Continuing with this week’s focus on eating disorders, I wanted to post my review of Beating Ana: How to Outsmart Your Eating Disorder & Take Your Life Back by Shannon Cutts, who generously provided me with a free copy. Shannon founded a pro-recovery organization called MentorConnect and travels the country, doing lectures and presentations on eating disorders, recovery and related topics (you can find more info on her website, Key to Life). I highly, highly, highly recommend learning more about MentorConnect and getting involved.

Shannon struggled with anorexia and bulimia for 15 years. But Beating Ana doesn’t focus on her long struggle. Instead, it focuses on mentorship and recovery. One of the things that tremendously helped Shannon’s recovery was having a mentor along the way. That’s sort of how I see Beating Ana: like a mentor that can help you, too, along your recovery. Shannon doesn’t speak at you, but speaks to you with her book.

What I also love about this book is that it gives you the tools and inspiration to overcome your eating disorder. Shannon has been there; she gets it. She understands the ups, downs, triumphs, relapses and tough road to recovery. As she writes in the book, recovery isn’t linear. It’s a “holistic process,” where you’re constantly learning, healing and growing. Shannon doesn’t sugarcoat this process, either.

Beating Ana is honest, raw and thoughtful. It’s also uplifting, encouraging and motivating. The foundation of the book is that “relationships replace eating disorders” (also the foundation of MentorConnect). Which is so true since eating disorders flourish in secrecy and in shame. When you’re isolated and alone, you have nothing to listen to but the voice of your eating disorder (stay tuned for more on the ED voice tomorrow). Beating Ana helps you fight that voice and emerge from your eating disorder.

The structure of the book is very unique. Shannon features correspondence from five women she’s mentored throughout the years. Each chapter includes an email from one of the women, Shannon’s response, a recovery workshop (basically an exercise for the reader to practice) and a life celebration affirmation.

Though I’ve  never suffered from an eating disorder (low self-esteem, plummeting body image, disordered eating, shaky sense of self — yes, yes, yes, and yes,  but not an ED), it still seems to me that readers will be able to relate to these emails. The women talk about various struggles, fears and worries, about being afraid to eat, thinking they can’t recover, sick of trying, feeling fat and unattractive, relapsing, feeling ashamed. No doubt, you’ll see some of yourself reflected back in their writings.

Each recovery exercise is thought-provoking and powerful and inspires reflection. Shannon features exercises that address addictions, finding the “key to life,” relapses, feeling fat, eating, finding your own real voice and more. Another thing that I think will resonate with readers is her statement, “Recovery is not optional.” She writes:

Recovery is not optional. It simply isn’t. Without recovery, we will all die of our eating disorder. This is a fact. Eating disorders are lethal. Fatal. Heartless. All consuming.

Specifically, the book is divided into several parts:

Part One: “Welcome to Our World” includes Shannon’s story and an introduction to the mentor model.

Part Two: “ED, A.A. and Me” builds on concepts from Alcoholics Anonymous. It begins with the First Step — acknowledging that you have an eating disorder and that you’re powerless over it.

Shannon writes, “In your admission of powerlessness lies tremendous power. In admitting your own weakness, you gain the first real access to your own strength.” In a section on the H.O.W. (Honesty-Openness-Willingness) of recovery, she writes:

We take action when we have the honesty to admit that things are still broken, despite our best efforts otherwise. We take action when we hold ourselves continually open to new techniques, remaining resolutely receptive to new sources of support and new feeds of information. We take action when we are willing, in each new moment, to try again.

H.O.W. are you going to overcome your eating disorder?

If at first you do not succeed, get up, get up, get up, and try again!

Part Three: “ED at the Movies” draws from several movies as inspiration for the workshop exercises. These are the films that helped Shannon in her recovery.

In one exercise that explores the prison of your eating disorder, she suggests watching The Man in the Iron Mask and The Shawshank Redemption and asking yourself the following questions afterward:

1. What are the benefits to staying in prison?

2. What are the benefits of breaking out of prison into freedom?

3. Do you believe that freedom is something you can have and hold?

4. What will it take for you to be able to accept and maintain your own freedom from your eating disorder?

Part Four: “ED On My Mind” provides “the key techniques from my own recovery work that proved strong enough to break the hold my eating disorder had over my mind and my life — forever.” Here, she talks about priorities, relapses, seeing the big picture and learning about yourself.

At the end, Shannon talks in greater detail about mentoring. She lists the guidelines for being a mentor and a mentee and discusses the power of mentoring.

Overall, I think that Beating Ana is a valuable supplement to treatment. If you’re in recovery currently, you might want to check it out. If you’re a psychologist or any kind of specialist who works with patients who have eating disorders, I recommend telling them about it.

It’s inspiring and relatable. It doesn’t expect you to “just get over it” (like Shannon talks about in one of the sections). It gives you concrete tools. It gives you the opportunity to read about stories from other sufferers, and maybe see yourself. It opens up the rewarding world of mentorship. And it helps you realize that you are not alone, and recovery is possible.

Here’s more information about the book:

Interview with Shannon on the blogs To Be Beautiful and Tales of a (Recovering) Disordered Eater.

About the book on Shannon’s website with a free excerpt you can download.

If you’ve read this book, how did you like it? What techniques have helped you in your recovery?