Aimee Liu writes with a gentleness and an understanding that only someone who has been through the painful process of recovery can truly possess: Her 1979 memoir, Solitaire, was the first discussion of anorexia nervosa published in America. Since then, Liu also has written fiction and self-help books.
Liu teaches creative writing at Goddard University’s MFA program, and her background comes through in the book. To begin, she doesn’t preach. She simply approaches the toughest issue about eating disorders (or ‘EDs’ as she refers to them): that no patient ever thinks they can get better. Then she gives step-by-step advice, accompanied by multiple real-life examples, to help encourage readers to begin a path to recovery. While the main audience is intended to be people with an ED, there is still a vast amount of information that someone without an ED can learn, especially if a loved one is suffering.
This book is essentially a collection of letters from people struggling with an ED — such as anorexia, bulimia and binge-eating — which gives readers the gift of realizing they are not alone. Liu chose to incorporate so many letters in part to combat the stigma surrounding EDs. She believes that the way the media treats celebrity EDs makes them more of a spectacle and often people think of them as “trivial girl problems.” Liu also uses all these letters to show that recovery is “as varied and complex as eating disorders themselves, and as powerful as the human spirit.”
This book is clearly organized into the stages of recovery: turning points, setting the stage for recovery, treatment, restoration, discovery and, finally, wise minds. Liu also creates a type of storyline through offering personal stories from people with EDs. Their individual examples are captivating and highlight the different ways that people approach recovery. For example, Liu includes a letter from a girl named Becky whose turning point came when she realized that she judged her success by numbers (grades, weight, etc.), while Steve suddenly realized he had to make a change when his body started hurting in places he “never thought could produce pain.”
It is difficult not to connect with the personal experiences, but Liu includes the science, too. In one case, she provides a chart of physical signs and symptoms associated with EDs. This is extremely useful because, as the section on turning points highlights, it takes a lot for a person to realize that he or she is suffering from a serious disorder.
I appreciated that Liu wanted to address the underlying issues of EDs. As stated, she begins by talking about the stigma associated with EDs and how that prevents people from understanding the severity of the diseases.
She also, though, wanted to provide people with the details of recovery. She begins by responding to a letter from a girl who is frustrated by a lot of the books that jump from explaining an ED to celebrating recovery, bypassing the recovery process itself. Additionally, Liu is careful to remind readers that an ED is “a distress signal, and you need to confront the real source of distress and find constructive ways to confront and manage that conflict.” This shows bravery, as well as true self-awareness, as she pushes people not simply to focus on fixing the surface of the problem.
Liu’s section on ‘setting the stage for recovery’ is likely the most important. Here, she draws the connection between the turning point — where a person realizes their issue — and what to do next. She encourages people to realize that EDs cause people to believe a variety of falsehoods. The stories she presents in this section are the most heartbreaking: people come to terms with why they’ve developed these serious disorders. Oftentimes, as Liu pointed out earlier, the ED is hiding a trauma and to recover, a person needs to confront this.
In this section there are also tips for how a parent, partner or spouse can talk to someone with an ED. Liu, being able to understand both sides of suffering from an ED and trying to help someone with an ED, provides a lot of comforting words and approaches for difficult situations. She then continues into a section on treatment that is full of facts, as well as a gentle, progressive approach to healing. She talks about medical insurance, how to choose a therapist, and nutrition counseling, but also about more personal ways of coping like journaling and letter writing.
The final sections on restoration, discovery and wise minds are a testament to her own success as a recovering anorexic. For those in crucial need of change, these chapters will be of more use after recovery, but will still instill hope whenever they are read.
I enjoyed that Liu presents everything in stages, and has multiple letters from people at every stage, so there is always something you can identify with. Liu delves into the details of how to deal with these serious diseases by looking at them holistically. She also seems to consistently realize that every action has a reaction, so she is careful to approach things slowly and with the utmost care.
I think this book will be a great comfort for both people with an ED and someone who has a loved one with an ED. Overall, Liu gears the book toward the person with an ED, but this stories in this book can be just as important for someone without an ED to begin understanding these terrible diseases.
Restoring Our Bodies, Reclaiming Our Lives: Guidance and Reflections on Recovery from Eating Disorders
By Aimee Liu
Trumpeter: April 26, 2011
Paperback, 240 pages