Middle grade author Jen Petro-Roy explores the path to recovering from an eating disorder in her new books: Good Enough and You Are Enough. The former is a novel that follows a 12-year-old through the early stages of recovery, and the latter a work of nonfiction aimed at educating and supporting young readers who struggle with body image. Here, Petro-Roy opens up about her own experiences with an eating disorder and her passion for helping kids understand that recovery is possible.
We live in a culture where the size of our thighs is valued more than the size of our brains. Where the amount of food on our plates is prized more than the amount of effort we put into making the world a better place. Where skipping out on social outings to spend time at the gym is seen as “self care” and weight loss is always seen as a good thing.
Fat is the enemy.
Discipline is the plan.
Anything else isn’t good enough.
For twelve years, I internalized this belief. When people looked at my body, even if it was only a glance in passing.
Not good enough.
When my grade was anything less than an A or I made a careless mistake.
Not good enough.
When I got in a fight with a friend or disappointed my parents.
Not good enough.
When I first got sick with an eating disorder, I was in high school, about to go off to college. Like many highly sensitive, perfectionist teenagers, I was afraid of the unknown. I was afraid people on campus wouldn’t like me. I was simply afraid. So to combat my intense feelings of anxiety, I restricted my food. I exercised. I vowed to myself to whittle my body into something—someone—who could never be rejected.
In the process, though, I rejected myself. I forgot about all the other wonderful qualities that I have. I focused on my routines and fears to the exclusion of making friends. I pushed the world away and retreated into my eating disorder. It was lonely and dark, often cold, but in that shell, there was no risk of failure. No risk of pain.
The only problem was that there was no joy in that shell, either.
It took me a long time, numerous hospitalizations, and a lot of work to make my way back into the light. When I finally recovered—fully recovered—it was twelve years later. That’s how long true recovery can take, how difficult it is to shed the weight of the messages that society imprints upon us from a young age.
That it’s okay to choose not to go to the gym.
That I don’t need to go on a diet to bond with friends or exercise to justify dessert.
That I’m allowed to trust my body.
That weight gain can be a good thing.
That weight itself should be a completely neutral concept.
It took me twelve long years to internalize that I was good enough, deep down inside, and that I didn’t have to prove my worth by any external means.
I don’t want recovery to take that long for anyone else.
That’s why I wrote my latest books, Good Enough and You Are Enough. In Good Enough, twelve-year-old Riley is diagnosed with an eating disorder, much like I was. She enters treatment and struggles with her motivation for recovery. She has a gymnastics star younger sister, parents who simply don’t understand the way Riley’s mind is sabotaging her health, and a strange rivalry with one of her fellow patients.
In many ways, Riley is me.
Riley is also her own person, though, with her own unique struggles and fears.
Just like everyone with an eating disorder is unique, whether they are dealing with anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, or something else. Eating disorders aren’t just thin, rich white girls. Eating disorders affect those who are LGBTQIA+, those who identify as male or masculine, and those who don’t have smaller bodies.
But everyone can recover, too.
That’s what I stress in You Are Enough, my nonfiction self help book for teens and tweens. As I talk about my own struggle with recovery and body image, I also emphasize that recovery is possible for the reader, too. That regardless of their body size or sexual orientation, regardless of whether they have other mental health issues that complicate their recovery or whether they’ve been dismissed as a “lost cause,” recovery is possible. It’s hard work, but it is there, shining in the distance if you only put the work in to push away the clouds.
I’m walking, laughing, living, loving, one hundred percent “not perfect” proof.
I want my books to help my readers see that they don’t have to be perfect, either.
That “good enough” is enough.
Editor’s Note: If you or anyone you know needs help, call the National Eating Disorders Helpline (1-800-931-2237), text ‘NEDA’ to 741741, or chat with them online.
Jen Petro-Roy is a former teen librarian, an obsessive reader, and a trivia fanatic. She lives with her husband and two young daughters in Massachusetts. She is the author of P.S. I Miss You, Good Enough, and You Are Enough: An Inclusive Guide to Body Image and Eating Disorder Recovery. Jen is an eating disorder survivor and an advocate for recovery.