Empty: A Memoir
An editor at This American Life reveals the searing story of the secret binge-eating that dominated her adolescence and shapes her still.
Growing up, Susan Burton had never heard of binge-eating. She just knew she felt her best when she was empty, “like a straw”, as she says “something you could blow through.” For almost thirty years, Susan Burton has hidden her obsession with food and the secret life of compulsive eating and starving that dominated her adolescence. This is the relentlessly honest, fiercely intelligent story of living with both anorexia and binge-eating disorder, moving past her shame, and learning to tell her secret.
When Burton was thirteen, her stable life in suburban Michigan was turned upside down by her parents’ abrupt divorce, and she moved to Colorado with her mother and sister. She seized on this move west as an adventure and an opportunity to reinvent herself from middle-school nerd to popular teenage girl. But she hadn’t escaped unscathed, and in the fallout from her parents’ breakup, an inherited fixation on thinness went from “peculiarity to pathology.” She entered into a painful cycle of anorexia and binge eating that formed a subterranean layer to her sunny life. She went from success to success—she went to Yale, scored a dream job at a magazine right out of college, and married her college boyfriend.
But in college the compulsive eating got worse—she’d binge, swear it would be the last time, and then, hours later, do it again—and after she graduated she descended into anorexia, her attempt to “quit food.” Binge eating is more prevalent than anorexia or bulimia, but there is less research and little storytelling to help us understand it. In tart, soulful prose Susan Burton strikes a blow for the importance of this kind of story; brings to life an indelible cast of characters; and tells an exhilarating story of longing, compulsion and hard-earned self-revelation.
Hardcover: 304 pages.
Size: 9.5" x 6.3" x 1.1"