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Brave Girl Eating: A Family's Struggle with Anorexia Hardcover – Bargain Price, August 24, 2010

4.7 out of 5 stars 141 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Brown tells the story of her family’s battle with anorexia, the “demon” that suddenly possesses her bright, pretty daughter, Kitty. Brown is alternately an introspective and anguished parent and a fierce advocate for the Maudsley approach, a family-based therapy that focuses on restoring the patient to physical health before fully dealing with the psychological challenges he or she faces. Brown carefully amasses facts about anorexia and the effects of starvation in between bouts at the dinner table as Kitty refuses to eat and, occasionally, hides her food. The standoffs are emotionally draining for the entire family, including Kitty’s younger sister, Emma, whom Brown worries is also at risk for the disease. At the crux of Brown’s affecting and informative memoir is the idea that anorexia can happen to any family and that it can be defeated through determination and love, even though Brown recognizes that permanent success can be elusive. In the end, she knows that all any family can do is try, and that her eldest daughter will not be left to fight her demon alone. --Katherine Boyle


“As a woman who once knew the grip of a life-controlling eating disorder, I held my breath reading Harriet Brown’s story. As a mother of daughters, I wept for her. Then cheered.” (Joyce Maynard )

“What sets this book apart is the author’s incorporation of clinical research findings from the field of eating disorders into the story of one family’s struggle . . . [A] compelling story of family strength and an inspiring story for all of us committed to treating individuals with eating disorders.” (Evelyn Attia, MD, Director, Center for Eating Disorders, Columbia University Medical Center, Weill Cornell Medical College )

“One of the most up to date, relevant and honest accounts of one family’s battle with the life threatening challenges of anorexia. Brown has masterfully woven science, history and heart throughout this compelling and tender story. Brave Girl Eating was fortunate to have one brave family.” (Lynn S. Grefe, Chief Executive Officer, National Eating Disorders Association )

“Harriet Brown is an intelligent, elegant writer and this book offers both solace and useful information for families struggling with eating disorders.” (Audrey Niffenegger )

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: William Morrow; First Edition edition (August 24, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061725471
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061725470
  • ASIN: B0051BNZ78
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (141 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #596,061 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

I write about the things that interest me, from the neurobiology of forgiveness to early childhood education. You can find my work in the New York Times Magazine, O, Prevention, and many other publications. My latest book is BODY OF TRUTH: HOW SCIENCE, HISTORY, AND CULTURE DRIVE OUR OBSESSION WITH WEIGHT--AND WHAT WE CAN DO ABOUT IT. It's the result of five years of research into the complex relationships between weight and health, and some of the surprising and life-changing things I learned in the process. Earlier books include BRAVE GIRL EATING: A FAMILY'S STRUGGLE WITH ANOREXIA, two anthologies (FEED ME! and MR. WRONG), and THE GOOD-BYE WINDOW: A YEAR IN THE LIFE OF A DAY-CARE CENTER. I teach magazine journalism at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications in Syracuse, New York. Find me on Twitter (@HarrietBrown), Facebook, and at www.harrietbrown.com.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Ms. Brown does an amazing job of putting into words the incomprehensible world-view of an anorexic as she tells the tale of her daughter's eating disorder and how she and her family coped with it. Combining the latest science and neurobiological theory with her own very personal story, she tells of discovering her daughter Kitty's anorexia, the denial, pain, and the struggle to find help.

The most moving parts are when she recounts her own struggles as a mother to come to grips with Kitty's anorexia and how it changed her and the rest of their family. She brings to life the fact that eating disorders impact everyone, not just the person who has the eating disorder. Her description of watching her beautiful, smart daughter's personality change as the disordered thinking of anorexia comes to the fore is heart-breaking.

But this isn't a hopeless story at all. Ms. Brown describes her discovery of family-based treatment (the Maudsley approach) to treating anorexia, and how it has a high success rate of helping people recover from eating disorders. She takes us through the treatment program step by step, showing both the good and the bad. I cheered right along with her as Kitty slowly gained weight and the aparkle of her natural personality reappeared. Anorexia is a terrible disease, but this book can give us courage that it can be defeated.
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Reading Harriet Brown's excellent book I couldn't help thinking of The Exorcist -- in which the innocent child Regan is possessed by a demon, spewing obscenities, repelling all attempts to cast out the evil force that is threatening her life. Just as inexplicable and life-threatening is the sudden possession of 14-year-old Kitty Brown by the demon of anorexia which spawns self-hatred and the uncontrollable urge to punish herself through the withholding of food.

When I titled my review "myth-busting" I meant that, before reading this book I thought of eating disorders as the neuroses of the hyperprivileged raised by mothers who bought into the "a woman can't be too thin or too rich" credo. But Harriet Brown is grounded, well-informed; her family is functional and loving; the message she and her husband have always given to their daughters is of acceptance of the full range of healthy body sizes. So when Kitty starts limiting her diet to a few leaves of lettuce and a precisely-counted number of grapes, wasting away before her family's eyes, erupting into tirades that seem voiced by some alien within her that calls her a pig, disgusting, worthless, Harriet is mystified and fearful.

Despite inept therapists and obstructive insurance companies, and books that perpetuate outdated and downright damaging information, Brown rallies her journalistic discipline and her lioness-mother heart to save her daughter's life, and, by the book's end, has come to a place of hope. Not complete, easy triumph -- but hope.
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Thank you, Harriet Brown, for providing a glimpse into the devastating world of a family in the clutches of the life-threatening and life-altering demon that is anorexia. I alternately nodded and wept as you masterfully and poignantly told our story. From the inside looking out, your portrayal offers hope and redemption from the agony, shame, guilt and helplessness that we, as parents, experience as these"children of our hearts" suffer, endure and persevere through the alternating victories and defeats of this continuous battle.
My tears were released with the awareness that finally somebody "gets this" and hears and validates all that I, as a mother, have been feeling and screaming into the wind. This disease haunts us, consumes us, drains the life out of us and has profoundly changed us, but as you so eloquently point out, it is the constant beating that is inflicted by ourselves and others in the form of judgment and/or blame that is equally damaging and life-changing.
I've read much regarding how or why anorexia happens and the myriad "how to beat it" theories, but this is a rare, compassionate and honest first-hand account of "playing the anorexia hand you've been dealt". Kudos and gratitude for Brave Girl Eating and "Brave Family Refeeding"
I am holding the best of thoughts for you and your brave girl.
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There are many things that I really loved about this book. However, there are also several things that annoyed and frustrated me, and that I think lessened the power of the book.

THE GOOD: I thought it was a very well written, compelling tale of a mother's struggle with her daughter's anorexia, and a mother's perspective as her daughter and her family try to deal with this deadly disease. I learned a lot about anorexia without getting caught up in jargon or in any kind of "thinspriation" speak, which the author notes she made great efforts to avoid. And, most importantly, I think this is a fresh perspective that will be incredibly helpful to other families struggling with anorexia, and provide them with information about family-based therapy, which is still not as common as other (and according to the author, less effective) therapies. I picked up this book because the New York Times Magazine article the author initially wrote has always stuck with me, and I wanted to hear the larger story, and I'm glad I read both the article and the book. That said...

THE BAD: I thought the author's agenda really got in the way of the book. She was clearly so angry at people who pushed treatment centers and blamed families that I didn't think she gave a fair discussion of those options and how they compare, especially for families who are not as available for full-time FBT as she and her husband were. I understand that this was a memoir and that she instinctively felt that treatment centers wouldn't be right for her daughter - and I would guess that she's right. But not every anorexic girl comes from a loving, intact family who has the emotional and financial resources to help their daughters the way the author did.
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