My most popular book is Hollow Beauty, a YA novel about a girl who decides to go on a drastic diet after a boy asks her to go to the prom. The fact that this book is my “bestseller” makes me feel sad because I still think about the death of Karen Carpenter on February 4, 1983 from anorexia nervosa. I was a young girl, and here we are in 2018, with women (and even men) still struggling with eating disorders.
I started my first diet in middle school, around the time that puberty hit. I remember having "head rushes" where everything went black because my blood sugar dropped so low from not eating all day. Then I went to college and gained the Freshman Fifteen. I've struggled with dieting much of my life. In my thirties, I lost 60 pounds on Weight Watchers but remain relatively stable at a healthy weight now—give or take a few pounds.
According to one Internet article that I found, I was in the 91% of female teenagers who tried dieting. Maybe I was even in the 40% who had an eating disorder, though I don’t know if I qualified for the label of anorexic. Does it really matter? I suffered from low self-esteem, low self-respect, and a desire to please other people, often at cost to myself. I certainly didn’t know who I was or what I wanted, except to be smaller. Much smaller.
YA Book Recommendations
Reading books can help save lives by showing what eating disorders look like. Through the power of story, someone may recognize their own symptoms of disordered eating or in their friends, and this can help someone to seek help. With that in mind, I offer two of my favorite YA titles on the topic:
Sethie Weiss is such a disconnected character. She’s almost hard to like because she’s so cold, made of granite, and not really in touch with herself in any way. It takes awhile to realize that her pain is tied to this perfectionist state she’s locked herself in, and the things she does and says are really part of her illness. In the end I rooted for her. I wanted her to become a real girl again.
This book is stark, beautiful, and also painful. Laurie Halse Anderson writes about tough topics, and Wintergirls addresses eating disorders, friendship, grief, loss, and recovery. One girl is dead. The other one suffers from guilt and anorexia. You won’t be disappointed in this story.
While there are great Goodreads Lists for YA Eating Disorder Fiction, I cannot offer other titles for recommendation. Go and find your own joy. Let me know if you find something great.
The authors whose writing has been more impactful have been in the area of memoir. One person in particular stands above all others: Carolyn Knapp. Her struggles with anorexia are detailed in The Merry Recluse, Appetites: Why Women Want, and even to some extent in Drinking: A Love Story. Her work is amazing. I give her 5 stars all around.
Another great memoir about eating disorders is Wasted by Mayra Hornbacher. Check that one out as well.
Above all, if you are someone who struggles with food, do not take four decades to learn the lesson that I have learned: you are enough. You are small enough, good enough, smart enough. The number on the scale does not define who you are or who you will become.
I’d love to hear from you. Please like or share any books and personal stories.
Khristina Chess is the author of several YA novels about troubled teens turning corners. Sometimes adults widen their eyes and cover young children’s ears when she describes the topics of her books—gasp, teen pregnancy! A banning is in her near future.