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My Teen Daughter Gave Me Permission to Write about her Eating Disorder, ARFID By Stephanie Elliot

MHYALitlogoofficfialMy daughter has an eating disorder and it’s unlike the usual suspects. Everyone is familiar with bulimia and anorexia nervosa, but what my daughter has is called ARFID, which stands for Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder.

ARFID, simply put, is the fear of eating – extreme picky eating; the fear that if you try something new, you might very well die. It sounds completely unbelievable, but this is the mind-thought of those who have the disorder. It has nothing to do with feelings of self-esteem or image issues, and almost everyone who has it suffers from depression, anxiety, and other social issues. It is most definitely a mental disorder and is listed in the DSM-5. Children and adults with ARFID will gag or vomit if new foods are introduced to them. They restrict foods, only eating a bank of small ‘safe’ foods, and distant themselves from friends and family. The disorder can get so bad that some turn to self-harm and have suicidal ideation.

My daughter McKaelen is 17 and she’s had ARFID for almost her whole life, but was only diagnosed when she was 15. For years we knew something was wrong – she was an extremely picky eater, she became reclusive, avoided friends, was distant with us, and didn’t participate in any family occasions that involved food. Doctors and therapists had no answers for us. She was healthy, growing at an above-average pace, and appeared normal. Only when we found a specialist in ARFID who could properly diagnose her did we find a way to recovery.

While McKaelen was in a 20-week outpatient program to learn to get better, I was writing a fictional account of her experience. This was therapy for me. We had been dealing with her eating disorder for years and years and I was learning so much. If I could write about her experience, and share the knowledge I was gaining about this mental disorder in order to help others learn, then I was going to do it. About halfway through her intense therapy, I knew I had to tell her I was writing about her experience. If she felt uncomfortable about it, I would stop. Instead, she embraced the idea and I kept writing.

sadperfect_09eWhile Sad Perfect is fiction, the symptoms of ARFID, and the accompanying anxiety, depression, and social distress in the book are true to what my daughter personally experienced. With McKaelen’s permission and thoughtful input, I share her story so that other teens going through something similar will be able to read this and know they are not alone.

I want struggling teens to know that their disorder has a name. They need to know that they’re not an anomaly, they are not the only kid who can’t try a food, and that it’s okay. These kids need to know that when they sit at the dining room table and they feel threatened, paralyzed, and incapable of doing the simple everyday task of eating a meal, it’s because they may have ARFID. They also need to know that it is a disorder that is not very well-known yet, but people in healthcare are finally talking about it, there is help available, and they can get better, with the right care and treatment plan.


Stephanie Elliot is the author of Sad Perfect (FSG, 2/28/17) and is an advocate for ARFID, Avoidant/Restrictive Food Intake Disorder. She lives in Scottsdale, Arizona with her husband and her three children.

For more book information please visit http://www.stephanieelliot.com.

For more information on ARFID, please visit http://stephanieelliot.wixsite.com/arfid.

Eating Disorders: Haunting the 616.85 Section, a #MHYALit guest post by BELIEVAREXIC author J. J. Johnson

It may seem weird to talk about eating disorders in a week when we have been talking about food, but food is a complicated issue for a lot of people. It was for me. No, it is for me. And it is also for BELIEVAREXIC author J. J. Johnson. She contacted me about participating in our #MHYALit discussion in 2016, but since her book is currently out I wanted to share this post with you now.

Believearexic_drawn maze concepts_final.inddIn 1988, when I was fifteen, before I was hospitalized for bulimarexia (a combination of anorexia and bulimia), I haunted the 616.85 section of the library. I sat on the cold tile floor between stacks, breathed that comforting old-book smell, and found my tribe.

Those pages of 616.85s – dog-eared by me, I am terribly ashamed to admit now – are where I located the things I was in desperate need of: insight, expertise, and community.

Insight, expertise, community: that’s what books give us. That’s what we come for. But in my case, it wasn’t necessarily a good thing.

Fifteen-year-old me gleaned the helpful—albeit confusing—insights that eating disorders were a disease, or an addiction, or an affliction (depending on the book) that could be treated. I learned that eating disorders often coincided with perfectionism and anxiety. But I also picked up expertise on purging, and hiding my illness, and counting calories. Most importantly, though, I found people who understood what I was going through. The authors of these books understood me in a way that no one else did.

And this was before the Internet. Think of the insight, expertise, and community to be found on pro-ana (pro-anorexia) or pro-mia (pro-bulimia) websites, blogs, forums, or Tumblrs. (Hashtags you should consider red flags include: #ana #anorexia #proana #purge #bulimia #mia #promia #ed #skinny #thinsporation #thinspo #fitspo.)

Even many of the supposed pro-recovery pages (#edrecovery #pro-recovery) can be a problem. Because like reading books, perusing Internet pages isn’t the same as getting help.

Why isn’t it the same? Let me explain with examples from my own treatment–ten weeks in an inpatient eating disorders unit, from November 1988-January 1989. In the EDU, we had two kinds of meetings: therapist-led group meetings, and patient-led 12-Step meetings.

In the therapist led meetings, Dr. Wexler (not his real name) would push back when patients talked about wanting to stay sick, or when we’d avoid blame, or when we’d rag on staff. He didn’t let us get away with it, and he guided us into taking a hard look at what had been making us sick. He knew us, and he knew all our tricks. He’d had a lot of training, and he’d been treating patients like us for many years.

The patient-led meetings? Well, here’s how I put it in Believarexic:

In some ways… [the meeting was] reassuring, because I wasn’t alone in my frustrations and misery.

But in other ways, it dragged me down.

It was as if we were all in the ocean because our boat sank, and every one of us was struggling not to drown. And while we were ostensibly trying to help each other, we were actually just pulling each other under.

The readers who haunt the 616.85s and the computer stations need help. Even if they know they want to recover, they need help. I can say this with clarity, because when I was sick, I wanted to get better, but I didn’t know how. And neither do your patrons. Recovery takes doctors with focused expertise, and/or recovered eating disordered patients with decades of solid recovery behind them. And I mean decades. I’m a tough customer when it comes to who I think should be doling out therapy and advice for actively eating-disordered people.

Eating disorders are tricky. So what can a caring librarian do?

S/he can strategically place the numbers of helplines next to the computers. S/he can say, gently, “I’ve noticed you checking out books about eating disorders. I care about you. I’m here if you need me. We can find help for you together.” S/he can create displays that don’t just promote eating disorder awareness, but recovery and body positivity. S/he can encourage real-life help-getting. S/he can steer young readers away from books that focus on disease, triggers, and tips for being sick, and instead suggest strongly recovery-oriented books, like Making Peace with Food, by Susan Kano; Regaining Your Self: Breaking Free from the Eating Disorder Identity: A Bold New Approach, by Ira Sacker; or, if you’ll allow me to suggest it: Believarexic, my auto-biographical novel that is raw, recovery-focused—and which, crucially and very intentionally—does not include any specific target weights, purging tips, or the like.

Librarians have a magic talent for putting the right book in the right hands at the right time. Here’s to helping readers find body-positive, health-focused insights, expertise and community. Here’s to helping them find their healthy tribe—in media and IRL.


Fifteen-year-old Jennifer has to force her family to admit she needs help for her eating disorder. But when her parents sign her into the Samuel Tuke Center, she knows it’s a terrible mistake. The facility’s locked doors, cynical nurses, and punitive rules are a far cry from the peaceful, supportive environment she’d imagined.

In order to be discharged, Jennifer must make her way through the strict treatment program—as well as harrowing accusations, confusing half-truths, and startling insights. She is forced to examine her relationships, both inside and outside the hospital. She must relearn who to trust, and decide for herself what “healthy” really means.

Punctuated by dark humor, gritty realism, and profound moments of self-discovery, Believarexic is a stereotype-defying exploration of belief and human connection. (Published October 1, 2015  by Peachtree Publishers)

About J. J. Johnson

Author J. J. Johnson

Author J. J. Johnson

J.J. Johnson is a youth counselor turned young adult novelist. She has a Master of Education from Harvard University, with a concentration in Adolescent Risk and Prevention.

She is the author of This Girl is Different (2011), The Theory of Everything (2012), and Believarexic (October 2015). Her books have received numerous honors and starred reviews, and have been translated into six languages.

J.J. lives in Durham, North Carolina. She loves echidnas, dance parties, and Star Wars.

Learn more about Believarexic and eating disorder recovery at www.believarexic.com. Learn more about J.J. at www.jjjohnsonauthor.com.

Karen’s Thoughts

I actually just read BELIEVAREXIC as part of my Cybils reading, it is nominated in the YA Fic category. I really thought it realistically depicted many of the struggles associated with eating disorders. And I like that it acknowledges over eating and binge eating as an eating disorder as well as anorexia and bulimia. I also thought that it had one of the best descriptions of depression I have ever heard articulated. The only thing I wondered about was that it is solidly set in the 1980s and a lot of musicians, movies and tv shows from that time period are referenced which teen readers may not be familiar with. But the meat of the story, the depiction of family and self esteem issues, the depiction of eating disorders, the depiction of therapy, rang true for me and I felt it was very informative and relate-able.

Body Image and Eating Disorders on TLT

Learn more about and see the #MHYALit Post Index Here

Book Review: Elena Vanishing: A Memoir by Elena and Clare B. Dunkle

The voices in our heads can be so cruel. For Elena, and many other people struggling with anorexia, the voices in our heads are persistent with one overriding message: you are not good enough. The only way to become good enough is to lower the number on the scale. And as you step on the scale and watch that number go lower and lower and lower, you feel a sense of victory. But what you don’t know is that you are slowly killing yourself.

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of the various mental health disorders. For Elena Dunkle, it is her heart that is failing. She is rushed to the hospital while living overseas on a military base. The doctor knows she has an eating disorder but Elena can’t admit it yet. But when her heart starts to fail it becomes harder to ignore. She is transported back to America where she is put into a hospital to receive treatment. And like most people with an eating disorder, one stay in a treatment center isn’t enough to “cure” her. She spends a great amount of time in and out of treatment centers, in and out of hospitals.

Elena Vanishing is a visceral true story told in present tense. But in the introduction Elena’s mother, Clare, reminds us that “this isn’t the story of anorexia nervosa. It’s the story of a person. It’s the story of Elena Dunkle, a remarkable young woman who fights her demons with grit and determination. It’s the story of her battle to overcome trauma, to overcome prejudice, but most of all, to overcome that powerful destructive force, the inner critic who whispers to us about our greatest fears.” Elena’s story is unique to her, and yet so many men and women out there are living similar stories.

Elena Vanishing is a powerful read. Heartbreaking. Real. Vivid. You get a strong sense of Elena’s experiences, what she thought inside her head, how her life unraveled time and time again. The cruel ways in which she thought of and talked to other in order to build herself up, to try and change the self talk inside her head. The insecurity and anger and loneliness and fear that drives her. At times she thinks she isn’t anorexic enough and that everyone in the treatment center with her knows that she is a fraud, a failure as an anorexic. It’s an emotional, self-destructive roller coaster that Elena is on and as a reader you are asked to climb aboard and hold on tight as you travel this journey with her.

Highly recommended. Kirkus called Elena Vanishing a “moving snapshots of a young woman’s struggles with anorexia nervosa”.

Publisher’s Book Description:

Seventeen-year-old Elena is vanishing. Every day means renewed determination, so every day means fewer calories. This is the story of a girl whose armor against anxiety becomes artillery against herself as she battles on both sides of a lose-lose war in a struggle with anorexia. Told entirely from Elena’s perspective over a five-year period and co-written with her mother, award-winning author Clare B. Dunkle, Elena’s memoir is a fascinating and intimate look at a deadly disease, and a must read for anyone who knows someone suffering from an eating disorder.

Elena Vanishing by Elena and Clare B. Dunkle will be published in May 2015 by Chronicle Books. There is a companion book called Hope and Other Luxuries written by Elena’s mother, Clare, which I did not read. I received a review copy in the mail and it came with some discussion questions which you can find at the Chronicle Books page.

For more on National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, check out check out NEDA

For more discussion about body image and eating disorders here at TLT, including an updated book list, check out these posts:

Sunday Reflections: The Skin I’m Not Comfortable In, looking back and looking forward at a life with an eating disorder

I am a teenage anorexic in the body of a fat old woman.

My struggle with an eating disorder began when I was 12. I was diagnosed with Scoliosis and fitted with a back brace, a type of fiberglass corset. The first time I ever had to wear it out in public I became so body conscious that I threw up. You see this back brace, it was big and bulky and distorted the way my body looked. I had to wear different clothes, elastic waist pants that would fit around it and big baggy shirts to hide the way it flattened my butt. Everything about it made me look bigger and, in my eyes, so abnormal. So I wanted to be smaller, to shrink away so no one would notice. I wanted to disappear.

At the same time, I was being abused by a family member. It’s not something I like to talk about a lot, but I can’t deny that this too was part of the reason I wanted to shrink away. Living in that state of constant fear, lying awake at night wondering if tonight would be the night, more than anything else I wanted to disappear.

By the time I entered high school I hovered consistently around 100 pounds, give or take a few pounds. I was 5 foot 9.

I got some treatment in high school during my junior and senior years, but my main treatment came in college.

Ironically, I’ve read enough of the literature out there to know that the reason I am now over weight may be due in part to all of those years of starving my body. Apparently it changes your body metabolism and  fearing periods of hunger, your body stores up fat. I have programmed my body to fear hunger at some basic level. And the truth is, I’m just tired of starving and once I started eating again it became so much harder to stop. Six years of barely eating and then three pregnancies with Hyperemesis Gravidarum, I’m tired of the growling pit of starvation and trails of bile that make up so much of my past.

Now I’m the mom to two little girls and the two greatest fears I have for my daughters is that they will somehow be sexually violated or themselves become a member of the eating disorder statistic. I never look in the mirror any more, hoping that they won’t see me obsessing about my weight and pick up those cues. We don’t own a scale. We talk about eating healthy because food is fuel for our bodies and we want to give it the right fuel. I put on a bathing suit and go swimming with them, even when I want to cover myself up in a towel and hide away. I do everything I can to make them feel loved and valued and accepted. But I also appear in very few pictures with them, always using the excuse of hiding behind the camera.

A rare picture of me with my beloveds

The other night I had a scare. I was reading a book on my phone when the battery died. This is a frequent occurrence actually. So I grabbed The Tween’s phone and opened it up and there was an Internet search page full of articles on bulimia. She had searched the term bulimia. I panicked. Why, I wondered, was she searching for this term? Was it for a school assignment? Was she concerned about a friend? Is she okay? Her and the bestie were talking about it and she looked it up. But my vigilance has kicked up a notch. My greatest fear is that one day one of them might come to hate the skin they are in they way I have.

They say you are never cured of an eating disorder, well that’s what my college therapist said. And I must say, I can see the ways in which it lingers. I still hate my body. I still often want to shrink and disappear, hoping that maybe no one will notice me. Sometimes I am still fiercely proud of the extreme self control I had during those days where I only ate a daily bagel and drank 1 can of Pepsi. Sometimes I am fiercely ashamed at the lack of self control I now exhibit when it comes to food. I know that teenage me would look at adult me with nothing but disgust and contempt.

February 22nd through the 28th is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week. Four out of ten individuals struggle personally with an eating disorder or is somehow affected by someone who is.  Eating disorders do not discriminate against gender, skin color, income level, or educational background, they can happen to anyone. I’m here to tell you that having an eating disorder sucks. Being hungry and tired and just – languishing – all the time sucks. Hating yourself sucks. The constant dialogue in your head – you’re too fat, you’re disgusting, you’re too weak – sucks. The amount of time you spend obsessing about food, trying to hide whether or not you are eating food, and bargaining with yourself in your head – if I eat this today, I will only eat this tomorrow – sucks. Trying to meet the unrealistic standard of beauty that lives in your head is exhausting. I am tired of thinking about my weight. It’s been thirty years, when can I be at peace with who I am?

My oldest daughter is now the age that it all started to go downhill for me. She’s the age of when my abuse started. She’s the age of when my eating disorder started. I just want to get her through this minefield called adolescence intact. I need you to help me. I need my friends and family and neighbors to do better. I need the TV and radio and movie screens to do better. I need the Internet to do better. We need to be aware of the things we say, the messages we send both explicitly and implicitly. We all need to do better for our youth today. If you break my babies, I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to forgive you. Do better world.

Can you imagine how different our world would be if we cultivated a world where our kids were nurtured intellectually and emotionally? Can you imagine how much better our world would be if we were raising these kids to be healthy adults? But we’re not. But that doesn’t mean we can’t.

For more on National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, check out check out NEDA

For more discussion about body image and eating disorders here at TLT, including an updated book list, check out these posts:

Skin and Bones: talking about teens and eating disorders, a guest post by author Sherry Shahan

Years ago I wrote a quirky short story about teens in an Eating Disorders Unit of a metropolitan hospital. Sort of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” meets “Love Story.” 

Fast Facts: 2 out of every 100 students struggles with an eating disorder

My then agent encouraged me to expand the short story (now Skin and Bones, Albert Whitman, 2014) into a novel. I spent months weighing the pros and cons of such a commitment.


  • The short story would serve as an outline since the basic story arc was in place.
  • Each character already had a distinct voice.
  • The hospital setting was firmly fixed in my vision.
  • The subject matter had proven itself to be of interest to readers.
  • Proven ground is attractive to editors and publishers, as long as the topic is approached in a fresh way. 


  • The story would require an additional 60,000 words.
  • I would have to create a cast of new characters.
  • Every character would require a convincing backstory.
  • I would need compelling subplots.
  • Every scene would require richer subtext.
During the first draft I was frustrated by unexpected obstacles. For instance, how could I keep up the idiosyncratic tone without the narrator sounding flippant? Eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, compulsive over-eating, etc.) are serious, and in too many instances, life-threatening. It took several drafts before the tone felt balanced.

More than one anorexic in my story figures out how to beat the health care system. After all, they’re experts at manipulating family, friends, and each other, as well their environment. Yet I agonized about Skin and Bones becoming a how-to manual for those still in the throes of the disorder.

Fast Facts:  Anorexia is the 3rd most common chronic illness among adolescents. (National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders)

Still, I knew I had to include information about the potentially grave consequences associated with the illness. But I didn’t want to sound didactic. Sometimes I sprinkled facts into quirky scenes. Other times statistics emerged in dialogue between patients who were arguing. Either way, giving information felt more organic when slipped in sideways instead of straight on.

People have asked why I chose to explore this issue in the first place. The answer is simple: media gives attention to accidents resulting from teens drinking and driving, drug abuse, shootings, suicide, etc. Yet anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents and has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. 

They also express curiosity about the main character being a teen guy. Most people don’t think of males as having this illness. Yet eating disorders affect approximately 25 million Americans, in which 25% are males.

Bio: Sherry Shahan has more than 35 children’s books to her credit, including Alaskan-based adventure novels Ice Island and Frozen Stiff(both Random House/Yearling). Ice Islandfeatures teens and their hard-driving sled dogs, a perfect fit for units about the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race in Alaska. Sherry holds an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts and teaches an ongoing writing course for UCLA Extension. 

Visit Sherry at www.SherryShahan.com Or shoot her an email: kidbooks@thegrid.net

Body Image and Eating Disorders at TLT
Top 10 teen titles dealing with body image and eating disorders
The Girl in the Fiberglass Corset; a story about scoliosis and eating disorders
Sex Sells, but what are we selling?
Let’s Hear it for the Boys 
Pop Culture and Body Image Issues for Gay Teens, a guest post 
National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: True confessions from a recovering anorexic
Every Day by David Levithan, a book review
Butter by Erin Jade Lange, a book review
The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, a book review
Skinny by Donna Conner, a review
A Second Opinion: Every Day by David Levithan
10 Titles that deal with Obesity and Body Image (with links to some good articles)
Today is Love Your Body Day
The Effects of Pop Culture on the Body Image of GLBT Teens
Body Image and Weight Loss 
Sex Sells, but what are we selling? Pop culture and body image issues in tweens and teens 
Take a Second Look: Books that encourage teens to look beyond body image 
Abercrombie and Fitch, Brave and Body Image: Part 1 and Part 2   

Book Review: A Really Awesome Mess 

Additional Resources
Reading Rants – Bare Bones: Honest Fiction about Weight and Eating Disorders
For another YA Lit title dealing with a teenage boy dealing with an eating disorder, check out A Trick of the Light by Lois Metzger  
Kids Health: Eating Disorders
National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders 
Eating and Body Dysmorphic Disorders: Crash Course Psychology #33

List of Lists: Teens and Mental Health Resources

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

According to the NCCP, approximately 20% of adolescents have a diagnosed mental health issue. Most mental health disorders begin to present in the adolescent years. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among adolescents. According to NAMI, 50% of children who present with a mental illness will drop out of school.

In addition, a variety of teens are living in houses where they are being raised by a parent who suffers from some type of mental health issue. Approximately 1 in 4 adults in the U.S. suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. These are the parents, grandparents, and love ones of many of our teens.

Mental health issues are an important issue for teens. Reading stories about characters with mental health disorders can help teens understand their parents, their friends, or their selves. It can give them hope. It can affirm and validate their experiences. Below are links to several lists of YA titles that deal with mental health issues in some way.

A Variety of YA Lit Book Lists

Stephanie Khuen: YA Highway
Kuehn presents a very comprehensive reading list of YA lit titles broken down by various subjects and issues including anxiety disorders, eating disorders, bipolar disorders, thought disorders and impulse control. The list isn’t annotated, but it does link back to the Goodreads page for a description and publisher information.

Adventures of Lit Girl
This page presents a list of mostly YA titles, there are a few adult titles, broken down by various issues. Only covers are presented, you have to click through to the Goodreads page to get the book description and publisher information.

We’re All Made Here: Mental Illness in YA Fiction
Bitch Magazine discusses some of the issues in titles in a brief article.

Can Teen Fiction Explain Mental Illness to My Daughter?
The Guardian presents a good article about teens navigating personal and family mental illness and discusses how YA fiction can help teens in these situations.

Reach Out Reads
In 2011, Inspire USA released a short list of titles called Reach Out Reads. These titles deal with a variety of mental health topics including bullying in schizophrenia. There is only one title for each topic.

For Statistics, Facts and Resources, Check Out These Resources

Teen Mental Health
 A pretty comprehensive site

Healthy Children
An article on watching for danger signs

Office of Adolescent Health 
Another comprehensive site that looks at adolescent mental health issues.

Children of Parents with Mental Illness
Help for children who have parents that suffer from a mental illness.

From Risk to Resilience: Support for Children whose Parents Have Mental Illness
Help for children who have parents that suffer from a mental illness.

Teen Issues at TLT
We have a variety of posts that talk about a variety of teen issues, including addiction, body image, and mental health.

Book Review: A Really Awesome Mess by Trish Cook and Brendan Halpin

Just when you thought Egmont Week was over….. one more review from their fall catalog!

The writing pair behind Notes from the Blender, a great bit of realistic fiction about the complications and joys of becoming, through no effort of your own, part of a blended family during high school, is back for another novel with a shared narration.  Emmy and Justin alternate chapters, detailing the daily grind of life at Heartland Academy, a school and treatment facility for teens who are… well, a really awesome mess.

I really enjoyed Notes from the Blender and the interplay between Cook and Halpin’s voices and perspectives.  The same technique is used here, and though the book is definitely enjoyable, I didn’t feel the same “zing” as in their previous collaboration, perhaps because there’s less humor in the subject matter, and perhaps because both characters need to focus inward so much more because of their situations.

Emmy, adopted as a baby from China by a Caucasian American family (who had a biological child just a few months after the adoption was final) struggles with an eating disorder and her feelings of abandonment and otherness, in addition to her anger over an incident of cyberbullying and sexual harassment at her previous school.  Justin claims he wasn’t really trying to kill himself when he took a bunch of Tylenol, but in combination with some inappropriate sexual behavior, the cry for help was heard loud and clear and he lands in Heartland too.

As Emmy and Justin learn the ins and outs of institutional life and get to know their roommates and groupmates, they begin to let down their guard enough to accept help and friendship when it is offered them.  Each finally admits that they have some issues that they need to work on, and begins to see their life before Heartland in a different way.

The cast of supporting characters is certainly interesting, and as you might expect from a book whose peer group of focus is a therapy group, each has a backstory and complexity that is slowly revealed.  There’s a sideplot regarding a pig, which seemed a little contrived and stretched the walls of believability, but certainly broke this book away from the realm of predictable and lightened the mood significantly, buoying it on toward the happy conclusion.

The promise of hope and healing is strong here.  Put this on your list of books for teens with “issues”, recommend it to those who might like other books about teens struggling with mental health issues but might want something a little lighter.  This book is more about the process of understanding that a problem exists than delving deeply into the complexity of one specific disorder as is done in Wintergirls or Cut.  Keep in mind that though there’s lots of talk of sex, there isn’t actually much physical contact at all between the main characters, whose relationship builds slowly after many fits and starts, and progresses in a really mature way with self-awareness and good sense.

Booklist (July 1, 2013) says, “The bawdy, witty, and sarcastic style balances out the intense therapy discourse and the pensive self-reflection found elsewhere in this irreverent take on mental health, recovery, and wellness.” – Jones, Courtney.

A Really Awesome Mess by Tish Cook and Brendan Halpin.  Published July 23 by Egmont USA.  ISBN: 9781606843642.

More on Body Image and Eating Disorders in YA Lit at TLT
Body Image and Eating Disorders
Top 10 teen titles dealing with body image and eating disorders
The Girl in the Fiberglass Corset; a story about scoliosis and eating disorders
Sex Sells, but what are we selling?
Let’s Hear it for the Boys 
Pop Culture and Body Image Issues for Gay Teens, a guest post 
National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: True confessions from a recovering anorexic

Teen Obesity and Body Image:
Every Day by David Levithan, a book review
Butter by Erin Jade Lange, a book review
The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson, a book review
Skinny by Donna Conner, a review
A Second Opinion: Every Day by David Levithan
10 Titles that deal with Obesity and Body Image (with links to some good articles)
Today is Love Your Body Day
The Effects of Pop Culture on the Body Image of GLBT Teens
Body Image and Weight Loss 
Sex Sells, but what are we selling? Pop culture and body image issues in tweens and teens 
Take a Second Look: Books that encourage teens to look beyond body image 
Abercrombie and Fitch, Brave and Body Image: Part 1 and Part 2   

Top 10: Teen titles that deal with obesity and body image

The past couple of days, we have been talking body image and the depiction of obese teens in teen fiction.  So here’s our list of the Top 10 Titles that deal with body image with an emphasis on titles that deal with teens struggling with obesity.

Obesity and Teens in Teen Fiction: a discussion
Every Day by David Levithan, a book review
Butter by Erin Jade Lange, a book review
A Second Opinion: Every Day by David Levithan
Coming Soon: a review of Skinny by Donna Cooner

Fat Kid Rules The World by K. L. Going
“Whats ironic,” he adds, shaking his head, “is that everyone’s so busy trying not to look like they’re looking at you that they’re really not looking at you.”

Shattering Glass by Gail Giles
“Simon Glass was easy to hate. I never knew exactly why, there was just too much to pick from. I guess, really, we each hated him for a different reason, but we didn’t realize it until the day we killed him.”
Hunger by Jackie Morsel Kessler
“Living means constantly growing closer to death. Satisfaction only temporarily relieves hunger. Find the balance, and plant your feet.”
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher
“From a distance,’ he says, ‘my car looks just like every other car on the freeway, and Sarah Byrnes looks just like the rest of us. And if she’s going to get help, she’ll get it from herself or she’ll get it from us. Let me tell you why I brought this up. Because the other day when I saw how hard it was for Mobe to go to the hospital to see her, I was embarrassed that I didn’t know her better, that I ever laughed at one joke about her. I was embarrassed that I let some kid go to school with me for twelve years and turned my back on pain that must be unbearable. I was embarrassed that I haven’t found a way to include her somehow the way Mobe has.”
Butter by Erin Jade Lange

“If you can stomach it, you’re invited to watch… as I eat myself to death.”

The Earth, My Butt, and Other Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
“The Fat Girl Code of Conduct:
1. Any sexual activity is a secret. No public displays of affection.
2. Don’t discuss your weight with him.
3. Go further than skinny girls. If you can’t sell him on your body, you’d better overcompensate with sexual perks.
4. Never, ever, ever, ever, ever push the relationship thing. ”

Skinny by Donna Cooner
“It just wasn’t fair. God made some people naturally skinny and some people naturally fat. I’d never know how my life would have been different if I’d been one of the ones He made skinny. I didn’t know how He chose. This one will be blonde, with long thin legs and great skin. This one will be short and fat with legs that rub together when she walks. I just knew I wasn’t one of the lucky ones.”

Perfect by Ellen Hopkins
Is that what you are
if you choose to improve
the basic not perfect you?” 

The List by Siobhan Vivian
“Sometimes, when you get something new, you trick yourself into believing it has the power to change absolutely everything about you.” 

The DUFF: Designated Ugly Fat Friend by Kody Keplinger
“Calling Vikki a slut or a whore was just like calling somebody the Duff. It was insulting and hurtful, and it was one of those titles that just fed off the inner fear every girl must have from time to time. Slut, bitch, prude, tease, ditz. They were all the same. Every girl felt like one of these sexist labels described her at some point.” 

What’s on your list?

Please see our previous Top 10 List on Body Image and Eating Disorders

Some articles about obesity in teen fiction:
ALAN “Meant to Be Huge”
Plus Size Teen Fiction
Weighing in on Weight by Rae Carson


The girl in the fiberglass corset: a story about scoliosis and eating disorders

The first time I had to wear it in public, I threw up.  It was at my brother’s baseball game and there I was running to the bathroom to hurl.  You see, unlike the corsets of old, it didn’t make me look thinner.  No, it made me look . . . well, large.  It being a fiberglass cast that went around my torso to help correct my spine.  I had scoliosis.

I remember it was the same year I read Deenie by Judy Blume and thought, wow that would suck.  Later that year they called us all in to the nurses office and had us bend over and touch our toes.  It turns out that I, too, had scoliosis.  My spine was curved.  For 2 years I had to wear a fiberglass corset 24/7 and then for another 2 years I had to wear it at night.  Nothing says have a good night’s sleep like a fiberglass corset digging in your hips.

My scoliosis diagnosis also led me down another dangerous path: eating disorders.  You see, I couldn’t stand how big the corset made me look, and I didn’t want people to notice, so I wore oversized clothes and began to shrink, both literally and figuratively.  I tried to make myself as small as possible so no one would notice the fiberglass cast and how it contorted my body and made me feel like a freak of nature.

By the time I was in high school I was down to eating just a granola bar for lunch and as little dinner as I could get away with eating.

By the time I was 19 I was 5 foot 9 and weighed 102 pounds.  I was eating just a granola bar or blueberry muffin a day, washing it down with one can of Pepsi.  This is when I began dating the Mr. and if you asked him what his first impressions of me were he would not say I was thin or beautiful.  No, he would tell you that I slept a lot.  I was tired all the time because food is our energy and I simply didn’t have any.

In college I began my journey of recovery.  They say you are never fully recovered; like a drug addict, you simply learn to manage I guess. I eat 3 square meals a day and generally am at peace with who I am, but it took me a while to get there.  All teens struggle with body image and self acceptance issues, but some of them will spiral into full blown eating disorders of some sort.  It is important that we add books in our collections, both fiction and non, to help raise awareness and help teens find stories that they can relate to.  Having read the story of Deenie helped me in my journey with scoliosis; it was comforting to read that someone else thought and felt the things that I was feeling.  That’s what story does for us – helps us know we are not alone.

The title of this post is a play on the book title The Girl in the Steel Corset by Kady Cross.  A good read to be sure, but the title always makes me think of my fiberglass corset – long ago dead and buried thankfully.  View our Top 10 list of books about eating disorders and body image for stories to share with your teens.  Please be sure to add 101 Way to Help Your Daughter Love Her Body by Brenda Lane Richardson to your collections.  And of course, if you or someone you know is struggling with an eating disorder, it is important that you talk to a doctor.

Top 10 Tuesday: Body Image and Eating Disorders

Yesterday we talked about The List by Siobhan Vivian.  One detail that didn’t come fully to light in our coverage is the story of Bridget, who develops an eating disorder.  Her description on the “list” says this: what a difference a summer makes.  What they don’t know is how she lost that weight over the summer, and how that statement affects her downward spiral.  I felt that Bridget’s story, her story of how she counted calories and avoided food, was a thoughtful depiction of anorexia that rang true.  So today, in honor of The List by Siobhan Vivian, and in honor of teens everywhere trying to learn to love their bodies, we have put together this Top 10 List of books on Body Image and Eating Disorders.  Click the book cover and it will take you to the books Goodreads summary or TLT review.

“Dead girl walking,” the boys say in the halls.
“Tell us your secret,” the girls whisper, one toilet to another.
I am that girl.
I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through.
I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame.
Bridget Honeycutt –
What a difference a summer can make
“My subject will be shame.”
“She was fat. Worse than that, she was a monster. A five-foot-four-ninety-eight-pound monster.” Chap. 1, p. 10
“There’s this part in the book, the first time he trhows up, where Charlie is just miserable. And I remember while I was writing that, that he just wanted relief, even if it was temporary, of the pain he was dealing with, specifically his ever eating, generally his life, and suddenly I knew how Charlie was going to deal with all of it.” – Jenny Torres Sanchez
“I am the middle sister. The one in between. Not oldest, not youngest, not boldest, not nicest. I am the shade of gray, the glass half empty or full, depending on your view. In my life, there has been little that I have done first or better than the one preceding or following me. Of all of us, though, I am the only one who has been broken.” 
“Anorexia . . . is not something to be ashamed of. It’s not something to be proud of. It isn’t anybody’s ‘fault.’ It’s an illness – a life-threatening illness – and it’s treatable.” – afterword
Do you ever get hungry? Too hungry to eat?
For more books on Body Image and Eating Disorders, check out the user created list at GoodReads or the Bare Bones list at Reading Rants! Out of the Ordinary Booklists.
Be sure and leave us a comment telling us what you think about these books, or share a book you think we missed.