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Wasted ~ Coming back from an addiction to starvation

Even after 12 years Marya Hornbacher's 'Wasted' remains near the top of Amazon's charts for eating disorders. It succeeds in being part memoir, part confessional and part 'prose poem', while directly addressing the role of culture in creating and exacerbating eating disorders.

Wasted: Coming back from an addiction to starvation
by Marya Hornbacher
Flamingo, 1999

Plenty of books give a personal account of the author’s struggle — there are whole shelves in the bookstores devoted to ‘misery lit’ embracing fact and fiction. But very few are as raw, painful, deeply honest and overall intelligent as this one.

Still in print after 12 years, it remains near the top of Amazon’s charts of books on eating disorders, Wasted succeeds in being part memoir, part confessional and part ‘prose poem’, as one reviewer states.

It’s true that Marya Hornbacher writes beautifully; it’s no surprise that after Wasted, she produced fiction using her own up-close and all-too-personal knowledge of the US mental health system. Her experiences of being at the sharp end of attempts to treat a pervasive and compulsive set of behaviours are presented as a compelling narrative, one that sweeps the reader into sharing the same dark insights, with much of it shocking and uncomfortable.

As House therapist Silvia Miranda-Hyam says, ‘this is a powerful, personal account of the author’s journey through anorexia and bulimia – painful, gripping and utterly authentic. She captures the urgent obsessions and the tiny yet significant incidents of everyday life, with an eye for revealing details.’

That detail includes the minutiae of manipulation that people with eating disorders enact upon themselves and others; the obsessive calorie calculations of food and exercise; the stashing of food — in the author’s case, in various pencil boxes; the way her skin feels and her bones look; the conflicts experienced faced with the knowledge that eating disorder carry a high risk of death. At one point, Hornbacher explains, ‘eating disordered people are aware, to a limited extent, that their behaviour is dangerous [….] we are not so far gone that we cannot see the way our crusade — emotional survival, physical death — cancels itself out altogether. The body, many of us find to our dismay, will always win.’

That essential ambivalence is something Silvia Miranda-Hyam recognises as shared by many clients with similar experiences, together with the accounts of the pain felt by family and friends who see what’s happening, and who are unable to work out the best way to help and support.

The author herself was close to death on a number of occasions, but happily, this is, in the end, a book of recovery – although as the writer says, ‘It’s never over. Not really. Not when you stay down there as long as I did [….] You never come back, not all the way.’

The House Partnership, 27th March 2016

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