book reviews, healthcare

Repost: A review of Almost Anorexic, by Dr. Jennifer J. Thomas…

Sorry… one more repost as I try to decide on today’s fresh content. I wrote this review for my original blog on August 30, 2016. It appears here as/is.

When I was younger, I went through some pretty disordered eating rituals.  I was obsessed with my weight and how it looked on me.  You’d never know it to look at me then or now, but I engaged in some behaviors consistent with eating disorders.  I was not really a binge eater or a purger, but I did sometimes stop eating.  There were a few times when I was younger that I’d actually stop eating for several days.  My weight would go up and down, along with my moods.  I could be funny, goofy, and almost manic, or very depressed and angry.  Some people thought I was so moody that more than one person asked me if I was bipolar.

It took many years, but I finally quit obsessing so much about my weight.  Sure, I’d love to be a lot thinner than I am now; but I no longer obsess about my weight.  I don’t starve myself or force myself to exercise more than I want to.  I do engage in some behaviors that might be considered disordered to some people, though, and that’s one reason why I decided to read Almost Anorexic: Is My (or My Loved One’s) Relationship with Food a Problem? (The Almost Effect).  I also read this book because I myself have studied public health and social work and this book might be considered professionally relevant to me if I actually practiced.

Published in 2013, Almost Anorexic was written by Dr. Jennifer J. Thomas, who is (or was) an assistant professor of psychology at Harvard University in the Department of Psychiatry, and Jenni Schaefer, a singer, songwriter, speaker, and author who suffered from eating disorders and managed to recover.  This book is the fourth in Harvard Medical School’s “Almost Effect” series.    

Dr. Thomas goes by the name Jenny, so in order to make things less confusing for readers, she is referred to as Dr. Thomas in this book.  Jenni Schaefer is referred to as Jenni.  My name is also Jenny, so I felt like I was part of the club!  In any case, Dr. Thomas and Jenni keep their writing conversational and personal as they explain why they wrote about a condition called “almost anorexia”.  Basically, what they mean is that there are many people out there who are eating disordered, but don’t quite qualify for a formal diagnosis of a specific eating disorder.  

The book is called Almost Anorexic, but it’s actually about a spectrum of eating disorders– everything from orthorexia (an obsession with clean, healthy eating) to binge eating disorder (binging on food, but not purging).  My guess is that they chose to call the book Almost Anorexic because anorexia is probably the most dramatic, the most recognizable, and is certainly the most lethal of recognized eating disorders.  I think it also has more of a fascination factor and less of an “ick” factor than, say, bulimia does.  

This book is for anyone who “flirts” with eating disorders.  The authors offer insight into what eating disordered behavior is.  Eventually, toward the end of the book, there are some strategies offered to help combat the behaviors that can lead to full blown eating disorders.  I got the sense that preventing full blown eating disorders was what the authors were really after, though they did recognize that many people suffer for years engaging in behaviors that make them miserable and can ruin their health.  

One thing that I appreciated was that the authors point out how eating disordered behaviors, even if they aren’t bad enough to qualify for a diagnosis of anorexia nervosa or bulimia, can do a lot of damage to a person, physically, emotionally, and mentally.  Aside from that, life is short and obsessing about calories, food, exercising, what others look like and what you look like to others is a serious waste of precious time.  It truly doesn’t lead to anything but self-destruction and makes life much more difficult than it needs to be.  The authors recognize that their readers who might be struggling with disordered eating should strive for moving beyond those “almost anorexic” behaviors, but they also know that actually doing that is very difficult for most.  So they offer some good strategies and encouragement, along with anecdotes that make the reading more interesting.

I have read a lot of books about eating disorders over the years.  It started when I was a teenager and got to a fever pitch when I was a young adult.  Lately, I don’t read as much about eating disorders as I used to.  The topic just doesn’t interest me as much.  However, I did notice that the authors, particularly Dr. Thomas, whose voice seems to be the principal in this book, mention a lot of books that I’ve read.  I was really impressed when she mentioned Fasting Girls, which is a really great book about the history of eating disorders that I remember reading when I was a college freshman in 1990. She also mentions Cherry Boone O’Neill’s classic anorexia memoir, Starving For Attention, which I read for the first time in 1986.  

So, not only has Dr. Thomas got a lot of professional experience and training, she’s also read some of the best books.  But she also includes a lot of the latest research in a way that will speak to younger readers… the ones who are addicted to pro-ana or pro-mia Web sites or refer to their eating disorders as “Ed” or some other name.  “Ed” is the little voice in your head telling you you’re too fat or that you look awful in your favorite jeans.  “Ed” is the voice that tells you to engage in unhealthy and obsessive behaviors.  Dr. Thomas and Jenni explain strategies as to how to get “Ed” to shut up and go away, even as they acknowledge how difficult and scary it is to do that.

A lot of people struggle with “eating disorder not otherwise specified” or EDNOS.  That is essentially what “almost anorexic” refers to– having subclinical signs of an eating disorder that don’t quite qualify for a diagnosis.  Not being full blown anorexic or bulimic doesn’t mean you aren’t suffering or doing damage to your health.  That’s really what this book is about, as well as encouraging readers to take care of themselves and get healthy.  I think it’s an excellent read for a lot of people… many of whom never talk about “Ed”, but hear from “Ed” every day.  I give it five stars and a hearty recommendation, especially for those actually suffering.  I think it’s slightly less helpful for family members and friends, though it’s probably worth a read by them, too.

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mental health

The “twisties”… a world class gymnast is smart enough to know when to QUIT!

Simone Biles is in the news again. This time, it’s not because she managed to pull off some incredible gymnastics feat at the Tokyo Olympics. This time, she’s in the news because she pulled off a different kind of incredible feat. She knew when to quit.

Dominique Moceanu knows Simone’s struggle.

Regular readers might have noticed that I follow women’s gymnastics. I’m not an obsessive fan, or anything. In fact, I have zero gymnastics talent myself. I could never so much as turn a cartwheel, even when I was a young girl. I just like to watch gymnastics, in part, because of the drama of the sport, and because of the insane violations of physics gymnasts are able to do. I’m impressed by the grace and athleticism of gymnasts, even if I know that there’s a dark side to the sport.

Simone Biles is known as the G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time). Two days ago, she proved why she’s the G.O.A.T. by bravely pulling out the team competition at the Tokyo Olympic Games. She also pulled out the the all around competition, and will not be defending the gold medal she won in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. Simone introduced the world to a special condition that gymnasts get. That condition is called “the twisties”, and basically it means that while she was in mid air, Simone lost focus and the ability to control her body, putting her in great danger.

Biles’ performance at the Tokyo Games has been notably off kilter. Last week, she qualified to compete in all of the event finals, but her routines weren’t going as brilliantly as they historically have. We didn’t know it at the time, but Simone was dealing with incredible stress that was messing with her mental health. Amazingly enough, it’s a sign of her overall mental health that she decided to leave the competition. She was wise enough not to keep going, despite the extreme pressure she’s no doubt been under for years. Biles not only had the incredible pressure to perform at the Olympics, she also had some personal family drama, as just last month, her brother Tevin Biles-Thomas, was acquitted of murder and manslaughter charges in a 2018 shooting incident. No doubt, Biles’ brother’s legal problems were an added source of stress for the world class gymnast.

I’ve been watching women’s gymnastics long enough to have seen and heard about some really horrific accidents. There’s the now deceased former Soviet gymnast, Elena Mukhina, who attempted a Thomas Salto just weeks before the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. Mukhina had told her coach that she was going to break her neck trying to do the Salto. Her coach told her to get over her fear. Unfortunately, Mukhina knew her limits better than the coach did, but lacked the ability to say “no”. She attempted the Salto, under rotated, and landed on her chin. Sure enough, Mukhina’s awful prediction came to pass. She broke her neck, and spent the next 26 years a quadriplegic. In 2006, Mukhina died at age 46, due to issues related to the paralysis.

A memorial video for Elena Mukhina someone posted on YouTube.

There’s also Julissa Gomez, who was about my age. In May 1988, the fifteen year old gymnast, daughter of Mexican immigrants, had a terrible accident that left her paralyzed. She was in Tokyo, Japan, planning to compete in the World Sports Fair. Gomez was attempting to do a Yurchenko vault, but had never gotten completely comfortable with her technique. Sometimes, when she would try to do the difficult maneuver, her feet would miss the springboard. In those days, gymnasts vaulted on a horizontally placed horse, rather than the table that is used today.

Gomez was warming up on May 5th, 1988, practicing the Yurchenko for the vault finals. She ran headlong toward the vault; then, her foot slipped on the springboard, causing her to slam head first into the vault. From that instant onward, Gomez was paralyzed from the neck down. She was placed on a ventilator, which tragically became disconnected. The lack of oxygen caused severe brain damage. Gomez missed her Olympic dream, and spent the next three years languishing, until she finally died in August 1991, at age 18.

A memorial video someone made for Julissa Gomez.

It should be mentioned that at the time of her death, Julissa Gomez was coached by Al Fong, who also coached the late gymnast, Christy Henrich. Henrich, who was also about my age, died in 1994 at age 22, after she suffered a harrowing ordeal with anorexia nervosa.

You can see Christy shake her head after a disastrous tumbling pass. The commentators say she looks “tired”. It turns out she was actually starving herself.

Gomez was previously coached by Bela Karolyi, who is well known in the women’s gymnastics world for his bigger than life personality, as well as his allegedly abusive methods. It was Bela Karolyi who cheered on Kerri Strug in 1996, convincing her to vault a second time at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, even though Strug was seriously injured. Fortunately, Strug did not end up paralyzed after that historic vault, but I would not be surprised if she still has issues with that ankle.

It turned out that Kerri didn’t even have to do this… the American team had enough points to win the gold without the second vault.

If you watch Kerri do this vault, you can see that she was running on pure adrenaline as she raced toward the horse and flipped through the air, landing on one foot. It’s amazing to see. At the time, people hailed her as a heroine, and she was the talk of the Games. I will admit, this is definitely the stuff of true grit. Since Simone Biles’ decision to pull out of Olympic competition, people have been looking at Kerri Strug’s vault differently. Some have been saying that Biles doesn’t have as much “grit” as Strug did in 1996, but others have noted that Kerri should have been allowed to say “no” to that second vault. She was clearly injured, and doing a second vault with such a severe injury put her at extreme risk.

Moceanu miraculously avoids falling off the beam after missing a skill.

At the same Olympics, Dominique Moceanu clawed her way on the balance beam. She almost fell off after making an error in which she hit her head. She was extremely lucky she wasn’t seriously injured. Moceanu said no one checked her after she hit her head on the beam.

In July 1998, Sang Lan, a Chinese gymnast, came to New York City to compete at the Goodwill Games. During warm ups for the vault event final, Lan, who was known as an excellent vaulter, attempted to do a “timer”, a simple vault meant to help the gymnast familiarize herself with the equipment. She fell, landing on her head, seriously injuring her spinal cord, and she was unable to raise herself off the mat. Lan spent the next year in New York City, paralyzed from the chest down. She remains paralyzed today, at age 40. Through physical therapy, Lan eventually regained some use of her arms and hands.

Connie Chung asked Sang Lan if she knew the vault was “all wrong” when she was in the air. Lan said she knew. She must have had “the twisties”, too.

It really saddens me to read comments from people who say Simone Biles didn’t “belong” at the Olympics. What kind of bullshit is that? She is an exceptional athlete who has proven time and again that no one else can touch her. Now that she’s pulled out of the all around, it’s anybody’s guess who will take home the gold. Although even if Biles hadn’t pulled out, that would be true. I remember in 1992, watching teenaged gymnast Kim Zmeskal slip off the balance beam at the Olympics in Barcelona. At the time, Zmeskal was thought to be the favorite to win the gold. Seconds into her routine, that dream of winning gold was over for her. Her teammate, Shannon Miller, ended up in the spotlight instead.

Poor Kim. She was only 16 years old… and she had the weight of the world on her shoulders.

I also remember Kristie Phillips, who at age 14, was billed as the “New Mary Lou”. By the time the 1988 Olympics rolled around, Phillips had grown taller and gained weight. She wasn’t the gymnast she had been in 1986. And she didn’t make the Olympic team. She was named “second alternate”, which meant she didn’t get to go to Seoul. The devastation of that caused Kristie Phillips to suffer terrible mental health issues, to include suicidal ideation. I was so sad for Kristie, as I had been watching her during the Olympic Trials and really rooted for her.

Kristie’s foot went out of bounds on her floor exercise, shattering her Olympic dream.
Kristie tells Oprah Winfrey how she felt after she didn’t make the Olympics.

Women’s gymnastics is a truly beautiful sport. I love watching it, but I think if I had a daughter, I would not want her to be a gymnast. Besides the incredibly difficult and dangerous skills gymnasts do, there’s also the horror of the sexually abusive former team doctor, Larry Nassar, who molested hundreds of gymnasts under the guise of giving them “medical care”. Simone Biles was one of Nassar’s victims, and I’m sure the trauma related to that contributed to the mental state she found herself in this week in Tokyo.

Because Simone knew when to quit, she won’t be facing a tragic future… or NO future at all. She can move on after gymnastics. And so what if she didn’t win gold for America? She’s already done that! We have no right to demand anything at all of her, but we especially have no right to tell her to keep going when her body and mind have told her it’s time to quit. Because when it comes down to it, after the Olympics, athletes are on their own. They have to move on beyond the glory days. Very few of them become rich and famous from their athletic pursuits, and I’ve read many sad stories of former great athletes who didn’t know what to do with themselves once the Olympic dream was over for them.

Simone Biles is only 24 years old– a baby to most adults. But consider that age 24 is very old for a gymnast. She’s been under a lot of stress for many years– physically, mentally, and emotionally. The Nassar case happened fairly recently– add in the legal battle her brother was recently fighting, the tremendous pressure to win gold for America, and the tremendous physical and mental toll gymnastics places on its participants, and you have a woman who must have been on the razor’s edge of sanity. And yet, it’s a clear sign that Simone Biles is very sane, because she knew when to QUIT! And she no doubt knows there is life beyond the Olympics.

I would love to see Simone Biles compete in the event finals next week, if that’s what she wants to do, and she is fully prepared to do it. But even if she doesn’t compete, I still think she should be commended for being wise. No medal is more important than a person’s life and health. I don’t have a concept of “the twisties” as a gymnast might. My body can’t do what their bodies do. But I do know what it feels like to be mentally unhinged, and I know how disorienting and scary that can be, even for someone who isn’t trying to defy the laws of physics. Simone Biles made the right decision and has served as an incredible role model, not just to budding gymnasts, but to anyone suffering with mental health issues. She is to be commended for taking care of herself and having the ability to say “No”.

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book reviews, YouTube

Repost: My review of Catherine: interesting book about a British woman with anorexia nervosa…

I wrote this review for Epinions.com on June 16, 2013. It appears here as/is.

A couple of weeks ago, I happened to stumble across a pro-ana blog. Pro-ana, for those who don’t know, is a movement that sees eating disorders as “lifestyles”.  The author of the blog had posted a list of books and films she’d used for “thinspiration”; that is, she’d read or watch these books and movies to inspire herself to engage in anorexic eating habits.  I noticed her list of films and she’d included a film called Catherine, which was a made for TV film on BBC in the 1980s.  Someone posted Catherine on YouTube.  I watched it, then discovered that the film had been based on a book published in 1986 by Maureen Dunbar, Catherine’s mother.  The book, Catherine: The Story of a Young Girl Who Died of Anorexia Nervosa, was based on the true story of Catherine Dunbar’s seven year struggle with eating disorders at a time when a lot of people didn’t know much about eating disorders.

Fascinating British movie about Catherine Dunbar, who died of anorexia nervosa.

Catherine’s story

Maureen Dunbar begins by writing about how her 15 year old older daughter, Catherine, was sent home from boarding school in 1977 because her headmistress was very concerned about her.  Catherine had stopped eating and lost a lot of weight.  Catherine was accompanied by her younger sister, Anna, who was still healthy.

Maureen Dunbar explains that she had four children, two older sons and two younger daughters.  She had weaned Catherine early from breastfeeding because her kids were all born close together.  She was exhausted trying to keep the breastmilk flowing.  From that time on, Catherine was a difficult eater, though she was basically normal and healthy until she hit her teen years.  It sounded a little like she blamed herself for her daughter’s troubles, which was kind of sad to me.

When Catherine came home from school that day, Maureen Dunbar had no idea of the seven year nightmare that was to follow.  Over the ensuing years, she would see her beautiful daughter lose weight until she became emaciated.  Catherine would be sectioned under Britain’s Mental Health Act more than once.  She would run away from hospitals and refuse to cooperate with health care providers and family members.  Eventually, she would get to the point at which she just gave up on life and waited to die.

Catherine Dunbar died at the age of 22 on January 2, 1984.  She weighed about 50 pounds.

My thoughts

This book is based on Catherine Dunbar’s diary and her mother’s own memories.  It’s a very frank discussion of anorexia nervosa, with some family drama thrown in.  Maureen Dunbar was a more permissive parent, while her husband, John, was much more stern.  The two often butted heads over raising their children with John wishing to be stricter with Catherine, especially about her eating.  The Dunbars had marital problems, which were both exacerbated by and played into Catherine’s illness.

Maureen Dunbar mostly seems extraordinarily dedicated, except for one period in which she left home because she couldn’t deal with the stress of being at home and her marital problems.  She eventually came back to tend to Catherine, who was both trying to launch an independent life and dealing with her severe eating disorder.

This is a fairly short book.  I read it in a matter of hours while the power was out the other day.  Dunbar includes photos of her family and includes shots of Catherine, who was extremely thin toward the time of her death.  I managed to find a used copy of Amazon.com, though they may be hard to come by.  The book is now out of print. Someone has posted the film version on YouTube and it’s somewhat close to the book’s version of events.  I will warn American readers that it helps to be familiar with British slang; otherwise, you may not understand everything.

Overall

Catherine is a very British book, in terms of how it’s written.  It’s been out for many years so it may be hard to find.  But if you are interested in true stories of people who have suffered from eating disorders, it may be worth tracking down a copy of Catherine.  This account is wrenching; I really came away with an idea of how helpless Catherine’s family must have felt as they watched their loved one wither away into nothing.

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book reviews, celebrities, religion

Repost: Cherry Boone O’Neill’s book, Starving for Attention…

One last repost, since I posted reviews of her sisters’ books. This is the first book about the Boone family I ever read. I originally read Cherry’s book in 1989 or so, but I reviewed it for Epinions in 2003 and updated the review in 2011. It appears here as/is.

For some reason, I recently decided to re-read Cherry Boone O’Neill’s 1983 memoir Starving For Attention after reading it for a high school paper I wrote when I was seventeen. It was interesting to revisit this book again after all these years, mainly because I have a totally different perspective now. Right now, I’m an adult and, in a manner of speaking, I’m a mental health professional. Back then, I was a high school student who was interested in eating disorders and had to write a book report.

Cherry Boone O’Neill is Pat and Shirley Boone’s oldest daughter. She has three younger sisters– her mom had four daughters in three and a half years! When Cherry was born in Denton, Texas in 1954, Pat Boone was just beginning his meteoric rise into teen idol status and attending college. Fourteen months after Cherry’s birth, her sister Lindy arrived, born in New York City. In 1956, Debby Boone was born in Hackensack, New Jersey. Then in 1958, youngest sister Laury was born. In the midst of his burgeoning career and the quick expansion of his family, Pat Boone managed to graduate from Columbia University, earning a degree in English. It wasn’t long before Hollywood beckoned and the young family moved to California.

Cherry writes that she was always eager to please, and having grown up with very strict parents who were strong Christians, she was especially motivated to toe the line. She also felt very responsible for watching her sisters. Debby was the most rebellious of the four sisters, while Laury was a mischief maker. Cherry tried hard to bring home straight A’s. The girls were also incorporated into Pat Boone’s act, especially since he had a TV series, the “Chevy Showroom”. The girls made their television debut on the last episode of that program. As they grew up, they made albums, went on tours, and appeared as guests on other television shows like the “Flip Wilson Show”, “Merv Griffin”, and “Glen Campbell’s Goodtime Hour”.

When she was a teenager, Cherry began to have emotional problems brought on by school pressures. Rather than face classes that gave her trouble, she would fake illnesses and stay home. While she was at home, she would eat high calorie foods and watch TV. Before too long, she realized she was gaining weight– so much that her school uniforms no longer fit her. Horrified, she made the decision to control her body. She put herself on a sensible diet and ordered a couple of gadgets that were advertised in the back of teen magazines. One gadget was a pair of “Bermuda shorts” that hooked up to the vacuum cleaner– it was supposed to suck the fat off of her body. Another was a pair of stretchy leg wraps that made her legs look thinner. She started exercising more. Gradually, the diet turned into anorexia.

At first, Cherry’s family was proud of her. Then they became concerned. Cherry writes about an incident that occurred one Christmas after Cherry skipped dinner and then binged and purged when she thought everyone was asleep.

My distended stomach ached– I must have looked six months pregnant. My food frenzy began to slow down when I could no longer walk without bending over. Did I get everything I wanted? I guess so– besides I can’t eat any more.

But wait! Some chocolates! I’ll chew on those on the way upstairs with a glass of punch.

Once in my bathroom, I completed the now familiar ritual I’d begun this time with that first bite of turkey. I forced my finger down my throat. After several gut-wrenching heaves I regurgitated as much as I could until nothing but small amounts of bile tinged pink with blood, emerged. I wiped off the toilet and began rinsing my beet-red face when I was startled by a hard knock on the door.

“Cherry, what’s going on?” My father’s voice was stern.

My heart pounded. I’m just going to the bathroom. Why?” I quickly straightened my hair, straightened air freshener, turned off the water.

“Open the door, Cherry. You know the rules about no locked doors in this house.”

“You and Mommy lock your door sometimes,” I answered back.

“Open this door, Cherry! Right now!”

“All right! All right! Just let me get my robe on,” I stalled, trying to open the window for fresh air. Then I calmly unlocked and opened the door.

“It doesn’t take you fifteen minutes to go to the bathroom, Cherry.”

“I haven’t been in here fifteen minutes,” I lied.

“I was outside after taking a sauna and I looked up and saw your bathroom light on. I waited, listened, and I know I heard you vomiting.” His eyes glistened with anger.

“I did not! I swear! I was just going to the bathroom and washing my face!”

“Look here, Cherry,” he said, gripping my arm and pulling me back into the bathroom. “Look at yourself! Your face is red, your eyes are bloodshot, the room stinks and you’re telling me you didn’t throw up?”

“I didn’t, Daddy! I promise I didn’t! I was going to the bathroom. I’ve been constipated so my face gets red. Honest!” My voice quavered with fear. Tears welled up in my eyes.

“Cherry, I don’t understand this. I know you’re lying, but it’s late and I have to get up early. We should both be in bed– it’s been a busy day. But don’t think we aren’t going to discuss this when I get back from Chicago! Now go to bed, and don’t you get up again– for any reason!”

Suddenly he was gone and I stood alone in front of the mirror. I stared at my gaunt face, then burst into tears. 

Stories of family squabbles like this one pepper the book, first with Cherry’s parents and next with her husband, Dan O’Neill. Cherry’s family was very close and loving, but some might say they were overly strict– to the point of being smothering. Corporal punishment was employed on the girls into their late teens.

Cherry did do some shocking things while she was ill. One night, after enjoying a nice dinner with her fiance, she promised him she would go straight to bed. But as she walked through the kitchen, she noticed that there were a couple of lamb chops in the dog’s dish. Cherry loved lamb chops, so without thinking, she got down on her hands and knees and started eating them, not realizing that her fiance was at the window, watching her… until he started rapping on the window!

I enjoyed reading this book because it has the elements of a story that I enjoy– biography (or autobiography as the case may be), a fair amount of drama, some trivia and anecdotal information, and a touch of comedy. However, there isn’t a whole lot of medical information in this book and the little bit you do find is quite dated. After all, Cherry suffered from anorexia back in the 70s, when many doctors had never even heard of the disorder. If you want to read an autobiographical story about anorexia with more up-to-date information, you would do better to read Marya Hornbacher’s Wasted. Even that book is a little dated– the author was treated in the late 80s and early 90s and treatments have changed drastically since then.

This book led me to believe that Cherry was never hospitalized for long for her anorexia (there is some brief detail provided about one hospital stay she completed as an adult). There are pictures included of her, however, when she was ill. One disturbing photo shows her at 82 pounds, right before her first appointment with Dr. Raymond Vath, a psychiatrist in Seattle who is credited with helping her get past anorexia. She looks positively skeletal in that picture, as well as in a couple of others that show her at 88 pounds, eating at a picnic. There are a couple of other pictures that show her performing with her family– the illness is not as easy to discern in those.

Starving for Attention has been out of print for some time and may be hard to find. You may be able to locate it at a public library or on http://www.half.com. I think it’s a worthwhile read, although I don’t believe it’s the only book you should read if you want to learn about eating disorders. By the way, Cherry and her husband had given birth to their first child, Brittany, at the end of this book. As of now, Cherry has had five children, proving that those with eating disorders can eventually go on to have children.

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athletes, celebrities, mental health, psychology, tragedies, YouTube

Partial repost: Christy Henrich and Karen Carpenter, and discovering Dr. Todd Grande…

Recently, I watched a video done about Karen Carpenter by YouTube shrink, Dr. Todd Grande. Dr. Grande does videos about mental health topics in a trademark “flat” kind of way. When I first encountered him on YouTube, I didn’t like his videos that much because his delivery was so dry. But I kept coming back, because he chose interesting topics. After awhile, I realized that I enjoy his videos and even his “flat” style… especially when he throws shade in kind of a bland way. In the video he made about Karen Carpenter, Dr. Grande remarked that in terms of her musical talent, Karen was “like a Ferrari stuck on a go cart track”. He implied that she was much more talented than her brother, Richard, is. I got a kick out of that observation.

Karen Carpenter… Dr. Grande implies that her wings were clipped by her brother… Frankly, I think her mother was more of a wing clipper.

Personally, I disagree with Dr. Grande that Karen’s talent was that much more impressive than Richard’s is. They had strengths in different areas. Richard is a fantastic pianist, and he’s a great arranger. He knew what songs went best with Karen’s vocals. Karen was a magnificent singer and drummer. Together, they worked well. Both of them worked apart with somewhat less success. I do think that Karen and Richard had a very controlling mother, and personally, I think if anyone should be blamed for what happened to Karen Carpenter, it could be her mom that deserves the most shade. Agnes Carpenter was overbearing and overreaching… and she didn’t want her children to be independent adults. Moreover, she obviously favored Richard, which probably took a toll on Karen’s self esteem. Maybe that had to do with her development of anorexia nervosa. I don’t know.

Anyway… I enjoyed watching Dr. Grande’s video about Karen Carpenter and realized he’d done a bunch of similar videos about other celebrities. It occurred to me that it would be interesting to hear his thoughts on Christy Henrich, a brilliant 80s era gymnast who famously perished from anorexia nervosa in 1994. So I left him a comment. Maybe he’ll read and heed it. I really think it would be interesting to hear Dr. Todd Grande’s deadpan views about Christy’s public struggle with anorexia. She had a tremendous work ethic, which extended to her illness. At one point, Christy’s weight fell to 47 pounds. It’s not that I admire her for being that emaciated. It’s more of a comment on her sheer will power and relentless pursuit of her goals, self-destructive as they were. I’m sure a mental health expert would have a lot to say about her.

A video a YouTuber made about Christy Henrich.

In the meantime, below is a repost of an article I wrote in February 2014 about Christy Henrich for my original blog. It was inspired because Bill and I went on a “hop” to Spain and Portugal in January of that year. On the way back to Texas, we landed in Missouri and drove through Christy’s hometown of Independence, Missouri. I thought of her as I realized how much Missouri reminds me of Virginia. As usual, the repost appears “as/is”.

Remembering Christy Henrich

Back in the late 1980s, I had a brief but intense obsession with watching gymnastics.  I would catch meets on ESPN or Home Team Sports.  In those days, ESPN only had one channel and I believe HTS is now defunct.  I remember seeing very old footage of Shannon Miller when she was just 12 years old.  I remember watching Brandy Johnson and Phoebe Mills.  I could never so much as turn a cartwheel myself, but I really enjoyed watching the tiny girls compete.  I admired them for being so tough and strong.  I was into horses myself, though.

I also remember Christy Henrich, who was less than a month younger than me.  When I first saw her, she reminded me a bit of a soccer player.  Short and muscular without an ounce of fat on her, she didn’t have the long, graceful limbs of the Russian or Romanian gymnasts.  But she was very strong and had an amazing work ethic.  Her coach, Al Fong, even called her E.T. for extra tough. Sometimes, that extra tough work ethic worked against her, as you can see in the video below.

This may have even been the first meet I ever saw Christy in… This performance was not very good. The commentators say she “looks tired” and “doesn’t look right”. They also mention that she was warming up way before everyone else was.

Not being privy to anything going on in gymnastics that wasn’t aired on TV, I didn’t know about Christy Henrich’s eventual slide into anorexia nervosa and bulimia.  Back in those days, I had a bit of an obsession about eating disorders, too.  I knew a lot about them and even flirted with them.  If I had known about Christy, I might have even admired her for her anorexia.  That’s how dumb I was at 16.

Christy Henrich at 17

I remember watching the very intense 1988 Summer Olympics gymnastics trials.  I was kind of rooting for Kristie Phillips, an adorable strawberry blonde who had seemed poised for gymnastics stardom.  A growth spurt and weight gain had sidelined her in 1987 and she was back to try to win a spot on the team.  She placed 8th and was named a second alternate.  She would not be going to Seoul unless someone got hurt.  Christy Henrich missed the team altogether by .0118 of a point.  There was no hope for her at all, unless she set her sights on 1992 in Barcelona.

About Kristie Phillips, who also suffered from an eating disorder.
Kristie Phillips was on Oprah, along with Christy’s mom and boyfriend. Here, she talks about her suicidal ideation after she missed the Olympic team.

In 1990, a judge supposedly told Christy Henrich after a meet in Budapest, Hungary that in order to be a serious contender for the Olympics, she would need to lose weight.  At 4’11” and 93 pounds, Christy didn’t have much weight to lose.  But she took the judge’s words to heart and went on a serious diet, quickly shedding five pounds.  She was praised for the weight loss at first, but then she slid headlong into a battle that would eventually cost her her life.

Christy Henrich in 1990

By January 1991, she had lost so much weight that her coach, Al Fong, kicked her out of the gym.  A week after he kicked her out, she came in to tell him she was quitting the sport.  Though she had a loving family and a boyfriend who wanted to marry her, the eating disorders had taken hold of her.  On July 26, 1994, she died of multiple organ failure.  She had just turned 22 years old and she weighed less than 60 pounds.  At one point, her weight was just 47 pounds.

A clip from a 1995 episode of Oprah in which Christy’s mother and boyfriend talk about her struggles with eating disorders.  

I remember reading Joan Ryan’s book, Little Girls in Pretty Boxes.  In fact, I read an excerpt of it in the Washington Post just days before I left the country for Armenia to serve in the Peace Corps.  When I got home in 1997, I bought the book and read it.  It was about female gymnasts and figure skaters.  In 2000, Ryan updated the book, including discussion about Dominique Moceanu’s desire to be emancipated from her parents because her father was spending her money. 

I don’t know what made me think of Christy today.  It’s not her birthday or the anniversary of her death, though in July of this year, she will have been dead for 20 years.  That amazes me.  It seems like yesterday, we were 22 years old.  The older you get, the faster time flies.

Last month, as Bill and I worked our way back to Texas from our trip abroad, we drove through Christy’s hometown of Independence, Missouri.  We stayed a night in Kansas City, which is where Christy died.  For some reason, I even thought about Christy’s mother as we passed through.  It was frigid during our brief time there and, looking around, it didn’t look like the kind of place that would excite me.  On the other hand, I did notice how nice and folksy everyone seemed to be.  It seems like the kind of place you could get to know your neighbors.

Christy Henrich in 1987.

I’m sure that the last twenty years have been tough for all who knew and loved Christy Henrich.  What happened to her was just gruesome.  I still like watching gymnastics today, but remember Christy’s story reminds me that the sport has a bit of a dark side.  To read more about Christy Henrich, I recommend the book Little Girls in Pretty Boxes.  

An eye opening read.

Edited to add: in 2014, I still had no idea how dark gymnastics can be… that was before we knew about John Geddert and Larry Nassar.

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