An Interview with Aimee Liu
Oct. 15, 2011
by Bridget Whitlow, MFT
What inspired you to write this book?
After Gaining was published I began receiving letters from women and men at all stages of recovery sharing their stories, their fears, their concerns and their successes. As the number of letters increased I felt that they collectively represented a major gift to the eating disorders field, since they narrated the varied experience of recovery, from the first turning toward change through long-term and full recovery. Quite clearly, they marked certain stages along the path to recovery.
Also, after I joined the Advisory Board of the AED, I realized that a published collection of these edited letters, with the addition of expert advice from AED members, could be an enduring benefit project to raise funds for and awareness of the Academy and its work.
How long did it take to write?
My contribution to this book was primarily in the editing, since I actually wrote only the introduction to each chapter. I worked on the compilation with Judith Banker, Amanda Weishuhn and others from the Center for Eating Disorders in Ann Arbor, Mich., for about three years, from 2008 until its publication in 2011.
Since publication, what kind of responses have you had about
The reviews have been wonderful.
- Publisher’s Weekly wrote:
“With clinical notes and information on new and unique approaches, Liu's effort offers something for everyone affected by this issue, whether personally, peripherally, or professionally.”
- In the NEDA newsletter, Lauren Calig wrote:
"The book maps out EDs in a unique, engaging way. The reader is able to intimately delve into the mind of a person with an eating disorder and examine his/her feelings at each point of the recovery process. Liu gives the reader the gift of feeling the feelings, sharing the thoughts and being aware that recovery looks different for every single person."
- Blogger Robyn Cruse called it "a must-read for those suffering from an eating disorder who are seeking hope from those who have gone before them and have overcome this illness.”
- And in the AED Forum, reviewer Jennifer Thomas wrote that the book’s “powerful message that individuals with an ED can be fully “recovered” rather than just “in recovery” is a hopeful one not only for ED patients, but also for the family members and clinicians who support them.”
I imagine there has been a tremendous positive response from
people in recovery, searching for recovery, carers, and treatment
providers as well. Can you say what that’s been like?
Sufferers and families are tremendously grateful for resources like this, which help them visualize and conceptualize the experience of recovery. The added benefit of this book is that the stories are told by fellow sufferers from all over the world, of all ages and genders. So it really answers those burning questions: What does recovery feel like? And how will I know if I am recovering? The primary reaction to the book is that it offers enormous hope and encouragement to those who fear that recovery is impossible--or not possible for them. The letters in this book help them understand the pitfalls, and precisely because they are so honest they help sufferers get through and past common setbacks.
All proceeds from the sale of Aimee Liu's book will benefit the AED.
I relied on Judy Banker, who was president of the AED when we started this project, to identify both the issues that required expert commentaries and the AED contributors for this book. Since it was a project benefitting the AED, it was important to us to have a wide variety of the Academy’s membership represented. I’m proud of both the caliber of contributors and the cross-section of the field the book presents.
What was the process of writing this book like for you?
Demanding! I’d never edited a book of this nature before, and it was like assembling an extremely intricate, exacting and beautiful puzzle.
Did anything emerge in this process that surprised you?
I was surprised by the consistency of the stages and path of recovery. Although the duration of the process ranged from months to decades, depending on chronicity and other individual variables, virtually every letter writer could recall his or her turning point; who had been invaluable in “setting the stage” for recovery; the feelings of terror, gratitude and uncertainty during treatment; the difficulties of physical and behavioral restoration; the exhilaration of discovery that came with mature identity formation; and the sense of wisdom and perspective that locked in after full long-term recovery in what I call the “wise mind” stage. This pattern was consistent for people with histories of anorexia, bulimia, and BED, too.
Did writing this book create any changes in your own life or
Many of the letter writers in the Discovery phase were having such creative and exciting adventures, I grew very envious! I’d tabled two novels I was writing in order to complete this book for the AED, and I became very impatient to get back to my own creative adventures in fiction. I’m now immersed in those projects.
Who do you hope reads this book? How do you hope this book
will be used?
Because I’m donating 100 percent of my royalties on this project to the AED, I’d really love the members of the AED to embrace this as their book, have copies on hand in their offices and recommend it regularly to patients. It offers so much insight and encouragement to patients and their families and friends, who I hope will read it in that spirit. I’d also love to see the AED use this book to promote and market its own work and membership. It could serve as a valuable bridge between the Academy and the non-clinician community.
What inspired you to donate proceeds to AED?
The research into eating disorders since 1980, particularly research into the underlying genetics and temperamental factors, was crucial to my work in Gaining. But for the radically new understanding that researchers have given us of these illnesses, I would have had no book and no meaningful insight into my own history of eating disorders. The science of these disorders is beginning to break down the stigma surrounding these illnesses, and I believe the AED is the strongest organization in the field to promote more innovative research and education. If we can break through the stigma, every aspect of eating disorders prevention and treatment will benefit. I hope this project will help the AED continue to do just that.
Do you have anything in the works for your next book?
In my other literary life I’m a novelist with a particular interest in Asian-American history. I’m working on two novels currently in that vein.
What are your thoughts on being recovered, in recovery, or in
Someone today asked me if I thought people who have fully recovered can relapse. Given the genetic predisposition to eating disorders, I actually do think anyone with this history can start to relapse if the existential trigger is strong enough. However, the benefit of reaching the Wise Mind stage of full recovery is that, I believe, you have the wisdom and perspective to recognize the onset of disordered eating and the contributing triggers and to “catch and correct” before disordered eating becomes a true relapse into eating disorders. Mindful awareness of one’s underlying vulnerabilities is absolutely key to this.
If there is one thing that you hope readers take away from
this book, what is it?
True full recovery involves BOTH “restoring your body” and “reclaiming your life.” Far too often patients, families, friends and the media and--perhaps especially--the insurance industry conceive of recovery exclusively in terms of weight and food-related behavior. The letters in this book make it exquisitely clear that complete recovery depends on reshaping one’s relationships with family, friends, work, play, feelings and self, as well as with food and body shape and weight.
Aimee Liu is the author of Gaining: The Truth About Life After Eating Disorders and the first memoir of anorexia nervosa published in the U.S., Solitaire. Additionally, Ms. Liu is a novelist, and her published fiction includes Flash House, Cloud Mountain and Face. She serves on the Advisory Board of the American Academy for Eating Disorders and the Philadelphia-based nonprofit A Chance to Heal and is a faculty member at Goddard College. For more information visit www.aimeeliu.net and www.gainingthetruth.com.
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