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Book Review: "Life Beyond Your Eating Disorder" by Johanna S. Kandel

Posted Dec 05 2010 4:59pm
I get a lot of books to review. I read them all, but I only review the ones I can recommend. This one wasn't for review: I got this book as a gift from the author, who I've lobbied with at Eating Disorder Coalition Lobby Days and get to see at events throughout the year. Johanna is one of those people who I describe as genuinely warm. She greets others, even strangers, with warmth. She speaks to audiences with energy and warmth and a way of feeling personal even in a roomful of people. I mention this warmth because it comes through in her book, Life Beyond Your Eating Disorder. She's warm, she's engaging, and I feel as I would if I was learning about an important issue about which Johanna is truly experienced and confident in explaining - no drama, no lecturing, but lots of insight.

You can, actually, judge this book by its cover. No empty plates, no tortured teens, no distorted mirrors. This is an image rich with metaphors we don't need to belabor. It is also true to the title, and the content. This is a book filled with tools patients can use to understand, think about, and use.

It's not about food. The book, I mean. This doesn't mean Johanna doesn't connect eating disorders to food or eating but that she does something I wish everyone would: make the nutritional part of recovery as a given. Eating disorder recovery isn't something you do before you restore the brain - but of course restoring the brain isn't the end of recovery either. This is a book of ideas and tools to understand and learn to live "beyond" the illness. As much as I emphasize the brain restoration I do so only as the necessary way to GET to the psychological recovery - which generally involves varying levels of cognitive work.

I adore a good metaphor, and this book is FULL of them: really good ones. She has them for black/white thinking, for perfectionism, for dealing with others, for re-learning life skills.

My favorites? The crayon box, artichokes, and the drawers. Used that last one myself just today.

She also has two completely unique chapters that I have to preview for you. One is about how to "stamp" the ignorant in our lives. Her take on this is really, really good and could be helpful for parents as well - as I know we can sometimes want to bubble wrap the world to keep our kids from hearing the wrong things. The other is about Brideorexia - a topic I thought I understood a bit but she illustrates in vibrant detail. Have a recovered loved one? Read this chapter before they get engaged.

I'm often asked what books are good - or even which ones are "safe" - for eating disorder patients. My answer is usually "none" until they are recovered, and "very few" when they are. I can recommend this one for adults in recovery, however (Children and adolescents, in my opinion, need to focus on the messages from parents and clinicians). This book's message is empowering, family is not marginalized, and it could be appropriate regardless of treatment approach (including Maudsley). Because the author leaves out the food and eating advice this won't conflict with treatment philosophies or approaches. Because the skills and information in this book are positive, useful, and warm - it might make a good family read and discussion. Adult older siblings, in particular, might benefit from reading this and discussing it with parents.

We need more books that convey the kind of warmth and insight that Johanna has created here. I look forward to more from her, too!
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