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This story is part of our news archives, prior to July 2010.

surfer, swimmer researcher Following are excerpts from LIT by Mary Karr ’76, Happy by Alex Lemon ’00, and Insatiable by Erica Rivera ’01, along with Q&As with each author, conducted by Elizabeth Foy Larsen. Enjoy.

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Mary Karr
/ alex Lemon / Elizabeth Foy Larson

Excerpted with permission from Insatiable: A Young Mother’s Struggle with Anorexia by Erica Rivera (Berkley Books, 2009).

It always starts like this. One day you put on those skintight stone washed jeans—or at least, you try to put them on, but they don’t make it past the knees without a struggle—and your thighs look as disgusting as the sausages you haven’t eaten in years. And that day, as the pants cut off your circulation from the waist down, you flip the switch and turn off your appetite.

You’re on your third round of recovery now and you’ve learned how to relapse without being noticed. You’ve mastered the tightrope walk between scary skinny and just alittle- too-thin.

You start by cutting out the junk food—the real junk food—the cookies, the brownies, the Frapuccinos. The first three days are hell, when your mouth salivates at the sound of a blender in Starbucks, when your eyes have to avoid the bakery case or you might maul it like an angry gorilla at the zoo.

But once you make it over the hump, an amazing thing happens. The cravings abate, and it is suddenly all too easy to subsist on salads and boiled eggs.

It’s fun at first, these daylong dips into the eating disorder. You put off eating for as many hours as you can, until the floaty feeling overtakes you. That ferocious hunger returns, and you revel in the feeling of pining for something, for the occupation of obsession. You remember the caloric arithmetic the way you remember your Social Security number.

Not-eating opens up so much time in your schedule, time for all those mundane tasks you’ve been neglecting, the ones that require little brain or body power. You do your laundry. You shred bank statements. You catch up on your reading. You sleep. You wait for your body to turn bony.

“I haven’t had sugar in two weeks!” you trill to your therapist.
“I’ve stopped binging! I’m back in control!” She sips her lemon tea across from you.
“You realize what ‘in control’ means, don’t you?” she asks.
You shake your head no.
“That the eating disorder is back.”
You scowl. You scoff. You wave off her so-called expertise. You pick lint off your turtleneck.
“Your energy is low today,” she says.
You blame it on the weather, on your overscheduled afternoon, on your new medication. You blame the energy drain on everything except anorexia.
“Would you like to do something different when it comes to food?” your shrink asks.
“No,” you say.
“Even if it might make you feel better?”
“No.”
“Why not?”
“Because eating never makes me feel better.” You’ve been there, eaten that. You added the whole grains and the omega 3s and all you got was fat.

You’ve tried other coping mechanisms—the journaling, the meditation, the movies—all the effects are short-lived. But the anorexia is on-call 24/7 and it makes you feel orgasmically good.

So this is why you come back: Feeling thin trumps every other feeling in existence.

book cover litBy Elizabeth Foy Larsen

Erica Rivera ’01 was not a typical Macalester student. Commuting between campus and the home she shared with her then-husband, Rivera finished her double major in Spanish and psychology in less than three years. After graduation, Rivera was struggling to manage the demands of her failing marriage and raise two young children when a life-threatening eating disorder almost derailed all her hopes and ambitions. Her memoir, Insatiable: A Young Mother’s Struggle with Anorexia is a tender and stirring account of her successful battle to overcome an all-too-common disease.

Q: You finished Macalester in just over two years. Did your time there have any impact on your writing?
A: I wasn’t doing creative writing at that time because I was married and all the writing I did was school related. But Macalester was really important to me because it was such a challenging academic experience that I focused on my studying and didn’t have eating issues.

Q: What was the hardest part about writing this book?
A: It was all hard, honestly. Coming to terms with my truth about my own life was hard. Also, the editing process was difficult in its own way, in that it was challenging to see something I wrote get transformed. The book as it is now wasn’t what I originally wrote.

Q: What surprised you about the editing process?
A: In the beginning the book wasn’t even about anorexia. But someone pointed out to me that “anorexia is all over this.” That was a hard part to confront. Through the editing process I realized that it wasn’t just my baby but also a marketing tool; we had to figure out “why are people going to want to buy it.”

Q: You were brave about discussing how your eating disorder made you do things—especially as a mother—that didn’t show the best judgment. What was it like to write those scenes?
A: I was conflicted about putting those scenes in the book. But I know that what I admire in other books is honesty and the author’s willingness to put it out there no matter how raw it is.

Q: The book is also about your life as a young mother. Do you feel that in some ways your daughters saved you? Did being a mother make your experience with anorexia different?
A: They definitely saved me. There were points where I was suicidal but I knew that they fully depended on me. Also, my inability to hide the anorexia became my reality check. When I saw that my daughters were picking up on my obsessive food issues, it was a big motivator to change.

Elizabeth Foy Larsen is a Minneapolis writer and book reviewer.