Diary of an Anorexic GirlDiary of an Anorexic Girl
Morgan Menzie
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Blythe is a typical teenage girl struggling to find her place in a private suburban high school world. When her classmate Laurie begins to lose weight, Blythe's competitive spirit drives her to lose more. A sudden interest from the cutest boy in school spurs her romantic dreams on until she hits rock bottom at eighty-nine pounds. Blythe struggles with her faith in God while she's in hush-hush therapy sessions for "her issue," and she begins to recognize the sacrifices she's made for a seemingly perfect body. Through the help of her best friends, Diane and Oliver, she begins to regain the confidence to face her worst fears.

In her first published work, Morgan Menzie writes candidly and beautifully about her experience as a teen girl struggling with anorexia in this based-on-a-true-story diary.

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Morgan Menzie is a student at Vanderbilt University. She served as general editor for Sisterhood: Voices of Teenage Girls, and Diary of an Anorexic Girl is her first full-length novel. This fictional diary is a powerful account based on her own battle with anorexia. She was valedictorian of her high school class and now she's majoring in English. She has written for The Tennessean, and was editor of the yearbook and literary magazine in high school. Morgan lives in Nashville, Tennessee in a cool apartment with some college friends.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I'm from Nashville, Tennessee. Franklin, actually, but nobody usually knows where that is, so usually I say Nashville. I'm 20 years old, and I go to Vanderbilt University. I'm an English Major, surprise, surprise! I'll be a junior next year, and I hope to study abroad—in Scotland. I've been wanting to go there since I was little! I went the summer before I entered high school with a group of college kids, which was really fun, but I would like to be able to study and stay there for more than two weeks.

Your book, Diary of an Anorexic Girl, is an intensely personal book. Why did you write it?
When I was a freshman at Vanderbilt, and probably at all colleges, they give you the "What are you going to do with the rest of your life, this is what counts, it's time to get focused" lecture—I never had trouble being focused! I was trying to live life in a new way that I'd never lived it before because of everything that I'd gone through. One night, I was just lying in bed in my tiny dorm room thinking, "Alright, I just got over something that took almost half my life (7 years out of 18), and God has shown me the grace to be able to overcome it." He also had been showing me how great this world is when you don't put yourself in your own prison. He gave me the talent to write (I've always loved writing) and I thought, "Well, since I've gotten over this, and since He seems to like the way I tell stories, I might as well e-mail Kate, my editor." I told her about my idea, and she liked it.

Was it hard to write?
It was very difficult because I had just learned how to not think the way that so many people with eating disorders think, which is that everything is black and white. I started to enjoy the freedom and fun of college, and then I had to go back to that mindset, after I'd been well for less than a year, and it was very difficult. I'd come home and my parents would say, "Are you ok?" and I would say, "Yeah, I'm fine, I've just been writing." It was rough.

How much of it is fiction?
A lot of people have asked me that—I get phone calls from my friends, and they ask, "Is this person real? Did this really happen? How did I miss it?" I kept most of the characters true, but I exaggerated a few of them. I pretty much kept circumstances the same. I went to a school away from home, but it wasn't the Collins Weatherby school. The years are also different; the time span was a little bit different. It's funny, but I actually ended up making myself very boy crazy in the book! I didn't plan on that, and it wasn't actually that way, but that's how it came out. I thought, "Well, if that's what came out, then I guess I'll leave it! But I am very much that dramatic. I get phone calls from my friends and they say, "That is so you!" and they'll read me stuff from the book.

Did you realize that "Laurie" was anorexic? Were you ever concerned about it—either for her or yourself?
Oh, no, I didn't even know the word when I was that age. "Laurie" is more my enemy than my friend in this book. There was a girl that I was friends with in middle school that was going through some stuff, and I sort of watched her. She asked me, "Do you want to go on a diet with me?" I said, "Hmm, Ok." It's just one of those things. It stuck and I got carried away.

Why did you decide to publish it?
I came across a lot of people, while I was sick, that didn't really want to know what I was going through, or had no possible way of understanding, or sympathizing.  If you are not sick, it's a foreign world, describing the kinds of thoughts that you have, and I felt that maybe it would give some perspective for other people.

Was it hard to find a publisher?
During my senior year in high school, I'd written a play and was in the middle of directing it—it was going to be preformed for my school. We had Career Day, and it was the first time my school had ever had Career Day. A lady from The Tennessean came, and Kate Etue from Thomas Nelson Publishers came. I, of course, went to the writing career room, and met them. I ended up writing for The Tennessean the next summer, and I also started working with Kate on a different book, called Sisterhood: Voices of Teenage Girls. I was editor of that book, and my story's actually in it as a much briefer version. That's how I got started—who knew Career Day could be that successful!

What do you want to say to young women who struggle with their self-image?
The only thing that I could say is that … anything that's about to come out of my mouth, I'm afraid, it's going to be patronizing, or they're going to think, "You don't understand," even though I've been there. I just would probably say to them that there's so much more to life, and this is such a big world to enjoy. Don't box yourself in to worrying about the way you look when you're already beautiful to God and you should be beautiful to yourself. The thing that's so difficult with your own self-image is that you always think that your image is the right one. The way you see yourself is the way that everyone else probably sees you, and they just don't understand. When you think that way, it makes your world very small.

Do you think anorexia is a more widespread problem among young people than most people realize?
Absolutely. I feel like it's getting worse and worse every year. I didn’t see it as much with people that are a little bit older than me. But in my generation—I knew so many people in high school that were sick, or that had some sort of problem. Pretty much everyone I know has issues with food. It's a sad thing to say, but I think it's getting worse. It's a good thing that people are speaking out. I definitely think it's not something to be taken lightly.

Now that you have written and published this book, have you found that many more people come up to you and confide that they struggle with an eating disorder?
Yeah, I didn't expect that. I don't know why, I guess I just didn't think that far ahead! I've been getting e-mails through the website (which is in the back of the book), and every one says that they really enjoyed my book, but then they say, "Here's my story," and they ask me questions. It's very—I just have to pray that I can give them some advice. First and foremost, I say, "God is the answer before I can give you any answers." I've been hearing a lot of stories. People from all over the world are telling me, "This is what I'm going through," and "I understand." It's good for them to know that they have someone to talk to, and it's good for me to know that it's helping people. Even if it's just making them ask questions of themselves. I also get e-mails from people who aren't sick, but they have friends that are sick and they wonder if they should give them this book. I say, "Well, pray about it, and if you'd think it'd help then, yeah I would give it to them, it's worth a shot."

Is anorexia a "taboo" subject in Christian circles today?
I went through, I'm sure, the same talks in middle school that every school goes through; the whole "your body is changing" talk, but as far as anorexia goes, we didn't hear much. Because I went to a Christian private school, I didn't know of a lot of drugs and overtly bad behavior. My bad behavior was so "behaved" that I found it very easy to continue. And ironically, my grades skyrocketed when I started. I think it just intensified how much I cared about being perfect. I was a perfectionist from birth. I made my bed (and my brother's!) when I was five-years-old. I think that school intensifies all those feelings. Now that I'm in college, it's funny because, this is when they start to tell you that grades are very, very important, and now I'm having to tell myself that it's not as important as I thought it was once. It's very tough.

Do you think that our society's emphasis on perfection pushes people toward an eating disorder, or is it more because of the internal pressures they face?
I can really only speak for me, and it was definitely more of an internal push toward perfection because I felt like I needed to be the best I could be. But I was the only one who knew what was best for me. God didn't know what was best for me, and no one else could tell me, so I was going to find it, and achieve that goal.

So it was all about setting goals?
It was definitely about setting goals and achieving them, and then setting higher goals and never falling back. It's a steep mountain that really never has an end. Balance is definitely the most difficult thing for me. Because I'm so dramatic, and because I have the perfectionistic tendencies, the hardest thing for me is to just live life. I have some friends in college that are really good at that. I'm learning, and it's fun when you learn how to just be in the moment, and not think about everything, but it's difficult to get that balance.

How do you feel that your faith has helped you?
My faith is my recovery. I know that couldn't have gotten well without God. Looking back, I see, and you can see a little bit of it in the book, how I tried my hardest to run away from Him, and ignore Him, and even I guess patronize Him. My attitude was, "Oh, sure, I'll pray, sure I'll look like I'm a good Christian and go to church camp," but in my heart, I just did not want it at all. It took me getting to the bottom-most point of my sickness to be able to say, "Alright, God, my life is out of control, I see that it's been out of control for a long time. What I thought was control wasn't. Now I need Your help." Basically, He did it, and I just let Him carry me through because I had tried it in my own strength. When I first tried to get help, even though I didn't really want help, I was going to do it on my own, and I was going to be great at it! That's just not the way it was going to work.

It's like another success, another goal to reach.
Right, and if you think of it that way, it's never going to happen.

What is the message you want to get out to people?
I guess my message would be that there is hope. You don't have to be anorexic or have an eating disorder to feel the way that I felt in the book. No matter how far away from God you feel, no matter what you do, He'll always pull you closer. That's what I actually got out of writing it.