I’m both honored and excited to have the opportunity to formally review Lize Brittin‘s recently published book Training on Empty (Smashwords, $5.99) which details the former elite young runner’s years-long and nearly fatal confrontation with anorexia nervosa. Honored, because Lize could have asked any number of qualified readers to undertake the tasks of critiquing the book along is journey from manuscript to published work and spreading the word of its availability. Excited, because Lize is a very close friend of mine and has invested a wealth of time, emotion, and perseverance into this project, and as both a fellow writer and someone who has dealt with some of the issues discussed in the book, I’ve long been convinced that Training on Empty is a work in desperate need of a wide audience. The chances of this happening just increased fantastically.
Books by athletes who have survived serious eating disorders, as well as books about EDs presented from a clinician’s point of view, are not in short supply; I’ve read a number of them, and among them have been several well-written, informative, and deeply engaging pieces of literature.
All bias aside, however, Training on Empty breaks the mold in important ways, and thus presents itself as a genuinely fresh addition to the genre. As I noted, there are personal accounts and there are didactic tomes by medical professionals and other therapeutic types. Lize, on the other hand, has seamlessly confined a frank and often terrifying personal memoir with a text that explores the psychological, medical, sociological and even spiritual aspects of a range of related illnesses that affect over ten million young people and adults in the United States alone. And critically, she writes as someone who has truly “been there”: She is an unusually accomplished distance runner who at age sixteen set the record at the Pike’s Peak Ascent, one of the preeminent mountain races in the world. She was a two-time finalist at the Kinney (now Foot Locker) National High-School Cross-Country Championships, placing seventh as a senior, and as a college freshman was the runner-up at the TAC (now USATF) Junior National Cross-Country Championships.
In terms of style, Lize is a straight shooter without being melodramatic, a wordsmith who can turn a phrase without overreaching. “Training on Empty” includes mention of youthful pharmacological and sexual interludes, and descriptions of a tumultuous and sometimes tortured upbringing, but these are presented only to the extent that they help explain their contribution to Lize’s progression down a diseased path that very nearly ended in her death. By far the most gripping angle, for want of a better term, of the book is Lize’s in-depth description of what it was like to be her own relentless and brutal tormentor for so many years. The fear, the resolve, the pathological ideas and plans and actions that few people could ever conceive of, the relentless hours spent both training and maliciously wounding herself — the way she presents these, particularly in the later chapters when she describes her post-collegiate life in hell, is literally enough to bring a grown man to tears. Yet that’s not the important thing. What is amazing, what sells Lize’s story — the horrific details of which are far from unique — is that she got well. In reading her account, there are various points at which one expects the book to conclude with the admission that she wrote and submitted the entire thing from within the confines of a psychiatric hospital or medical ward. That she is not only alive but functioning on a better-than-even keel is why people need to read Training On Empty.
Lize, notably and humbly, promises nothing in terms of results. While she has spoken at local high schools and made other overtures aimed at reducing the incidence of her own type of suffering, she matter-of-factly acknowledges that a sea change in attitude is about the only thing that can lead to recovery. At the same time, she describes just how to set up the right conditions. It’s truly titillating as well as exciting.
Yes. Yes, you can get better, and this book proves it. And the author unabashedly reveals what’s needed in order to ensure this.