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Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia

Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia

4.4 213
by Marya Hornbacher

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Why would a talented young girl go through the looking glass and step into a netherworld where up is down and food is greed, where death is honor and flesh is weak? Why enter into a love affair with hunger, drugs, sex, and death? Marya Hornbacher sustains both anorexia and bulimia through five lengthy hospitalizations, endless therapy, and the loss of family, friends


Why would a talented young girl go through the looking glass and step into a netherworld where up is down and food is greed, where death is honor and flesh is weak? Why enter into a love affair with hunger, drugs, sex, and death? Marya Hornbacher sustains both anorexia and bulimia through five lengthy hospitalizations, endless therapy, and the loss of family, friends, jobs, and ultimately, any sense of what it means to be "normal." By the time she is in college, Hornbacher is in the grip of a bout with anorexia so horrifying that it will forever put to rest the romance of wasting away. In this vivid, emotionally wrenching memoir, she re-created the experience and illuminated that tangle of personal, family, and cultural causes underlying eating disorders. Wasted is the story of one woman's travels to the darker side of reality, and her decision to find her way back—on her own terms.

Author Biography: Marya Hornbacher works as a freelance editor and writer. She is the winner of the White Award for Best Feature Story of 1993 for "Wasted" and presently lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with her husband. This is her first book.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
"I did not yet understand that the gasp and wheeze of my heart was death. The wild skittish flitting of my eyes and my hands working themselves together, trying to get warm was death. The absence of any understanding that my body was falling away from me like a pair of old pants was death. I did not understand. It did not occur to me that I'd gone crazy. It did not occur to me that I would either be dead or locked up for good in the near future. I know that while I was in the hospital, I got a pair of scissors and cut my waist-length hair to my chin. [Someone] said I looked like a model. I was of course thrilled."

Wasted is exactly what a book about eating disorders should be: frightening. With Hornbachers gripping prose, Wasted has the potential to do for eating disorders what Go Ask Alice did for drug abuse: scare young readers away from killing themselves.

Based on research and her own battle with anorexia and bulimia, which left her with permanent physical ailments and nearly killed her, Hornbacher's book explores the mysterious and ruthless realm of self-starvation, which has its grip firmly around the minds and bodies of adolescents all across this country. Hornbacher became bulimic at the age of 9, anorexic at 15, and went back and forth between the two until she was 20. In 1993, when she weighed 52 pounds, doctors predicted she had a week to live.

Hornbacher's story is of a journey to self-destruction and back again, raw enough to make even the most jaded readers flinch and honest enough to make the most cynical pause forthought. But while recounting her own pain, flaws, and failures, Hornbacher successfully avoids the traps of self-pity and reachiness.

"I do not have all the answers. In fact, I have precious few. I will pose more questions in this book than I can respond to myself. I can offer little more than my perspective, my experience of having an eating disorder. It is not an unusual experience. I was sicker than some, not as sick as others. My eating disorder has neither exotic origins nor a religious-conversion conclusion. I am not a curiosity, nor is my life particularly curious. That's what bothers me—that my life is so common."

Hornbacher was born in California, the only child of a former theater director and an actress turned school administrator, struggling with their unrealized dreams and troubled marriage. While she was in elementary school, Hornbacher's family moved to Minnesota. With witty insight, she offers cutting social commentary about growing up on the less desirable side of a town that "operated on money" during the value-skewed '80s. She recalls the social caste system at her school, in which "lanky children were clad in Ralph Lauren and Laura Ashley" and posed a disturbing contrast to her own perceived physical awkwardness. Children notice differences, and Hornbacher was perhaps acutely aware of the implications of these differences. She could not control where she lived, the early onset of her puberty, or the disharmony between her parents. She could, however, control her eating, which was inseparably enmeshed with every other aspect of her world. By the time she entered junior high school, Hornbacher had been vomiting daily for three years.

But Hornbacher's story transcends the physical. It is a book as much about the intellect and the spirit as it is about the body. She describes vividly the acute life of her mind, her almost overwhelming drive to succeed even as a young teenager, and her passionate interest in the world around her. She escapes stifling suburbia by being accepted at the prestigious arts school Interlochen, only to become hospitalized before she could graduate. By her late teens, Hornbacher's promising intelligence and intense personality were turned exclusively inward, fueling her careening trip toward death via self-starvation, bingeing, sexual promiscuity, and drug use. Hers was a downward spiral so dark and extreme, it's difficult to believe that the person depicted in the pages lived, let alone lived to create for the world a brilliant account of her descent and survival.

As Hornbacher readily admits, her book does not offer any answers. However, the revelations about adolescent self-destruction and all of the questions therein are vital: As she observes, "There are reasons why this is happening, and they do not lie in the mind alone."

Wasted is more than a cautionary tale, and it is more than an account of the power of the human spirit: It is an astonishing work of literature that serves as a mirror that reflects the crueler aspects of our culture, which all too often penetrate and imperil the minds and lives of our vulnerable youth.

—Jamie Weisman

San Francisco Chronicle
A scary but tentatively triumphant memoir....[Told] with grace, sharp humor and candor.
NY Times Book Review
A gritty, unflinching look at eating disorders...written from the raw, disintegrated center of young pain...Hornbacher describes [such phenomena] with stark candor that captures both their pain and underlying purposes...She is wise beyond her years.
San Diego Union Tribune
Powerful, compelling, intelligent...A memoir that has the tension and movement of a well-paced novel...You simply cannot put Wasted down.
Village Voice
Hornbacher writes like an artist, shaping her themes without self-pity or self-importance, wondering with intelligence why the dissatisfaction everyone feels with life is so often blamed on the female body.
Entertainment Weekly
Terrifically well written...non-judgmental...
New York Times Book Review
A gritty, unflinching look at eating disorders...written from the raw, disintegrated center of young pain...Hornbacher describes [such phenomena] with stark candor that captures both their pain and underlying purposes...She is wise beyond her years.
Barcelona Review
Intelligent, honest, without the least hint of self-pity or undue accusation, this is not only the definitive personal account on the subject of eating disorders, but one hell of a book full stop.
VOYA - Lynn Evarts
At the age of nine Marya Hornbacher began to control her life by controlling her relationship with food. She tells tales of toilets exploding from the sheer volume of her purging, of drinking gallons of water so that her weight would not go down during her daily weigh-in, and her stay at a Children's Residential Treatment Center where she discovers the power of a hug. In explicit detail, Hornbacher relates how she lived, and almost died, for the past fourteen years with a serious eating disorder that often forced her life to the edge of madness. Her need to control her body took her weight down below sixty pounds at one point, and even then she was powerless to realize the damage she was inflicting upon herself. Only when death was imminent did she begin to accept treatment, but not without causing irreversible harm to her body. Hornbacher tells her powerful story of self-destruction in an almost detached way, giving the reader the sense that she is an observer in her own life. Within her personal story, she also presents solid psychological research and thought relating to the hows and whys of anorexia and bulimia to further her reader's understanding. Readers will feel Hornbacher's pain, and hopefully learn to recognize this disorder in themselves or others close to them. Hornbacher puts it best when she states, "I would do anything to keep people from going where I went. This book was the only thing I could think of." Biblio. Source Notes. VOYA Codes: 4Q 2P S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, For the YA with a special interest in the subject, Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12 and adults).
School Library Journal
YA-Eating disorders are frequently written about but rarely with such immediacy and candor. Hornbacher was only 23 years old when she wrote this book so there is no sense of her having distanced herself from the disease or its lingering effects on her. This, combined with her talent for writing, gives readers a real sense of the horror of anorexia and bulimia and their power to dominate an individual's life. The author was bulimic as a fourth grader and anorexic at age 15. She was hospitalized several times and institutionalized once. By 1993 she was attending college and working as a journalist. Her weight had dropped to 52 pounds and doctors in the emergency room gave her only a week to live. She left the hospital, decided she wanted to live, then walked back and signed herself in for treatment. This is not a quick or an easy read. Hornbacher talks about possible causes for the illnesses and describes feeling isolated, being in complete denial, and not wanting to change or fearing change, until she nearly died. Young people will connect with this compelling and authentic story.-Patricia Noonan, Prince William Public Library, VA
Dorothy Allison
“A memoir that resonates with unflinching candor and ironic wit, Wasted is a book that can save lives. The courage that prompted it awes me. Yes, this one is not to be missed.”
“Her book will be value not only to fellow sufferers: Any woman who has ever been made gleeful by the diminishing of her physical self will gain from reading this painful and sharp-boned account. ”
“Startlingly frank, breathtakingly emotive.”
“Stunning..a tortured-yet-compelling account of a life spent bingeing, purging, and starving..A primal scream of a story sure to resonate even with those who possess a healthy attitude toward food and weight.”
Patricia Chao
“An unsparing, terrifying, razor-edged self-portrait that cuts right into the heart of this most paradoxical of psychological disorders.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Harper Perennial
Product dimensions:
5.33(w) x 8.03(h) x 0.75(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Childhood 1974-1982

"Well, it's no use your talking about waking him," said Tweedledum, "when you're only one of the things in his dream. You know very well you're not real."

"I am real!" said Alice, and began to cry.

"You won't make yourself a bit realer by crying," Tweedledee remarked: "there's nothing to cry about."

"If I wasn't real," Alice said--half laughing through her tears, it all seemed so ridiculous--"I shouldn't be able to cry."

"I hope you don't think those are real tears?" Tweedledee interrupted in a tone of great contempt.

--Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

It was that simple: One minute I was your average nine-year-old, shorts and a T-shirt and long brown braids, sitting in the yellow kitchen, watching Brady Bunch reruns, munching on a bag of Fritos, scratching the dog with my foot. The next minute I was walking, in a surreal haze I would later compare to the hum induced by speed, out of the kitchen, down the stairs, into the bathroom, shutting the door, putting the toilet seat up, pulling my braids back with one hand, sticking my first two fingers down my throat, and throwing up until I spat blood.

Flushing the toilet, washing my hands and face, smoothing my hair, walking back up the stairs of the sunny, empty house, sitting down in front of the television, picking up my bag of Fritos, scratching the dog with my foot.

How did your eating disorder start? the therapists ask years later, watching me pick at my nails, curled up in a ball in an endless series of leather chairs. I shrug. Hell if I know, I say.

I just wanted to see what would happen. Curiosity, ofcourse, killed the cat.

It wouldn't hit me, what I'd done, until the next day in school. I would be in the lunchroom of Concord Elementary, Edina, Minnesota, sitting among my prepubescent, gangly friends, hunched over painful nubs of breasts and staring at my lunch tray. I would realize that, having done it once, I'd have to keep doing it. I would panic. My head would throb, my heart do a little arrhythmic dance, my newly imbalanced chemistry making it seem as though the walls were tilting, the floor undulating beneath my penny-loafered feet. I'd push my tray away. Not hungry, I'd say. I did not say: I'd rather starve than spit blood.

And so I went through the looking glass, stepped into the netherworld, where up is down and food is greed, where convex mirrors cover the walls, where death is honor and flesh is weak. It is ever so easy to go. Harder to find your way back.

I look back on my life the way one watches a badly scripted action flick, sitting at the edge of the seat, bursting out, "No, no, don't open that door! The bad guy is in there and he'll grab you and put his hand over your mouth and tie you up and then you'll miss the train and everything will fall apart!" Except there is no bad guy in this tale. The person who jumped through the door and grabbed me and tied me up was, unfortunately, me. My double image, the evil skinny chick who hisses, Don't eat. I'm not going to let you eat. I'll let you go as soon as you're thin, I swear I will. Everything will be okay when you're thin.

Liar. She never let me go. And I've never quite been able to wriggle my way free.


Five years old. Gina Lucarelli and I are standing in my parents' kitchen, heads level with the countertops, searching for something to eat. Gina says, You guys don't have any normal food. I say apologetically, I know. My parents are weird about food. She asks, Do you have any chips? No. Cookies? No. We stand together, staring into the refrigerator. I announce, We have peanut butter. She pulls it out, sticks a grimy finger into it, licks it off. It's weird, she says. I know, I say. It's unsalted. She makes a face, says, Ick. I agree. We stare into the abyss of food that falls into two categories: Healthy Things and Things We Are Too Short to Cook--carrots, eggs, bread, nasty peanut butter, alfalfa sprouts, cucumbers, a six-pack of Diet Lipton Iced Tea in blue cans with a little yellow lemon above the word Tea. Tab in the pink can. I offer, We could have toast. She peers at the bread and declares, It's brown. We put the bread back. I say, inspired, We have cereal! We go to the cupboard, the one by the floor. We stare at the cereal. She says, It's weird. I say, I know. I pull out a box, look at the nutritional information, run my finger down the side and authoritatively note, It only has five grams of sugar in it. I stick my chin up and brag, We don't eat sugar cereals. They make you fat. Gina, competitive, says, I wouldn't even eat that. I wouldn't eat anything with more than two grams of sugar. I say, Me neither, put the cereal back, as if it's contaminated. I bounce up from the floor, stick my tongue out at Gina. I'm on a diet, I say. Me too, she says, face screwing up in a scowl. Nuh-uh, I say. Uh-huh, she retorts. I turn my back and say, Well, I wasn't hungry anyway. Me neither, she says. I go to the fridge, make a show of taking out a Diet Lipton Iced Tea with Little Yellow Lemon, pop it open, sip loudly, tttthhhpppttt. It tastes like sawdust, dries out my mouth. See? I say, pointing to Diet, I'm gonna be as thin as my mom when I grow up.

I think of Gina's mom, who I know for a fact buys sugar cereal. I know because every time I sleep over there we have Froot Loops for breakfast, the artificial colors turning the milk red. Gina and I suck it up with straws, seeing who can be louder.

Your mom, I say out of pure spite, is fat.

Gina says, At least my mom knows how to cook.

At least my mom has a job, I shout.

At least my mom is nice, she sneers.

What People are Saying About This

Dorothy Allison
A memoir that resonates with unflinching candor and ironic wit, Wasted is a book that can save lives. The courage that prompted it awes me. Yes, this one is not to be missed.

Meet the Author

Marya Hornbacher is an award-winning journalist and bestselling writer. Her books include the memoirs Wasted: A Memoir of Anorexia and Bulimia, which has been published in twelve languages, and the New York Times bestseller Madness: A Bipolar Life; the recovery books Sane: Mental Illness, Addiction, and the Twelve Steps, and Waiting: A Nonbeliever's Higher Power; and the novel The Center of Winter. She teaches in the graduate creative writing program at Northwestern University and lives in Chicago.

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Wasted 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 214 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although the author has obvious talent as a writer, this is one book I don't think should have been written. It explains too many ways to hide the behaviors of this disorder, which many with eating disorders will be looking to learn, talks way too much about her exercising, and lists her weight pound by pound as it dropped. All things eating disorder victims will focus on. As a recovered anorexic I am insulted by her claim that one of the biggest reasons she 'got better' is because she got bored with being sick. It is an insult to anyone who has ever put in the hard, painful work to get better, and is an insult to the process one must go through to recover.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I believe this is is what most Eating disorder books are missing! This book is scary and that is all there is to it! I have an eating disorder right now as we speak and I thought this book was highly triggering for me but I also think that it did scare me into asking for help! If you are at your worse with you eating disorder and/or triggered very easily this is NOT the book for you but if you are ready to be scared to death than read it and maybe you will see, as I did, that you can die!
Guest More than 1 year ago
it was hard for me to finish reading when i was finishing my struggle with bulimia, so if you have had a problem with an eating disorder I almost wouldn't recommend it. Otherwise though it is realistic and is well written.
Guest More than 1 year ago
if you have/had an eating disorder, i dont recomend reading this book. it was really triggering for me, and i had to go back to In Patient after reading it. it was a really good book, but a bad mistake on my part in reading it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I thought the book was very well written and I could relate, but I did relapse while reading this book. I would recommend this to someone who is recovered from their eating disorder, unlike myself who just got out of treatment. Best book I've ever read though.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In graduate school, I read this book for a literature class about autobiography and memoir. As a former bulimirexic, I couldn't wait to dive into the book. As I read more and more, I steadily got more and more frustrated with Hornbacher's portrayal of her experience. The self-indulgent, almost loving way she describes her descent into the disorders and her efforts to 'recover' disturbed me. It is her memoir and her account of her experience, though, but I feel she was too reckless, especially in claiming that the disorder doesn't stop being an issue. Yes, it does stop being an issue -- when one is truly recovering. Having been there, done that myself, Hornbacher does not strike me as recovering at all. Rather, she writes as if she's still in the grips of the disorders -- and enjoys it, despite claims to the contrary. And that's dangerous for someone reading this who is in the throes of the disorders.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Without question Marya Hornbacher is gifted as a writer. My problem with the book is that many readers who are in the grips of their own eating disorder will use this book as a way to learn how to be better at being sick, and will judge their own self worth by comparing themselves to the author. By writing about how much the person exercises, the number of calories the person ate, and especially by how much she weighed many people suffering from eating disorders will believe they do not deserve help (any kind of treatment) until they are as sick, if not sicker, than anyone speaking out about their own battle with their eating disorder. My anorexia got so bad my parents were told I wouldn't survive the night the last time I was hospitalized, and I now travel around speaking out against eating disorders; I also must always be careful not to give out any of the kind of information I have just talked about. If I did I know the victims will decide they can only get help when they get as thin, and eat no more than I did, and I know kids would die trying, or come close to it. I know because that is exactly how I felt. I do applaud Marya's courage in speaking out against the treatment centers that focus on forcing fast weight gain on the patients and them sending them home without really receiving any real therapy. That kind of treatment towards these victims has the potential to do real harm to the patients.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a recovered anorexic I was disappointed in this book. It is actually a dangerous book for anyone prone to an eating disorder to read. I felt like it glorified the life of a person living with an eating disorder. Not only did it give dangerous details on how to avoid getting 'caught' with your eating disorder, but it also gave specific instructions on binging and purging.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I love this book. The writing is brilliant (though it can get a bit overdone sometimes), it's full of information about eating disorders, and most of all, very insightful to the eating disordered psyche.
Guest More than 1 year ago
reading Wasted was an addiction in itself. real and raw, it carved out a few of my scars and revealed to me my infatuation with CONTROL -and all that it implies- once again. its in-your-face style exposed me too much... I have relapsed... because of Marya's accurate, crude, and exceptional expressions, Wasted might be better fitted for those who do not have an eating disorder -but are trying to understand the thinking process behind it- or for those who have put the disorder behind them -and are strong enough to continually face the TRUTH. a dangerous read for those like me, still struggling with extreme power issues... but a heck-of-a read nonetheless.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am a seventeen-year-old anorexic girl with bulimic tendencies. I don't want to go into detail in this review because I doubt I could formulate the right words to accurately describe the brilliance of this book. All I can tell you, eating-disordered person or loved one of an eating-disordered person, is that this book is a must-read.
Guest More than 1 year ago
AMAZINGLY accurate of what I am going/went through. To those who think it is triggering, it is only triggering if you let it be. Personally, I think it is beautifully written and shows that eating disorders are NOT glamourous, they are terrifying sicknesses and ordeals that way too many go through. Many of the thoughts and feelings expressed by the author are similar if not the same as my own. This book really got me thinking and gave me new ideas and insight into what my disease really is and how I can BEAT IT FOR GOOD!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Easily the best book on eating disorders I have ever read. I had a very hard time putting this book down and ended up finishing it in 2 days. I recommend this book to anyone who wants to read an intelligent reflection on this topic.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I picked up 'Wasted' thinking it would be helpfull during my recovery. I have suffered from anorexia/bulimia for half of my life, and have only been starting to get better these past 6 months. I found this book to be EXTREMELY TRIGGERING! Well written, but still very triggering to anyone who has ever felt sadness and depression in their life... Please be careful when reading...
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm a recovering bulimic/anorexic, 14 years old 5'5 and 88 pounds. This book told me bluntly all the things I'd denied and refused to believe. Marya tells her story in a straightfoward, almost unforgiving style and still manages to be hauntingly poetic.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I admit, I'm barely into this book and I think I'm already done with it. It's kind of hard to believe the things she says when she has obviously made up a lot of details. Her and her 5 year old friend "reading" the labels on foods? Remembering running away, picking flowers, and hiding in a hamper...when she was 3 years old? Hanging upside-down from a chair WHILE eating a sandwich (hello, choking?!). I feel like she's making up a lot of little details to make the story better and this makes me not want to read the rest of the book - how do I know what details are made up and what details are real?! She also says she's not gonna go into talking about how "bad" her family is and how that contributed to her eating disorder, but almost right after that she's talking about her parents arguing at the table and her mom's bizarre eating habits that date all the way back to when the author was in utero/nursing. Sorry, but I'm done.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Many have commented that this book shouldnt have been written, that it is a blueprint to EDNOS, buli, ana.... the truth is that its not really meant to be a book about her road out. Its a book about her time IN the disorders. I read this in a day. My depression with my own EDNOS was too much and i felt totally alone. I felt like my choices were only mine and i was horrible for them. Reading this, it actually gave me the first bit of hope. Not being alone. Not being the only one.... it is major. Years and years of dealing with this alone and this book, its real. EDs are impossible to define as being cured one way or another. Impossible to make sense of when you are trapped in them. This book does make you see that you arent the only one that feels that way. For some, it may give them license to become worse. For others like me (i read this a few months ago now) it gave me a hope because someone who thought like me has crawled out of "the rabbit hole" Four stars only because she doesnt go into the recovery, wjat it took..... i wish she had. I wish i knew. I wish we all knew
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is not the words of someone participating actively in recovery-the author is still "romancing" and enjoying her illness. This book is nothing but a how to guide. Do not buy if you have your own problems with food. I suppose it is an interesting read to anyone without food issues-like passing a car wreck. You cannot not look.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found the book a disappointment. I thought I would get a compelling story about the struggles of the disease. Instead the book was filled with alot of unnecessary detail making it too long and a drag. And just when you think you're getting to a compelling point...it lacks detail and leaves you with alot of unanswered questions. I felt I had to finish the book since I bought it...but a complete waste of time. It's a story of a very sick girl and her problems...and less about the real struggles of having an eating disorder. Save your money on this one.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It is well written, but I am in the midst of my eating disorder and seeking treatment and I bought this book thinking maybe it can help. It only made me worse. This book SHOULD NOT have put numbers and other certain things that took place. Honestly,do not read this book if you have an eating disorder or anything. If you have an extremely healthy relationship with food and your body and are very confident, then go right ahead. But even if you think you want to lose weight, do not read it. It may do you wrong.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A must read for anyone falling into the world of vanity. This book will pull you right out and get your head on straight. The author takes you into such a hell that at times it hurts to go on with her. Everytime I read this book I realized how important it was that I do not get caught up in vanity and place too much importance on being 'beautiful'. This book is great for anyone who feels the pressures of chasing Thin and needs perspective.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Why do I do it? Why does anyone? We all have our reasons...ones yet to be determined, but sometimes we are just plain hungry. As a young 'driven' woman, I can relate to Marya's obsessive behaviors. Although I am in slow recovery, the only kind there is, her book has helped me want to get healthy before I begin a third year with the addiction. Marya holds nothing back in her story. The truth of bulimia and anorexia is written on every page. Recommended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book gave me chills. Marya writes with such realness, such brutal honesty, one cannot help but become immersed in her struggle between life and death. She opens the reader's eyes with her no-holds-barred approach to telling the moving story of the war she battled with herself.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Being in recovery myself, I can honestly say that Marya's poetic horror speaks volumes. I nearly died myself at 5'10, 88lbs. There are alot of myths out there about this disease (yes, it is a disease), and Marya uses her own life experience to tell it how it truly is. She is an inspiration to all that it is never to late to get help.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is amazing, I bought it and read it twice. It sent chills, brought tears and really changed what I thought and knew about eating disorders. If you want to know what it's like, this book is better than a doctor's or fictional writer's view. This is from someone who actually lived it.