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February 29, 2024

Eaten Alive: A Q&A with Author Abigail Anderson

Eaten Alive: A Q&A with Author Abigail Anderson

**Content warning: This is one person’s story; everyone will have unique experiences in recovery and beyond. Some stories may mention eating disorder thoughts, behaviors, and symptoms. Please use your discretion when reading and speak with your support system as needed.

Abby Anderson (she/her) is from the Twin Cities area and underwent treatment at The Emily Program following her anorexia nervosa diagnosis in the spring of 2018. After graduating from business school in 2020, Abby worked in corporate retail and consulting before eventually finding her passion in healthcare. Today, Abby works in a job that blends her skillset with her vested interest in eating disorder treatment, research, education, and accessibility. Abby spends her free time hanging out with friends, doing yoga, listening to podcasts, taking long walks outside, and, of course, writing.

If you are interested in connecting with Abby, don’t hesitate to reach out! You can follow Abby’s personal Instagram or her writing platform. You can also send her an email at eaten.alive.a@gmail.com. To learn more about Abby’s recovery story, listen to her on our Peace Meal podcast. Abby’s book can be purchased here.

In this blog, Abby tells us about her new book, Eaten Alive: Anorexia: Learning to Thrive after Living to Survive, how writing her memoir supported her healing, and why others should join her in pushing back against societal misconceptions of health.

Tell us about Eaten Alive!

Eaten Alive chronicles the series of events surrounding my reality inside the harsh world of anorexia. The first night I typed a page of what would later become a published memoir, I never thought anyone else would see it. A personal account that outlines honest emotions, difficult times, and raw insecurities is not easy to share with the world. But I believe eating disorders deserve a level of awareness that matches their significant impact. My passion for recovery and increasing access to treatment became more powerful than the fear of sharing this story with all of you.

The book includes my real-time experiences of living with an eating disorder, hindsight observations about my mental and physical state, the events leading up to seeking treatment, tactical eating disorder information, and quotes from other authors in the mental health space. It will leave you asking questions and, ideally, rewiring various deeply held beliefs.

It is my opinion that eating disorders are another form of addiction. They are a desperate attempt to feel something and/or alter your reality. For many, control, love, acceptance, and purpose seem just out of grasp, so we search for them within the eating disorder. I am here to say I get it and provide an understanding of how these fatal illnesses we so painfully endure are often born from the most common necessities.

I know how it feels to look in the mirror and wish you could disappear, how frustrating it can be to know change is necessary while simultaneously dreading it. Hating yourself is a draining—albeit devastatingly common—way to walk through life. I want this book to fight against what has become so normal in our society, encourage readers to challenge black-and-white notions of health, inspire them to take care of themselves, and, hopefully, regain control of their lives.

This book was, first and foremost, for me to process what my body had gone through and to heal mentally and physically. Having a structured way to work through a very intense time of my life was pivotal to self-understanding and committing to recovery. After this healing began, I was blessed to meet people who are still a large part of my health journey and to be encouraged by loved ones to share my story with others. What I went through had, over time, evolved from a painful illness to a resource. Writing the story and re-reading it countless times instilled a message in me: that the body I was fighting for was not aligned with the image I had for my life. I felt so obligated to look like the girl I had become, but she was not who I wanted to be—learning that she was never really “me” helped as I began to walk away. The more I have shared and written about the eating disorder, the more I have been able to draw a line between myself and it.

A photo of the book cover of Eaten Alive: Anorexia: Learning to Thrive after Living to Survive, a memoir by Abigail Anderson.

What was it like to revisit and reflect on your eating disorder while writing?

The book went through many versions. It started with snippets from journals—random entries from when I was in the depths of anorexia. Later, it gained transitions, a plot, and eventually an ending. It was hard to remember a lot of details, especially given my state when most of the events occurred, but I did what I could. I think that was the most frustrating part—how much I forgot and how much time I will never get back. It was a slow descent into sickness, but looking back, it felt like it happened in the blink of an eye. It took over my whole life. Revisiting that was painful but necessary for me to find peace and move forward.

Each time I worked on the book, it was for one or all of the following reasons: first, when I felt inspired. The depth of the memoir was greatly dependent upon my state of mind. If I was not in a place to be creative or had little energy, it was not the time to write. Second, I worked on the book when I needed a reminder for my own recovery—a push in the right direction. Despite my strongly held values and beliefs, this world is hard to live in sometimes. Spending time on the book would reinstill why I wanted to get better and spark motivation to continue on my chosen path. It inspired me to send the message that change WAS possible, as well as helped to redefine my image of health. Lastly, I wrote when I had the time. Rushing something like this didn’t feel right. I wanted to be proud to introduce my work to others. I gave myself space for things to unfold, letting memories come back and exist without force. I still don’t know every part of my eating disorder story because it began to rule my life long before I knew it was there. When someone first told me how bad my eating disorder was, I was equally confused and distraught. The damage I did to my body still shocks me when I reflect on how little I was aware of my internal symptoms.

I wasn’t ashamed of anorexia being part of my story, but I didn’t want to identify with it as much as I used to. Reflecting was healing, as I did it with the intention of incorporating my experiences with all the information I had gained in recovery. 

What insights or lessons did you gain from writing your memoir?

  • Writing became my favorite hobby, the best therapy, and a constant when life got tough. It became part of me, and with it, the fear of other opinions slowly faded away. I found something that made me feel authentically alive and I haven’t looked back since.
  • It’s an ongoing feat to reckon with the stark contrast between how full my life is without anorexia and how much I believed I had it all together when I was battling anorexia. The temporary relief of restriction created a storm of false control.
  • The behaviors on my plate were an analogy for life. I used food and my control over it to distract me from everything else I did not have the tools to understand. My eating disorder allowed me to cope, despite the suffering it caused.
  • To re-evaluate my coping mechanisms, I learned that I must stay vigilant in deciphering the truth from unrealistic standards and ingrained societal expectations.
  • I realized I’d spent about ten years fighting my body. The thoughts started young, but just didn’t quite stick like they later would. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when it all started or that my life could have ended because of it. I still don’t know if I love my body, but I’ve learned it was never really about that. What I wanted was to love myself despite my body, and I do. I care about protecting my peace and following my intuition. I know that my real, vibrant life with all its complexities still matters, even when that voice in the back of my head fights hard to convince me otherwise.
  • Without restrictive behaviors, I learned to face my shadows, welcome in the darkest parts, and practice self-acceptance instead of shoving myself in smaller clothes.
  • When I finally let go of this disease and the hold it had on me, I found out that leaving my eating disorder was not the hardest thing after all. Navigating my feelings, getting hurt, mourning the past and things that never were, sitting in conflict and discomfort, learning to like who I was (even if it meant not everyone else would), separating old narratives, and admitting I actually didn’t “have it all figured out” was a hell of a lot harder than hiding from the world and getting smaller.
  • Being real is hard, feeling is hard, and life is hard, but that’s also what makes it beautiful. As humans, we are meant to feel the full spectrum of emotions. Eating disorders mask those emotions and our reality with a false sense of security, never giving what they promise and often leaving you wondering, “How did this happen?”

What message do you want readers to take away from it?

While I wrote this book to tell my story, I also did it to relay an underrepresented message, to provide something the world needs: the notion that maybe our societal concept of health is all wrong.

Your eating disorder is a liar. Food is not evil, your body is not bad, and it’s not your fault. Being “skinny” does not mean that you’re healthy. It doesn’t mean that you’re happy or confident. It doesn’t mean anything other than that you’re skinny.

I am a living example of what happens when you go within yourself to find what the world can never give. After living inside of an eating disorder, getting healthy can feel like you are doing something wrong, especially when the steps you take to change are often in direct opposition to what you once took as gospel. I found it to be one of the hardest things I’ve done because health is so misconstrued and misrepresented. In today’s age, health is rarely what people say it is. True healing includes unlearning, developing a lot of trust, and embracing authenticity. You have to choose your future and take things one step at a time in the present.

Are there other books that have influenced you or your writing?

  1. Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life by Susan David, PhD
  2. The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael A. Singer
  3. Empty: A Memoir by Susan Burton
  4. What’s Eating Us?: Women, Food, and the Epidemic of Body Anxiety by Cole Kazdin
  5. The Religion of Thinness: Satisfying the Spiritual Hungers Behind Women’s Obsession with Food and Weight by Michelle Mary Lelwica
  6. Health Food Junkies: Orthorexia Nervosa: Overcoming the Obsession with Healthful Eating by Steven Bratman, MD
  7. Facing Codependence: What It Is, Where It Comes From, How It Sabotages Our Lives by Pia Mellody
  8. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Can you share an excerpt from your book with us?

When the sickness bled into my veins I didn’t know that life was not mine anymore. Operating in a silo with the vice responsible for ripping me away. One night, home alone, the world started to cave in and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. Embalmed in the suffocating need to feel what I no longer could – safe, calm, grounded, connected. The activities I’d begun to adopt made me feel inhuman and in response my behaviors no longer mirrored the self I’d known. I remember this all-encompassing emotion. A mixture of fear, shame, confusion, and desire. I longed for a feeling, a state of mind, an ease that only ever seemed out of grasp.

A simple approach to “harmless” weight loss and need to change, spiraled out of control. What I begged to bring stability left me hanging on by a thread, attaching all worth to the details of my day and its rate of consumption. My gravity outweighed my knowing and the answers for which I searched were no closer to being answered. It promised more opportunities, but stole the energy I would need to achieve them. It made me believe people would like me more, but isolated me from the social personality I once owned. It did not shift my family problems to seem any less chaotic, but instead gave me more anxiety in dealing with them. The self-induced lack did not help me “find myself,” but led me to lose any semblance of the person I knew.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I would like to take a moment to recognize Jillian Lampert, the Chief Strategy Officer of Accanto Health. Jillian wrote the forward for this book and has supported me as I navigated the publishing process. Her expertise, vast knowledge of eating disorder politics, lobbying and advocacy work, commitment to this field of research, and general kind nature are just a few reasons I respect her as much as I do. Jillian’s willingness to add her take to my story gave it a certain credibility and weight it would not otherwise have. Thank you, Jillian. I look up to you more than you know.

We want to hear your voice of recovery! If you are interested in participating in our Recovery Conversation series, please email blog@emilyprogram.com to learn more.

If you or a loved one is experiencing an eating disorder, help is available. Reach out to The Emily Program today by calling 1-888-364-5977 or completing our online form.



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