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Bite Back by Genevieve Mora

Gen Mora is still only in her twenties, now leading a busy and full life but from the age of ten was assailed with anxiety, OCD and anorexia. After spending most of her adolescence battling these conditions she is now involved in mental advocacy in New Zealand, with a focus on helping 'the younger person that was me'.

As a manager of the Voices of Hope foundation which works to inspire and empower those fighting eating disorders, and being involved in mental health support in other ways but also as someone with a lived experience of this illness as a teenager, it seems natural that Gen should write this book.

Bite Back is called "a compassionate guide to understanding eating disorders". And it is just that. Eating disorders and associated mental health issues are frightening; they scare the sufferer and those who are close to them because they are controlling , unpredictable, life-changing, disturbing and often dangerous. And often when confronted with eating disorders, most people have little experience or understanding of them. And there are no easy answers or quick fixes. And every person's journey is different . However the voices in this book speak simply and directly and are imbued with a positive energy, a sense of hope and with warmth and understanding.

The book is clearly divided in three parts. In the first, Genevieve describes her own struggles and how her teen years were fraught with difficulty. She describes the anxiety, the anorexia and mental health issues that overwhelmed this period of her life, leaving her confused and bewildered and desperately unhappy. She talks about the time spent in hospitals and clinics and being supported by her family who were also stressed and befuddled by her illness. With treatment and support, and over time, Gen has overcome these difficulties, and has since gone on to devote much of her time and energy to helping other young people suffering mental health issues and shaping her own life rather than having it shaped by anxiety and anorexia.

The second part is framed around the questions people commonly ask about eating disorders and Gen answers these in a conversational and straightforward way. She offers some perspectives on the stereotypes associated with eating disorders and answers questions about causes and treatments. She recognises that the impact is huge both on the sufferer and on their family. She very importantly offers practical advice, based on what helped her recovery, especially for family on how to support a loved one going through it.

And the final part of the book is a collection of short accounts from other sufferers of eating disorders who describe their experiences and share what they have learnt. I found it especially interesting to read how these young people looked back on their past selves and reflected on what they would tell their younger selves. Their perspectives and the tone of the whole book all offer a sense of understanding and sympathy.

This book would be especially useful for the family and also others involved with sufferers of eating disorders. It will give them understanding that this illness is not a choice and is a lonely, frightening experience for the sufferer. It also offers reassurance that support and acceptance and love can go a long way towards the best chance of recovery for their loved one.

Whether this is useful for the sufferers of eating disorders is more difficult to say. At the very least, its messages communicate support and encouragement from others who have faced the challenges of this illness. Hopefully, the loneliness and confusion and isolation of the sufferer may be alleviated by reading this book.

Gen has had this publication reviewed by medical health professionals before publishing and includes a useful glossary of terms as well as a list of resources and sources of help. However she admits that she is offering a layperson's perspective so it is clear that this book is intended to be helpful but not authoritative. The simple and conversational writing make Gen's sincerity and honesty come shining through the pages as I was reading. Gen speaks with compassion for both the sufferer and their family, and acknowledges that while the illness can be overwhelming and the fight to overcome it is tough, there is always hope. Whether it was describing Gen's own experience, answering questions about these disorders or allowing others to tell their stories, the messages in this book are of compassion and positivity. Anyone experiencing an eating disorder themselves or in their family, or anyone just wanting to know more, will find this book invaluable.

Reviewer: Clare Lyon



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