Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time reading books about eating disorders, both fiction and non-fiction. I find these books riveting and addictive in a way, especially since I have recently been struggling more and more with my own disordered eating habits.
One book which I recently read was entitled “Paperweight” by Meg Haston and it was one of those books that I didn’t want to end, but when that end inevitably arrived I was left feeling like it was one of the best books I have ever read in my life. I could relate so much to the main character and I find it therapeutic to read books which are based in therapeutic settings. It’s strange, but I think it calms me because it reminds me of my own therapist and helps me feel the same level of safety that I feel when I am in a therapy session.
The one thing which I find a bit ironic is the tendency for books about eating disorders to include characters named “Anna”, “Anne”, or “Ana”. The name bears a striking resemblance to the word “anorexia” and is often used in order to refer to the illness. In online forums, blogs, and on social media I see girls personifying their eating disorder as “Ana” which leads me to believe that it is no coincidence that authors use this name in their books about the illness.
In “Paperweight”, Anna is the main character’s therapist. She is there to help patients work through their eating issues and as the story progresses, the reader learns that she has battled her own demons in the past with alcoholism. The irony here is that Anna is personified as a helpful character and eventually she does help Stevie (the main character) work towards recovery; however, for sufferers of anorexia, “Ana” is also viewed as a helper in the sense that anorexia sufferers worship the idea of their eating disorder and strive to attain unrealistic and unhealthy goals which the eating disorder voice of Ana tells them to do.
Based on the many fictional books about eating disorders which I have read, I’ve noticed that there is a trend towards personifying the eating disorder as being almost like a separate character. It’s interested to think about, especially from the perspective of someone who is currently struggling with an eating disorder.
The potential danger to this kind of content is the unintentional insights which readers can use in order to further their disordered eating behaviors. For me, this means learning tips and tricks from the characters about how to lose more weight and what foods to eat in order to avoid calories; but it also allows me to learn how to hide the warning signs of my behaviors from friends, family, and coworkers.
Reading about eating disorders is validating in the sense that it makes me feel less alone and helps me recognize that my struggles are real, but it is also a very dangerous and addictive practice which has had negative impacts on my well-being in the past and present. I am aware of the risks but because it is addictive to focus on the eating disorder, it is difficult to distance myself from these kinds of books. I love reading and it just seems like second nature to combine my love of reading with my obsession with food, calories, and weight.
Can anyone else relate to this? I don’t want to encourage anyone to do anything that will potentially damage their recovery or worsen their disordered behaviors, but it’s nice to hear from my readers who might also be struggling.