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Friday, June 22, 2007

Aimee Liu on Eating Disorders

Author of the best selling novel Flash House (Warner Books, 2003), Aimee Liu is best known for writing the first American anorexia memoir Solitaire (1979). In her latest book Gaining: the truth about life after eating disorders (Warner Books, 2007), Aimee has probed deeper into the complex relation between genetics, family life, growing experiences, and eating disorders. Her book shows the cause and effects of eating disorders in the life of a number of women she knew and interviewed. Her insight is purposeful and will hopefully contribute to better understand the risks associated with eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia.

Aimee Liu on Eating Disorders

Ernest: Aimee, is it ok to call anorexia and bulimia ‘diseases of women’?

Aimee: This is a common misperception. In fact, a Harvard study published shortly after Gaining found that 25% of people with anorexia and bulimia are male. Another myth is that all men with eating disorders are gay. Only one fifth of men with these illnesses are gay. That said, it is true that the majority of people affected by the conditions are female.

Ernest: In Gaining, you appear to be more interested in discovering about anorexia than bulimia. What accounts for this?

Aimee: That may be explained in part by the fact that I was anorexic first, and only “passed through” bulimia as I was recovering. This is a typical pattern for about half of people with anorexia. And since part of my book is memoir, I kept returning to my own experience. In the larger population bulimia is much more common – and secret – than anorexia. I interviewed people who had struggled with bulimia for decades. However, the new research in eating disorders tends to focus on anorexia because the biochemical roots of this disorder are clearer. Specifically, genetic risk plays a stronger role in the development of anorexia than it does for bulimia – though the two are definitely related. Since one of my goals was to explore what science knows now that we didn’t know thirty years ago, when I was recovering, I gravitated to the research on anorexia first, bulimia second.

Ernest: We tend to think of anorexia as a young girl’s problem. But Gaining portrays a different scene with older anorexic women. How do you comment on it?

Aimee: This is another of those myths – that eating disorders only afflict spoiled rich white teenage girls. In fact, people of all ages, races, and ethnicities are vulnerable. Those most vulnerable, however, are perfectionists who judge themselves harshly by external standards, such as looks and status. When identity is defined by how others see us, and not by a strong inner gauge of passion and contentment, we are vulnerable to crisis at certain crucial transitions, such as adolescence and mid-life. Women are especially vulnerable at these times of change because society tends to focus on the way females look at these ages. Our culture imposes a lot of anxiety on women about their looks, and hyper-sensitive perfectionists often respond with an eating disorder. It’s no accident that adolescence and mid-life are the two ages when eating disorder rates spike.

Aime Liu’s Website:

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