Rebecca J. Lester

Associate Professor of Anthropology at Washington University in Saint Louis

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Eating disorders will affect over 30 million Americans during their lifetimes.  They are the deadliest of all psychiatric conditions.  Yet many insurance plans severely restrict access to necessary and effective treatments for eating disorders, and some plans exclude coverage for them all together.  Even when insurance coverage is available, specialists are scarce and resources for treatment are tightly controlled.  Those few sufferers who are fortunate enough to receive care often don’t get enough of it for long enough to get well.  When they subsequently relapse, they are blamed for simply not wanting to get better, and further treatment is denied.  

In what cultural world does this situation make sense?  In answering this question, Famished is a fresh and entirely new engagement with eating disorders.  A unique integration of ethnography, clinical insights, and autobiography, Famished offers a radically new perspective on eating disorders, their treatment, and their place in the American cultural imaginary.  Based on the culmination of over two decades of anthropological and clinical work in the field--as well as a lifetime of lived experience—Famished draws on fine-grained ethnographic analysis, detailed clinical accounts, and raw autobiographical reflections to make sense of why people develop eating disorders, what the process of recovery is really like, and why treatments so often fail.  In telling the story of how treatment unfolds within one American eating disorders clinic, Famished reveals that eating disorders are not at all what they seem, and yet are everything that society needs them to be.

Forthcoming October 2019 from The University of California Press