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Books About Eating Disorders

Updated on March 8, 2011
Reading these books can help you understand eating disorders.
Reading these books can help you understand eating disorders.

My Top 5 ED Books

Eating disorders are complex mental illnesses, surrounded by a large number of myths and misunderstandings. Even after years of struggle and several hospitalizations, I myself still didn't feel like I had a good grasp on why eating disorders have become so popular, why I myself developed one, what I could do to heal myself.

Upon my release from eating disorder rehab, I made it my mission to read all I could about eating disorders, their history, their causes, and their treatment. There are many books on the subject: dozens of true-life narratives, hundreds of workbooks, thousands of essays. These are my favorites, those that provided the most insight for me, and provide a cross-section of the types of literature available on the subject today.

"Wasted," by Marya Hornbacher

Wasted has sometimes been called the "Anorexic Bible" in pro-ana circles. It is the true-life narrative of author Marya Hornbacher's struggles with anorexia and bulimia, from self-induced vomiting at nine years old to starving herself down to 52 pounds in college. While Hornbacher's case may seem extreme, this book resonates with anyone whose life has been touched by an eating disorder, and offers validation for those who've struggled, and a glimpse into the eating disordered mind for those who haven't.

Note: I would not recommend this book to an eating disordered individual who has not been through treatment, as the contents can be extremely triggering even for those well into recovery.

"Appetites," by Caroline Knapp

This is a book that bears reading again and again. I recommend it to every woman I know, whether or not she struggles with food issues. Another story of personal struggle (primarily with anorexia), the autobiographical aspects of this book rather serve as a frame, rather than the driving force behind the text.

Less graphic than Wasted, Appetites concentrates less on the gritty details of life with an eating disorder, and more on the inner needs and desires that prompt us to act out, whether with food, shopping, drinking, relationships, or any other "substance" that can be abused. We all wage internal wars over agency and entitlement, in a world where, for women at least, less is always better than more. Every time I read Appetites, I gain some new insight into my own personal battles, and how I can go about finding peace.

"When Food is Love," by Geneen Roth

I don't think it's helpful or healthy to read endless volumes of autobiographical tales of struggle with eating disorders, which is not to say that I haven't done it, but I found that, after a certain point, the practice served to perpetuate my own disorder, rather than help me heal it. The third and final personal narrative I recommend is When Food is Love, by Geneen Roth.

The author spent years battling binge eating and diet addiction, and this book is a look back at how childhood wounds fuel our adult compulsions. A fairly light read, it is nevertheless packed with wisdom on the subjects of food and love, and the relationship (and often substitution) between the two. Even without a history of compulsive overeating, I found myself literally devouring this book over a three-day period, and feeling more satiated when I was through.

"Fasting Girls," by Joan Jacobs Brumberg

From the author of The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls, comes this comprehensive history of anorexia nervosa, from the abstinence from food of early Christian saintes, to the rise of food as a symbol in bourgeois Victorian society, to today's obsession with weight loss. Whether or not anorexia is the disorder that most touches your life, there is merit in reading the series of events (cultural, economic, and historical) that have led up to the modern epidemic of the eating disorder in all its forms. This timeline is well laid out and easy to follow, accompanied with analysis by the author, a social historian and Professor Emerita at Cornell University.

"Unbearable Weight," by Susan Bordo

Unbearable Weight is the most dense of the books on this list, but please don't let that discourage you from reading it. A compilation of essays by feminist philosopher Susan Bordo, it examines with an unflinching gaze the cultural constructs that have allowed eating disorders to rise to their present popularity.

The female body is a symbol loaded with (often negative) meaning in today's cultural climate, and Bordo's book attempts to break through centuries of literature, philosophy, and politics to bring us closer to the core of who we are, and how we can more fully exist in a society built on principles meant to pare us down.

Further Reading

Obviously, this list is by no means the be-all and end-all of eating disorder literature. There are dozens more books I would highly recommend to anyone with an ongoing interest in the subject. Of course, there's always more to learn! Consider these books a jumping-off point, if you will. Once you're got your feet wet, I hope you'll dive right in.


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    • profile image

      Joanna Poppink, MFT 

      9 years ago

      I see several people are talking about Marya Hornbacher's "Wasted." I agree that it's a fabulous book - gut wrenching and inspiring.

      It was a wonderful experience for me to have Marya give a glowing endorsement to my newly released eating disorder recovery book, written for adult women.

      Healing Your Hungry Heart: recovering from your eating disorder, Conari Press, 2011. Stories, meditations, mindful practices and exercises for health and freedom.

      I hope you'll read it and let me know your response.

      warm regards,


    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Novelists and poets have known about the power of narrative for years - and in some ways is quite shocking how long it has taken for the medical profession to grasp the importance of patient narratives when it comes to understanding illness and disease. After all while the medical narrative has its uses it is more often than not the patient voice that adds the necessary dimension when it comes to understanding the lived experience. DSM - IV may be able to classify the symptoms of an eating disorder but it offers little in the way of a path to recovery.

      Needless to say while the power of sharing 'voices of recovery' has always been acknowledged by patients there is in the eating disorder world fierce debate as to what stories are suitable for consumption - what stories can be offered as a tale of inspiration to people in the midst of the illness.

      There are legitimate concerns surrounding pro-ana sites and the numerous blogs that are available in cyberspace. However there also seems a move to suggest to novelists, poets and memoirists what is acceptable and what is not acceptable to comment upon. A move which seems to presuppose authors are writing 'self help' books rather than undertaking a literary endeavour. That healing is confined to one genre.

      Take for example my experience of publishing Cardboard; A woman left for dead. When it was first published in 1989 by Local Consumption Publications it was edited by Amanda Lohrey and launched by Stephanie Dowrick (author and psychotherapist) at the NSW State Library. The launch was attended by the literary establishment as well as eating disorder professionals such as Professor Peter Beaumont. The novel sold out within months, was awarded the 1990 National Book Council Award for New Writers and received critical acclaim with therapists, women with eating disorders and general fiction readers. As its author it was a magical experience and I am truly grateful to Professor Muecke who decided to publish it.

      Twenty years on - yes twenty years - I decided to republish Cardboard - there were still very few comparable literary works and with its focus on narrative it still seemed it had something to offer - it was after all a story that could be shared - a narrative of healing. Of life.

      I wanted to make Cardboard available on Amazon and as it had already been published by a traditional publisher and been critically well received I wasn't looking for validation - I simply wanted the book to reach out to a new generation. Re-publishing the book however has been a mixed experience - first there was an enormous amount of work to be done to get the book ready (though fortunately much of this was done by Michelle Lovi at Odyssey Publishing) and second there was the need to decide how to promote it to a new audience. Should I take it to a general audience or try to target it to women who might find it particularly useful? And this is where I have been somewhat taken aback.

      Taken aback how because the book does not fit in with the current dominant academic paradigm which sees anorexia as as a biological disorder there seems a reluctance on the behalf of the medical profession to think it has anything to offer - almost as if as a story of recovery, of human suffering it could be 'wrong.' There is also the issue of weight - the book mentions weight - it doesn't shy away from the totality of the experience. It is fiction, dealing with life. As its author I believe the weights need to be there - they are an important part of Lucy's story. Without them the story loses meaning.

      Which brings me back to voices of recovery - blogs, columns and books come in all shapes and sizes. And in the case of literary works there is no right or wrong. Rather literature is about layers, layers upon layers - some of which will resonate with one reader and some with another.

      I admit Cardboard is a complex read - far more complex than the self-help book When Eating is Everything I co-wrote with psychologists Jill Ball and Phyllis Butow. However it is its complexity that makes it valuable. And as a story about healing, it is one voice amongst many - one I do hope can reach out and offer something to a new generation. It is the sharing of our voices, the willingness to brave our souls and bear witness to our experiences of illness that we can make the path that little bit more bearable for the next generation.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I am 11 and I have an eating disorder. I really would like to read sone of these books to help I am obsessing over my weight I currently weigh 106.5 pounds and would like to get down to 85.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I almost bought Appetites at Barnes and Noble the other day, but I didn't. Now I wish I did, because I really love and enjoy most of the rest of these books.

      Two great books that I love that are about/related to eating disorders are

      She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb (a book about a woman's struggles in life, written by a male. such an amazing book.)


      Hungry by Crystal Renn (a former anorexic who is now a VERY beautiful plus-size model).

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Thank you for this :)

      I am reading Wasted now. I began the book yesterday as a search for more inspiration, I was not accomplishing my goal, I was failing. Now I am about half-way through and I feel better and closer to recovery, simply because I feel my rationalizations and suffering has been validated. I too have heard, "You don't look sick..." and it makes me angry, sad, guilty and fuels the fire of my ED.

      anyway, thank you.

    • Sound of Me profile image

      Sound of Me 

      11 years ago from United States

      These are some interesting picks, though I'm surprised to say that I actually haven't read any of them. I do intend to read Wasted at some point in time, just to see what all the fuss is about and see if I would recommend it to someone who DOESN'T have an eating disorder so that they could better understand. I like that you had Geneen Roth on this list, seeing as how I just wrote a post about her. But I haven't read Food is Love, instead I've read "Breaking Free from Emotional Eating" and have the "Why Weight?" workbook that kind of goes along with that. In addition, I think that the only book that is truly missing from this list is Eating in the Light of the Moon -- that is an interesting, good, insightful, and fun read.

      Some other suggestions for people who are interested, aside from Eating in the Light of the Moon, Breaking Free from Emotional Eating, and Why Weight, would be:

      Life Without Ed

      Overcoming Overeating

      When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies

      Intuitive Eating

    • Minnie's Mom profile image

      Minnie's Mom 

      12 years ago from Seattle, WA

      I am sending this hub over to a couple friends who are dealing with this problems with their daughters. You are wonderful resource for them.

    • DJ Funktual profile image

      DJ Funktual 

      12 years ago from One Nation Under a Groove

      Wow. It is great that you are so passionate about this subject, Maddie. You've certainly taught me a lot. If I ever have daughters...

    • Princessa profile image

      Wendy Iturrizaga 

      12 years ago from France

      Isabelle Caro has just released a book: "La petite fille qui ne voulait pas grossir" (the girl who did not want to put on weight)

      I don't know if there is an English version yet, but it is a very poignant account of Isabelle's battle against anorexia. Excellent read.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Marshall 

      12 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Hi Maddie - I can't agree more. I have read Drinking: A Love Story, as well, which is really compelling, just like Appetities. I'm with you in trying to figure out eating disorders. I have watched too many friends suffer (as well as myself). Thank goodness I (and it sounds like you) am one of the lucky ones that found a way out. This is a great hub - like many of your others on this topic. Steph

    • Maddie Ruud profile imageAUTHOR

      Maddie Ruud 

      12 years ago from Oakland, CA


      I'm one of Caroline Knapp's biggest fans. She could write no wrong! It's certainly sad that she came through so much adversity (alcoholism, eating disorder, etc) only to die of lung cancer at 42...

      Thanks for reading.

    • stephhicks68 profile image

      Stephanie Marshall 

      12 years ago from Bend, Oregon

      Maddie - Caroline Knapp's books are all excellent!! Thank you for recommending them. She is an amazing author and so sad that she passed away at a young age. Best, Steph

    • Maddie Ruud profile imageAUTHOR

      Maddie Ruud 

      12 years ago from Oakland, CA


      Under "Add more stuff" on the edit page of your hub, you should see "News Capsule." Just edit the keywords and title for relevance, and there you have it.

    • dutch84 profile image


      12 years ago

      P.S. How do you get Yahoo! News articles on your hubs?

    • dutch84 profile image


      12 years ago

      Once upon a time I read "Wasted". It's actually a really good book. And it helps take away the shroud of mystery from a strange disease. People find it strange that in a country of abundance people can suffer from such a disease and these books really help you to understand and sympathize with the victims.

      Great article!

    • Andres Wagner profile image

      Andres Wagner 

      12 years ago from Los Angeles

      Your hubs are so well put together and beneficial to all. This is and important topic and you provide some very valuable resources.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish MS 

      12 years ago from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation

      These are excellent reading choices for beginning to undersatnd the dynamics of eating disorders and their realtionships to other emotional and behavior issues that it seems that increasing numbers of people are experiencing.

      Further, this is excellently researched and embued with links to other excellent Hub articles based on good information and not fall-back info from popular wikis.

      Thanks so much for targeting these issues and persuading people to think about overall mental health and prodcutive relationships.



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