In the new book Almost Anorexic: Is My (or My Loved One’s) Relationship with Food a Problem, Dr. Jennifer Thomas (Director of the Eating Disorders Clinical Research program at Massachusetts General) and best selling author Jenni Schaefer explore a new definition of anorexic behavior, the “almost effect.”
Almost Anorexic is one in a series of books about The Almost Effect, written by faculty members of Harvard Medical School and other experts. This book, and others in the series, suggest that behaviors often fall short of meeting the criteria of receiving a particular diagnosis, but still fall outside of normal behavior. These are the people who often slip through the cracks and whose behaviors often develop into a full-blown condition.
Recently, I spoke with the bubbly co-authors about their collaboration. “When Harvard Health Publications approached me about the book, they encouraged me to work with a writer,” Dr. Thomas explained. “The first person I considered was author Jenni Schaefer. She added a great layer to the book.” Not only has Jenni penned numerous books about eating disorders, she knows about the disease firsthand.
In Almost Anorexic, Dr. Thomas and Jenni hope to reach the people in the “grey” area, or those whose loved ones may be exhibiting worrisome eating habits. Jenni spoke about her own period in the grey area.”I would tell doctors, ‘I have an eating disorder,’ and they would reply, ‘You don’t look like you have an eating disorder.’ Then they would ask, ‘Do you eat?’ and because I had binged a day ago I would say yes–so they didn’t ask any follow up questions.” Jenni admits her disorder started with restricted eating, then crossed over to various eating disorder behaviors. “I lost weight but then it lead to binging and purging. I used overeating AND under-eating to cope,” she said. “I didn’t know how to cope with life. Eating was my solution.”
According to Dr. Thomas, the diagnosis of anorexia nervosa is rare, 1 in 200, but the number of people who exhibit “almost” behaviors skyrockets to 1 in 20. “At least half the people we have followed that start out with restrictive eating, cross over into bingeing and purging or both because it’s not sustainable to continually restrict,” she said. Almost Anorexic explores the question, “To what extent is a preoccupation with eating, shape and weight impairing your life?”
The authors hope the takeaway from this book will be that you can fully recover from an eating disorder. “Unlike people who have to quit alcohol or drugs if they have a problem, with food, it doesn’t work that way. You cannot just quit eating,” said Jenni. “You HAVE to find balance because you need it. I was able to find balance with something I felt totally powerless over and now I’m fully recovered.”