entries in the back, but they mostly want to help readers create a space where they can talk about their eating disorder and record all their thoughts and feelings. This way, as readers get further along, they can return to those ideas later and get a sense of their progress.
The 8 keys that Costin and Grabb outline offer new perspectives. It isn’t an attack on eating disorders; it is a journey of understanding. Mostly, I felt the authors provided their readers with the vocabulary to articulate feelings and experiences. For example, they give examples of common statements made by people with eating disorders, such as “I know I wear a size 4, but when I look in the mirror I see a fat person.” This gives readers an opportunity to see themselves in the examples and also serves as a platform for the authors to demonstrate their keys. In this example, they show how a person with an eating disorder is struggling with two selves: their healthy self and their eating disorder self. In addition to providing examples like this, they also include their own stories and other real-life examples from people who have also recovered.
What I most enjoyed about Costin and Grabb’s approach was their compassionate tone and realistic advice. They are invested in providing real hope, motivation and insight for readers. Their attention to real-life issues, such as lack of motivation, fear, or even voicing concerns like the “need for distraction,” all show that they have intimate experience with this type of treatment. At one point they include a short conversation between Costin and Grabb that happened during Grabb’s recovery. Grabb says “What am I supposed to do with all these feelings?” and Costin says, “Feel them.” I think this is a perfect demonstration of how they embrace the entire process of recovery.
Costin and Grabb support their clients so they can learn to accept and understand instead of always having to fight their illness. Their keys are clear and flexible. Readers certainly will have to face some hard truths, but they are in charge of the pacing and do have someone who understands.
8 Keys to Recovery from an Eating Disorder: Effective Strategies from Therapeutic Practice and Personal Experience
By Carolyn Costin and Gwen Schubert Grabb
W. W. Norton & Company: November 7, 2011
Paperback, 296 pages