National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (Februray 27 to March 5) calls attention to the 11 million Americans facing ongoing struggles with diseases like anorexia and bulimia. One of these individuals is Taryn Benson, 21, who spent an agonizing three and a half years living with anorexia and bulimia. Now in recovery, Taryn, a nursing student at Santa Fe Community College, penned a book with her mother, Lorri, called Distorted: How a Mother and Daughter Unraveled the Truth, the Lies, and the Realities of an Eating Disorder. In a "she said, she said" style, mother and daughter reflect on their own memories of the disease that nearly tore them apart, and offer optimism for those going through the same hell.
We recently chatted with Taryn and Lorri about the book, their message, and their plans for the future.
Sheknows.com (SK): How did you decide to write this book?
Lorri Antosz Benson (LAB): After everything we went through with Taryn, I really wanted to share my experiences -- especially with parents and family members dealing with the same thing. I realized there was a complete lack of resources for that audience, so I wanted to provide a helpful — and truthful -- account of the struggles you endure when a loved one has an ED. Around the same time I decided to write something, Taryn came to me and said she was interested in getting her perspective down, too. So we decided to put it together.
SK: What was the joint writing process like?
LAB: We couldn't work side by side, because Taryn was away in school. So we'd talk and plan together, then write on our own. Once we completed a chapter, we'd e-mail them to each other. Sometimes, I couldn't believe what I was reading: Taryn had included thoughts and feelings that I'd never heard her express before. It was difficult to go through those emotions again, but at the same time very therapeutic.
SK: Taryn, How did you balance writing a book and school work?
Taryn Benson (TB): It wasn't easy, but I've always been able to juggle responsibilities better than most people. I just made time for it, as I was really determined to get my story and my message out there to girls suffering with an ED.
SK: And what message would that be?
TB: That recovery isn't a perfect process. You might take two steps forward and then you fall backwards, but you cannot get discouraged. There are a lot of set backs when it comes to recovery -- you may relapse and find yourself binging and purging again after months of treatment -- but you can fight it.
SK: Lorri, what do you hope mothers of daughters who are suffering with ED will gain from your story?
LAB: To learn that this is not your problem to solve. As a mother, your first reaction to any problem your kid has is to fix it, right away. But ED's are different: It's her problem. You can support her, of course, but ultimately, she has to make the decision to get better. After each step we took with Taryn's treatment, I thought this'll be it: This will make her better. And when it didn't, I'd blame myself. I eventually learned that Tarryn and I were on two separate journeys: Hers was having an ED, and mine was having a daughter with an ED. It's a process, and you just have to be patient.
SK: So now that you've published a book, what do you plan to do next?
LAB: We'd like to take our story on the road and speak to other people -- we're a good team, and our message is important. We want to reach out to those girls who may fall pretty to an ED because of society's unrelenting pressure to be thin.
TB: Everywhere we girls go, we hear "thinner is better!" We see beautiful, skinny models on the cover of magazines, and we're literally killing ourselves to be that size. Girls need to realize that it's not natural to be that thin. You don't have to be a size 0 to be beautiful.
Struggling with an ED, or know someone who is? Check out these resources for support and advice: