Loneliness, shame, depression: all of these are a part of the life of someone with an eating disorder. If they are unable to confide in anyone, the names Ana (anorexia) and Mia (bulimia) may quickly become their best friends. However, these are no true friends and only contribute to a downward spiral for the individual.
In Beating Ana: How to Outsmart Your Eating Disorder and Take Your Life Back, Shannon Cutts attempts to break through the loneliness of eating disorders with the war cry “Relationships Replace Eating Disorders.” Her method focuses on the importance of developing strong relationships with the self, family, friends, and a mentor.
Shannon Cutts is very familiar with living with an eating disorder; her own struggle, she tells us, began at age 11. The weight loss and damage to her bones and ligaments ended her future career as a blues and jazz musician and she dropped out of college.
After finding a mentor and getting on the road to recovery, Cutts founded Key to Life: unlocking the door to hope, an organization that offers events, workshops, concerts, and other activities designed to facilitate with healing from eating and related disorders. She also founded MentorCONNECT, a community that connects potential mentors and mentees. Although Beating Ana is her first book, she brings to it a voice of reason, reassurance, experience, and determination.
The book is structured like an outline. There are four parts, each consisting of several chapters. The chapters begin with an email exchange between Cutts and one of her own eating disorder mentees. Cutts then explains what the chapter will focus on, whether it is the mental argument that takes place at mealtimes or the constant internal stream of insults that may come with an eating disorder. Each chapter has an assignment for the reader and ends with an encouraging “Life Celebrating Affirmation” to be repeated in times of struggle.
The first part of Beating Ana is an introduction to Cutts and the Mentor Method. She shares the story of her struggle with anorexia and bulimia and introduces the reader to the idea that “relationships replace eating disorders. Period. The end.” Her “Mentor Method” is based on the sponsor method used within the Alcoholics Anonymous program; she describes the method as the “voluntary, ongoing, interactive relationship between the mentor and mentee (giver and receiver), for the sole purpose of facilitating progress in recovery.”
Cutts moves on to target the internal conversation that takes place in the mind of a person with an eating disorder. She introduces the “H.O.W. of Recovery (Honesty-Openness-Willingness)” which is another tradition of Alcoholics Anonymous, one that is very important to the recovery process. She also highlights the “F.E.A.R factor: False Evidence Appearing Real.” For example, to someone with an eating disorder, the F.E.A.R. may be “food is a toxic substance that we must avoid at all costs,” whereas the FACT is that “food is a must for our body to survive.”
The bulk of the book is taken up by part three, which focuses on what we can learn from films. However, the movies that Cutts cites and uses for each chapter do not focus on a character with an eating disorder; rather, they provide a lesson for the reader to focus on and an assignment that assists in learning it. The movies that Cutts refers to are varied: from “8 Mile” to “Catch Me If You Can” and “Something’s Gotta Give” to “Girl, Interrupted,” each movie has a lesson about perseverance, freedom, or the finality of death. This section ends on “A Beautiful Mind.” Focusing on the main character’s determination to gain control over his own illness, Cutts encourages the reader to make a list of his or her own “I can’t” scenarios and replace them with “I can” statements.
Finally, Cutts wraps up the book with a section that she says contains “some of the key techniques” from her own recovery work. She encourages readers to take control over their mind; to assert domination over the eating disorder voice; to make life and living the number-one priority; to accept that relapses may happen but to use them as “rocket fuel for recovery;” and to recognize that they are separate individuals from the eating disorders and that the eating disorder does not identify them.
Shannon Cutts makes a powerful impression. Although I do not have any personal experience with an eating disorder, I could feel the author’s words resonating with me and the encouragement and support they conveyed. I was even able to see where some of the lessons may even be applicable to my own life.
That being said, her book is probably not the best source for someone to turn to if they are attempting to understand, from the outside, the mind of someone with an eating disorder (e.g., a parent trying to understand their child). Indeed, the book is not meant for this use. It is specifically geared toward the person with an eating disorder. Although the lessons of each chapter are valuable, the chapters that are inspired by movies may be a bit abstract for some readers. For instance, the lesson from “Something’s Gotta Give” is that putting too much restriction on your life does not allow you to live. Being an adoring fan of said movie, I had to ponder this particular note on the plot for a few moments to begin to see the point that Cutts was attempting to make. Perhaps viewing the movie while working on the assignment that Cutts has paired with it (which is her suggestion) would help a bit more.
Overall, however, Beating Ana seems like a wonderful resource for someone suffering from an eating disorder. Shannon Cutts’s personal experience makes her an experienced ally and mentor to someone who may be lost on the path to recovery. Her cheerful determination and powerful enthusiasm make this book a great tool to keep on hand.
Beating Ana: How to Outsmart your Eating Disorder and Take Your Life Back
HCI, January, 2009
Paperback: 236 pages