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Life Hurts – A Doctor’s Personal Journey through Anorexia by Dr Elizabeth McNaught - Book Review

Life Hurts – A Doctor’s Personal Journey through Anorexia by Dr Elizabeth McNaught - Book Review

‘Life Hurts’ is a significant book and one I would commend to anyone involved with, or interested in, the subject of anorexia nervosa. It is clear, very moving and extremely helpful for people who are concerned about this disease. 

Yes, anorexia is a medical disease. It’s not something that teenagers ‘dream up’, but a serious condition which is very hard to detect and difficult to resolve. We need to fully understand this dreadful illness. 

The author has dealt with the subject of anorexia so well and has been able to work through it, thankfully, in her own experience. I learnt such a lot from this book. My thanks to the author!

The Author

Dr Elizabeth McNaught is a hospital doctor with a personal experience of eating disorders. She was diagnosed with anorexia at the age of 14, leading to an admission to a general hospital, many months in an in-patient hospital and several years in community care. The author fought hard against her illness, finally securing a place in medical school and qualifying as a doctor in 2016. She won the Legg Prize in Surgery for top student in her written exams!

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The Book

It’s a short book with nine chapters and six appendices. In some ways it’s an easy book to read, but it’s also a tough book - to fully understand the illness that is being described. Sometimes we think that it is a ‘teenage phase’ and, with some explanation and good advice, it will go away! That’s clearly not the case. This book will quickly alert readers to the fact that anorexia is a disturbing condition for anyone to experience. 

Preventing anorexia from day one is very important, but there are some real issues involved on the part of the person experiencing anorexia for themselves. They tend not to talk to anyone about their situation and symptoms early on, by which time things have reached a stage where the disease is already doing a great deal of harm to them. 

The foreword is written by Dr Izabela Jurewicz, the Educational Lead for the Faculty of Eating Disorders in London. She writes that she is ‘honoured’ to write the foreword for Dr McNaught’s book. She clearly believes that this book goes some way to explaining just how eating disorders and anorexia nervosa fits together, and she explains how Dr McNaught has helped people around the country in what she has written here. 

The book begins in the hospital where Lizzie was brought at a time of great crisis. She did not know this but gradually, from what was said around the bedside, she recognised that she was indeed very ill. Not that she could do anything about it! Anorexia completely takes over the mind. 

The book goes right through Lizzie’s experiences with anorexia, covering the time that she was in hospital, the months that she was in Leigh House (the in-patient hospital), her experiences in school and on into medical college in London. 

It is an astonishing book. To me, it simply states just how incredible Lizzie was to escape the condition and to move on to study for her medical exams. Despite all of this, she makes it very clear that, even now, she is not beyond the ability of anorexia to reclaim her mind. It’s all quite extraordinary!

Throughout the book, Lizzie writes, ‘Life hurts’. I think it probably does. 

This year, the book has been mentioned in a number of papers, and on television and the Internet. It speaks clearly to people, and helps them understand the full implications of anorexia nervosa. Lizzie came from a middle-class background. Her parents were happy together, her father had a great job with a charity - but Lizzie felt completely under pressure. Maybe all of us need to look at this and recognise just how much pressure, from wherever it comes, can affect our lives.

Lizzie does not believe that her condition came along because of her parents, she was clear enough to recognise that somewhere the change happened within her that brought anorexia into her mind. She could not then get rid of the illness, and indeed the whole book is testimony to the fact of just how difficult this disease is once it takes hold of any individual. 

‘Anorexia is a deadly disease. But it can be beaten’. 

Eddie Olliffe

Bookseller and Distributor for the past 35 years. Now Consulting Editor of Together Magazine. I blog on Christian Spirituality, UK Publishing and Bookselling matters.

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Life Hurts (Paperback)
McNaught, Elizabeth
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