Book Review: Brain Over Binge

Kathryn Hansen spoke my language. As crazy as this may sound (as the author of a book about my own eating disorderBrain Over Binge was the first time I had ever read someone else’s account of their own eating disorder. Her words felt like a jolt to my chest. I was shocked to hear Hansen’s inner narrative sound just like mine.

While I knew others suffered from eating disorders (although due to my own stupid, stubborn proud nature, I never read their stories when I was suffering), I did not know their inner demon (which Hansen calls the “animal brain”) said the same things to them as mine said to me. Turns out others faced that same all-too-smart, all-too-logical justifier of my every bite.

As Hansen describes it, the voice says: You deserve to do it because you had a bad day, or because your boss hurt your pride, or because so-and-so is coming this weekend and that will be stressful. In picking up Hansen’s book, I never dreamed of “meeting” someone who had the exact same thoughts as me. It was immensely sad but, I hate to say, also comforting and inspiring to hear she recovered.

I was never one to ask for help. Well, this book would have helped me. I believe it might have shaved years off of the decades I foolishly fought and coddled my bulimia. I should have read this book years sooner.

I realize now my failure to pick up a book written by someone who had suffered from an eating disorder while I was suffering was an insanely-poor decision, but I had never read a self-help book on anything. Primarily because I have a stubborn “they won’t understand my need” kind of stupidity, and an unfounded prideful feeling that I didn’t need help. I was never one to ask for help. Well, this book would have helped me. I believe it might have shaved years off of the decades I foolishly fought and coddled my bulimia. I should have read this book years sooner. Why?

Had Hansen’s words, her method, and her living proof that she could do it—decide to quit and then quit—didn’t make me quit on the spot, I’m at least sure her book would have been a wildly-needed slap to my face saying: “You have absolute control over this. There is no reason or helpful need to justify or prolong this habit. Because it is just that—a habit—that you can stop right now. You have the power to quit right now. You. You hear me? YOU.” The simple truth is this:

Had I read Hansen’s book sooner, I would have quit sooner. I am 100% confident of that.

While her method may not be 100% right (I can safely say I know nothing about the science behind the brain function she explains to confirm, nor can I challenge it), whether she’s right or not doesn’t matter because her reasoning and her success story is undeniably rational and persuasive. It made absolute sense to me and explained many of my own thoughts and terrible cycles.

Like me, Hansen had a normal supportive family yet she decided one day to do something that would forever change her life, which is exactly the way my eating disorder started: by dieting.

I also related to her in the sense that her eating disorder didn’t develop from the common triggers people expect—like being a gymnast or super model, having a parent that constantly called you fat, or someone who was bullied at school, etc. Like me, Hansen had a normal supportive family yet she decided one day to do something that would forever change her life, which is exactly the way my eating disorder started: by dieting.

I wholeheartedly believe my brain became re-wired, just as Hansen explains hers did, as a result of my own decision to redefine “permissible” food types and quantities and begin severely limiting my caloric intake and exercising in excess. That was the simple pattern that—according to Hansen, and it makes perfect sense to me—set off a terrible reaction in my brain causing it to rebuild my psyche and habits and caused me to become and stay bulimic for years.

But the very good news in that is you don’t need anything other than yourself, your sheer will power, to quit.

Her reasoning is empowering because she takes the blame out of eating disorders. There is no one to blame but yourself. But the very good news in that is you don’t need anything other than yourself, your sheer will power, to quit. Hansen enables those suffering to believe—despite core thoughts to the contrary—that they are in control, that they can conquer this disease through thought alone.

Hansen is a powerful, effective voice for the eating disorder community and living proof that her method can work: at least for one. And, as Hansen herself has stated, if it works for only one other, then she’s done what she set out to do.

All I can say Kathryn, is that I wish I had read your masterpiece sooner. I believe it would have saved me years of agony. Thank you for sharing your humble wisdom and inspiring experience with others who are suffering.

—Callie

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