Posted byat 9th February, 2010
by Nancy Matsumoto (Woodhull Member)
Originally posted to Eating Disorder Blogs
I just finished reading Peach Friedman’s Diary of an Exercise Addict, which is newly out in paperback from Globe Pequot Press. The book chronicles Friedman’s descent into exercise bulimia after a breakup with her boyfriend and her parents’ separation, and takes the reader with her through her treatment and eventual recovery.
As her disorder deepens, Friedman describes her “boundless energy” and imagines that every woman must envy her and every man find her attractive. She doesn’t realize that her appearance is beginning to frighten and disgust friends and acquaintances and that the combination of her excessive running and her low weight is damaging her joints beyond full recovery. When her grip on reality is at its most tenuous, however, Friedman describes an internal confusion over whether her gaunt appearance is “offensive” or “sexy.” She writes, “The two are confused in my mind, not knowing which is my intention, which I want.” The disorder is both a barrier against overwhelming emotions and human contact and a covert bid for attention.
Friedman reaches bottom at a lavish college graduation she plans for herself at the family home in Charlottesville, Virginia, where old friends greet her appearance with shock and dismay. The picture is complicated by a mother who is both a former anorexic and her best friend in recovery. Her mother, who has known all along that Peach is genetically susceptible to eating disorders, organizes a treatment team to care for her.
Friedman begins the frightening process of recovery, eating more and watching the numbers on the scale go up instead of down. Her panic over weight gain leads to increasingly frequent binges, followed by renewed exercise to purge the guilt and calories.
After a typical binge session, in which Friedman enters into the trance-like state that many binge eaters describe, a flood of pent-up emotions rises within her, and she is shocked by the tears and the pain flow out. Her mother reminds her of what her doctors have told her: once she begins refeeding, “the real work will begin.” Friedman writes, “That’s when the feelings will return. All those months of starvation when I didn’t laugh or cry, when I didn’t feel anything…all that needs to be dealt with now.”
Diary of an Exercise Addict is an emotionally honest and raw book, (suitable for mature teens or older), which details Friedman’s every setback and step forward, and engages the reader as the narrator matures from compulsive exerciser and calorie counter to a personal fitness trainer, poet and National Eating Disorders Association spokesperson. Key to her recovery is once again allowing herself to revel in the joys of food and sex, sensual cornerstones of her former life that she realizes she repressed during her illness. Recovery for her also means establishing the “self-esteem, confidence and identity founded in who I actually am, not what I’ve done or how I look.”
Friedman’s descriptions of recovery will reassure anyone finding the struggle almost unbearably difficult: “There are so many countless moments, hundreds of them, thousands, about which I can say, This is when I decided to better or This is when I knew I was going to make a change. There are thousands of these moments because it’s a process, a long process involving hundreds and thousands of steps.”