stephanie's Reviews > Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia

Wasted by Marya Hornbacher
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's review
Dec 28, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: crazypeoplememoirs, psychology, eating-disorders
Read in January, 2003

eta: i think it's important to note that this book was first published in 1998 - when things like tumblr did not exist. for a generation that learned to get all information from books, this book was the key to tricks and tips for anorexia. not that you couldn't figure them out for yourself, but if you were on the edge or something, this gave you ways. i don't actually say that this book should be censored, i say i wish there was a way to put warnings on it. i say i think it's an important book for non-ED people - i.e. family and friends. and i do think it's important for people with EDs, i just don't like the framing all that much.

that is a personal preference. see my reviews of elizabeth wurtzel's books - i have issues with people with mental illness who seem to lack agency in getting better. hornbacher isn't 100% committed to getting better at the end of this. she isn't committed to recovery. and that's fine, for her, but i wish she hadn't written it until she was committed. everything else in the book remains true, and i think would have resonated more and been stronger if she was committed - not necessarily a "happily ever after" but a "anything to stop this disease". (the kind of ironic thing is that she does get the happily ever after.)

what i loved about Madness: A Bipolar Life was that i felt like she truly tapped into what was driving her to do the things she did. that she finally was brutally honest, that she committed to getting better. honestly, "crazypeoplememoirs" always walk a fine line between sensationalist literature, victimization, fact and moralizing.

i appreciate the story. i appreciate the willingness to show the bald face of EDs. but i still question why this is the book she chose to write, who she intended her audience to be, and what she hoped to accomplish. because i think the author that wrote wasted would have different opinions than the author of madness, or sane, and i do think that's worth considering.

(and, for the record, i have done extensive work with women in their teens and older with EDs. i said 25 not because i don't think people older can suffer from it, but rather that they are already aware of all the tricks and tips. these illnesses are absolutely devastating, and they exist, and i think there is a balance society needs to start dealing with in terms of celebrating thin women and calling healthy women "fat" or on pregnancy watch, and that this book deals with the "strength" required to have an ED, and not necessarily the elements of self-hatred and comorbid diagnoses and beliefs that lead a lot of women (and men) to develop EDs.)


i think this book should be pulled from the shelves of most bookstores, or at least not giving to anyone under the age of 25, but i am against censorship, so mostly i just wish this wasn't the book she chose to write.

for a non-ED audience, it plays well. the story is gripping, it goes into detail about the horror of living with an ED, it discusses why the ED is so hard to give up.

for the ED audience, the book is literally packed with tricks and tips and ways to cheat and get around your doctors.

hornbacher claims that the point of writing the book was to deglamourize EDs. the problem is, even she, at the end of the book, has not fully committed to giving up her ED. how can you write a book saying there is nothing good about EDs without resolving to give it up yourself? i have heard people talk about how they appreciated her "brutal honesty" - to me it read more as an attention-seeking method of writing. to me, she made herself out as a victim, and she is still a victim at the end - she still does not have control over her disorder.

of course, the ending is very true to real life. recovery is a painful, long process with frequent relapses, especially for those who have been hospitalized. but instead of exploring why that is the case, she spends her time talking about how she cheated the system. she does not give up her basic system of beliefs that "caused" the ED in the first place. she is unapologetic and, to me, paints herself as someone without any agency in the recovery of ED, which infuriates me.

it's sad, because i think she has a lot of really good things to say. she just chooses to take a different route, kind of the sensationalistic route rather than the "de-glamourization" she claims to have wanted. it was disappointing to me, and it was frustrating, and it worried me that kids with ED are recommending this book to each other in order to find tips and "thinspiration". i don't know, i found it profoundly depressing, which hardly ever happens. i guess i just feel like it was such a wasted (pardon the bad pun) opportunity to make a positive impact on the ED community.

(i agree with whoever said stay away from this book if you are in recovery and go visit instead.)
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Comments (showing 1-22)

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message 22: by Sabiel (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:19PM) (new)

Sabiel Great review, I actually want to read this now as I am mentally stable and not at risk of adapting an eating disorder.

But seriously, it looks like an interesting/disturbing "crazypeoplememoir," as you say. =)

message 21: by Punk (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:19PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Punk I don't know who she was writing this book for, but as someone without an eating disorder, I liked reading it. It gave me a personal look at a life I otherwise wouldn't get to see (god willing).

message 20: by Sabiel (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:19PM) (new)

Sabiel Sounds good.

message 19: by stephanie (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:19PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

stephanie no, i think punk has a great point - it IS an excellent look into exactly how horrifying and how not fun all the parts of having an ED are. the problem is that you can't tell who is going to pick up the book, and there really isn't a point for her to disclose all her secrets on hiding and cheating, etc. so i get angry, because too many teens (predominately) read this as their go-to-book - but. it does have a purpose and a place, it's just hard for me to get behind. but it still got two stars and almost got three - i just feel like it should be restricted, the way Mein Kampf was after columbine. (though again, i am against censorship, so i get myself into trouble . . .

but yeah, if you don't have an ED, or aren't really aware of the extent of how much of an illness it really is, this is a very good book.

message 18: by Sabiel (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:20PM) (new)

Sabiel I know what you mean. That's disgusting that teenagers are referring to this as their thinspiration bible...

message 17: by Cristina (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:31PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Cristina I agree that the tricks of the trade were pretty abundant. The thing is that you can get these and MUCH MUCH more with just a few clicks on the internet. I think it was way worth it to get this book out there for the people left in the dark. ED's are so bizarre and if you don't have one, it's pretty hard to understand them. Anything helps.

Oh and one more thing, about there not being a reason to disclose the lying/cheating and strategies... OH BUT THERE IS. Those teenagers that use this book as the "bible" have moms, dads, sisters and brothers. Whatever makes them smarter is a blessing in my eyes.

Heather I agree with Cristina. Eating Disorders stem from the psyche. While everyone is different there are some main mental reasons that people turn to eating disorders and every little bit of help in understanding them is a good thing. And exposing tips and tricks to people without EDs means that they can recognize the behavior in their loved ones.

I do like Hornbacher's brutal honesty. It's much better to hear about the disgusting things that happen to people with an ED than read something that glosses over it. There are a number of other books out there that take a sunny - I'm all better now - attitude that makes us feel okay when we close the book but is not true to our reality.

message 15: by Dixie Diamond (new)

Dixie Diamond I agree with Cristina, too.

Granted, I do not have an ED, but I think that not disclosing such information is both unfair to ask of the writer and a disservice to family members of people who may be hiding ED's. The more I know, the better chance I may recognize it in a friend or family member, and the sooner I can encourage him/her to get help.

There are millions of books out there that contain information that can be used to bad ends, but they don't seem to get singled out for this kind of criticism. True-crime and forensics books could be used to get away with murder, but I don't see calls for them to be pulled from the shelves. That people use this as a self-help book just means that their family members need to read it, too.

message 14: by Lisa (new)

Lisa I understand your argument that the book is loaded with tricks for EDs to learn along the way but the methods Horbacher used while suffering with her eating disorder were not unique. They are pretty well-known by anyone who suffers from EDs so they wouldn't necessarily be teaching anyone with an ED anything new. That is what is strange about EDs -- everyone who suffers from them gravitates to the same tricks, the same mindset.

I found the book to be enlightening in that Hornbacher could articulate her suffering and the suffering of EDs in a way that non-ED sufferers can understand and that ED sufferers cannot explain. That is a great service.

The book is both a painful and "refreshing" read, from that perspective.

message 13: by Aoife (last edited Mar 09, 2009 01:57PM) (new) - added it

Aoife Banks I have to disagree. She's being brutally honest in this book and I really admire her bravery for that. The "tips and tricks" mentioned are hardly unknown, anybody looking for diet tips even could find every single one she mentions in this book (and more) onine with a few clicks.
And as for anybody living with an ED they surely would have learned these before ever even hearing of the book.
This book is not going to make you anorexic( the thought of such a thing is ridiculous!) like you seem to think..

message 12: by Aoife (new) - added it

Aoife Banks OH! Also, what makes you think anyone over the age of 25 isn't as susceptible to an eating disorder as a 15 year old?
Mental illness doesn't harbor itself in particular age groups, doucheface

message 11: by Melissa (last edited Feb 10, 2010 01:29AM) (new)

Melissa I fully agree with Lisa. Almost anyone suffering from an eating disorder would already be familiar with the tips and tricks discussed in the book. Marya's story sounds very similar to my own. It's so similar that it's a little disturbing to essentially read about myself.

I certainly didn't need her book (or any book for that matter) to learn what I do. If anything, this book forced me to take critical look at myself and weigh the consequences of my behaviors.

message 10: by Engineous (new)

Engineous I... suppose. Whether or not you censor this, there's still the harsh reality to face that right now, being thin is seen as being better than anything, whether that "anything" is happy, fulfilled, or alive. Considering that the "ED community" (are we talking about the "wannarexics" that are trying to give themselves an eating disorder, or the anorectics that just believe that recovery is not something they want?) also holds Wintergirls as their bible, I'd take a second glance before immediately declaring this harmful. It's not about the book; it could have two lines in it about anorexia and it'd still be held up as a paragon. It's about the culture.

I am so frustrated at the people in this thread who believe that eating disorders are wholly psychological. There was nothing wrong with me, until my family decided I was too fat and put me on a diet.

message 9: by Engineous (new)

Engineous Oh, and also, stay away from It's a discouraging site with a horrible, restrictive moderation team and fails primarily because of their obsession with being "upbeat".

Because, you know. It's totally appropriate to remain optimistic when you're suffering from arthritis at 19. Yep, long fruitful life there, for sure.

message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

You can't censor it because she tells the truth, and censoring it will not stop these so called 'tips and tricks' from being avaliable to anyone else - anyone developing or who already has an eating disorder does not need a book to figure those kinds of things out. When you are obsessed with food, you'll figure it out for yourself.

And she DID resolve to give it up, she fights everyday for that, if she had not chosen to live, if she had chosen to stay ill, she would be dead and this book wouldn't exist. You contradict yourself, she chose to live, to give it up, and she has done, despite the struggle she faces everyday. She obviously does have an agency in recovery, since she picked it! She chose by the end of it to not be ill anymore, how is that not having an agency in her recovery?!

As for omethingfishy - it only offers 'support' to people who are not sick. Anyone sick who wants to recover? Oh hell no, get out, we don't want you around because we live in the pretty land of rainbows and kittens.

message 7: by Wagatwe (last edited Jan 01, 2011 10:47PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Wagatwe I totally disagree. As someone who read first read this in high school at the first height of my eating disorder, this book doesn't really give tips. To be honest, the ED community DID use it as a Bible (this was a while ago, so I don't know if they've moved on or not), but because it was great to have a 'mainstream' voice who GETS it. We felt less alone. We loved reading about the brilliant, talented girl who MADE IT despite the odds being against her.

Tips and thinspiration in this book? HA! Trust me, there are a ton of tumblrs and forums out there that actually provide that.

This book gives comfort in a sort of reminder that "hey, you're not alone; you can get out."

Yes, this book obviously can be VERY triggering, but if you're already eating disordered you don't need this book to be "better" at it. It's real, it's raw, and that's what makes it so refreshing. It's a relief to read an insider view that isn't sensationalizing or clearly very 'out of the loop' (I swear if I read another article about the 'new' trend of pro-ana sites I'll scream).

Hornbacher knows her crap. I am glad I read this book...even though I was 10 years under your recommended minimum the first time around. =P

Amanda Gallenberg I completely agree with you....I read this while in the deepest grips of my ED and the pages are full of highlighted quotes and my scribbling along the margins. Even today, fully "recovered", leading a healthy life, I don't dare read it, for fear of my scribble and her words triggering something deep within me.

For someone who has never struggled with it, it opens up there eyes to what their loved one is struggling with and going through.

Mikayla Blue Personally, this book touched me, and every time I was to pick it up, I started wailing with tears. I understand what you mean by cheating your doctors and whatnot, because after reading it, I developed an eating disorder.

I love Marya and would love to meet her someday.

Michelle Although I agree with most of what you said I have to disagree with the critism of the author not "giving up" her eating disorder. Eating disorders, just like other disorders such as OCD, are never cured just controlled. So, I believe the ending is very realistic. That's why I liked the ending...because it didn't have a fake fairytale happy ending where she fell in love and moved on with her life, leaving her eating disorder behind her dark past.

Danielle I disagree with this review. I myself suffer from anorexia, I read this when I was deep in the grips of it, it did not give me 'tips and tricks', someone who already has an eating disorder already knows all these things.

It was a great book because it was so brutally honest, and does truely capture the hell that is an eating disorder. I found nothing glamourous in this book. The ending was very realistic, you can recover from an eating disorder yes, but it's still always going to be there. If she had written a 'happily ever after' ending, this would be totally unrealistic.

Those using it for tips and tricks or as a 'bible' are people who think that eating disorders are glamourous, can help them lose a few pounds, they do not see them as mental illnesses, do not know the severity of them. And there are plenty of websites and blogs out there giving out tips and tricks for people 'just starting anorexia' but they don't tell of the downsides, they're put in a positive light. This book shows the negative.

For me, it made me really think about my eating disorder, and really not want to get as bad as she was. It was a harsh wake up call.

Tiffany I like this review. It is a good point.

message 1: by Caroline (new)

Caroline I am just starting the book, still on the part that she talks about her parents, and for now I have to agree with you that she seems to victimize herself a little too much....

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