Books by Dr. Margo Maine: The Body Myth


Adult Women and the Pressure to be Perfect
Margo Maine, Ph.D. and Joe Kelly

A groundbreaking look at adult women who struggle with eating disorders and other body issues.

In the relatively short history of eating disorders treatment, the overwhelming majority of patients have been teenage girls and young women. But now, clinical  psychologists like Margo Maine are  treating increasing numbers of women in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond suffering  from disordered eating or the preoccupation with achieving a perfect  body. This unique, jargon-free guide helps  women and their loved ones understand eating disorders and the obsession with perfection, the different eating disorder triggers adult women experience, and the various treatments available.

Advance Praise for The Body Myth

“This book can save your life!  In a bold and honest analysis, Dr. Margo Maine and Joe Kelly offer a beautiful balance of truth and inspiration that invites you to release yourself from the trappings of the body myth and come home to your magnificent self.” 
Jeanine C. Cogan, Ph.D., Policy Director of the Eating Disorders Coalition for Research, Policy & Action

“Delve into this no-nonsense call for liberation from the body myth to personal freedom. You will emerge well informed and want to spread the word!”
EMME, supermodel, bestselling author of True Beauty and Life’s Little Emergencies and Chair of the National Eating Disorders Association’s Ambassador’s Council

“Margo Maine and Joe Kelly have written a ‘must read.’  This book says what so many women are feeling but don’t dare say, and offers responsible guidance and help for those who don’t dare ask. The Body Myth puts it all on the table with incredible intelligence, compassion and support.”
            Lynn Grefe, CEO of the National Eating Disorders Association

“It's high time America recognized that compulsive eating and dieting are not just problems for the young. We have Margo Maine and Joe Kelly to thank for this wise and compassionate guide to liberation from The Body Myth -- at any age.”
Aimee Liu, author of Solitaire

“In this outstanding book, Dr. Margo Maine and Joe Kelly explore an often-overlooked population -- adult women with eating disorders and body dissatisfaction.  The Body Myth exposes the multiple stresses in our current culture that contribute to eating disorders and then describes what women can do to become empowered in the world.”
Pauline S. Powers, M.D., President of the Eating Disorders Association
“This is a very, very important book.  The authors have exposed a neglected group of sufferers. They authoritatively identify the problems and then offer informed solutions.  It is a landmark publication that will be useful to both sufferers and professionals working in the field of eating disorders.”
Craig L. Johnson, Ph.D., founder and Director of the Eating Disorders program at Laureate Psychiatric Clinic and Hospital

“I recently recommended The Body Myth to one of my clients who is 59 years old.  She has benefitted so much from this book.  Within less than one hour of beginning to  read the book she was in tears.  She was so relieved to read a book on eating disorders/disordered eating that she could genuinely relate to on so many levels.Thank you for all you do in this battle!”

Reba Sloan, MPH, LRD, FAED
Eating Disorders Coalition of Tennessee


Read a review:

 Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment and Prevention, 2006 14 (2), 172-176

The Body Myth: Adult Women and the Pressure to Be Perfect, Margo Maine, Ph.D. and Joe Kelly, John Wiley and Sons, Inc. 2005, 279 pages

Every once in a while a book comes along that is able to take a societal phenomena and complex body of knowledge, synthesize it into a key concept and lay it out in a logical, informative and elegant fashion. Such is the case with The Body Myth: Adult Women and the Pressure to Be Perfect. In a culture that has gone crazy with weight-loss, where eating disorders are on the rise and where the age of onset is not only getting lower but also higher, Margo Maine and Joe Kelly have produced a book that deserves and will benefit a wide readership. 

Eating disorders used to be the domain of teenage girls and young women. Today a growing number of women in their thirties and on into their senior years suffer from eating disorders and from seriously disordered body image problems. Outwardly successful in their careers and in their lives, many engage in extreme diets, binge, purge and obsess about their weight. While the symptoms are the same, the issues that they face are different from those of their adolescent counterparts.

According to Chapter 1, “The Changing Shape of Womanhood,” the concern about body image and weight is passed along from one generation to the next. It is reinforced for women of all ages by the Body Myth: our self-worth and our worth to others is and ought to be based on how we look, what we weigh and hence what we eat—that is,for women the meaning of life and the answers to life’s challenges can be found in the shape of their bodies.

As women today deal with the ongoing developmental issues of adulthood they have no role models or guidelines for society’s rapidly changing cultural mores and radically different expectations of them. Their bodies are exposed to new kinds and frequency of scrutiny because they are more active in careers and in public life. When women feel that their lives are out of control, they hold onto the Body

Myth and believe that if they can change their bodies they can change their lives.

Chapter 2, “Fact versus Fiction – How Survival Shapes the Body,” exposes the myths that link weight and health and that promote dieting in its various disguises as a solution. Maine challenges the lack of scientific basis in the connections that many people (especially health professionals) make between Body Mass Index (BMI) and health.. Instead, contradictory and confusing uses of BMI numbers lead many women into weight reduction regimens that are far more dangerous than the pounds they carry. The Body Myth and the notion that we should rigidly maintain an ideal weight ignores the flexibility that is essential to natural developmental processes of the human body or the fact that body weights higher than those recommended by most height-weight tables are usually safer for long term health and longevity.

Chapter 3, “Women’s Bodies, Women’s Lives,” provides a comprehensive description of the transitions adult women go through and their influence on body image and sense of self. ‘Women’s Bodies’ addresses childbirth, infertility, the post childbirth body, menopause and the death of parents. ‘Women’s Work’ includes stressors on the job, creating balance between work and family, competition with younger women and retirement. ‘Women’s Families’ looks at child rearing, the decision to not have children, the empty nest syndrome, the marriage of children and caring for aging parents. ‘Women’s Relationships’ discusses women’s infidelity and desire, a partner’s infidelity, divorce and post divorce parenting.

Women going through transitions and changes can experience loss, pain, and uncertainty as well as excitement, vision, freedom and opportunity. They can also develop serious problems involving body loathing, food obsessions, yo-yo dieting, life-threatening eating disorders, depression, and addictions. Maine states “It’s hard to see through lenses that magnify the Body Myth rather than reflect reality.”

Chapter 4,  “The Shape of Eating Disorders,” provides information on anorexia, bulimia, EDNOS (eating disorders not otherwise specified), binge eating disorder (BED), compulsive eating, orthorexia (eating only health foods), and subclinical eating disorders.  Information on body image distress includes dysmorphic disorder, exercise abuse, substance abuse (including the use of diet drugs, colonics and fasting), cosmetic plastic surgery, smoking and compulsive shopping. According to Maine, “For many women in our culture - and often, for the culture itself – body shame becomes indistinguishable from identity. We seem to live by the motto that Bodies R Us.”

Chapter 5, “So Why Do People Do It?,” offers an explanation of the functions of eating disordered behaviours which include self-soothing, creating an illusion of control, and developing an identity. When women use laxatives or restrict food, the physical changes in their bodies and the discomfort of recovery can make it difficult for them to give up their eating disorder. The destructive habits and negative self-talk (which Maine describes as The Voice) become so ingrained that women use them even when they don’t really feel so bad.

Because women with eating disorders often deny even to themselves what is going on for them, they ignore physical signals of distress so that physical damage isn’t visible until there is a medical crisis. And until this crisis is evident, most medical personnel reinforce women’s struggles by idealizing all forms of weight-loss instead of examining the reasons and methods behind them.

Chapter 6, “How Family Shapes Us,” describes how families can promote the culture’s ideals for beauty and weight which then become integrated into girls’ own developing sense of body. Maine describes how families model ways to suppress rather than teach girls to understand and manage their emotional experience.

The families that women have now also have a major effect on their body image, eating behaviour and sense of self. The personalities of their partners and children weave together with their own continually developing identity and the old dynamics from their families of origin to create new family dynamics.

Chapter 7, “The New Extended Family,” describes how the culture (and especially the media) has taken over many of the functions of the extended family and how it reinforces the emphasis on their external, physical appearance. This ‘extended family’ encourages women to redesign their natural shapes through dieting and cosmetic plastic surgery, and to look young because age is equated with sickness, dependence and helplessness. The way our culture views women also harms boys and men because it warps what we expect from men and distorts how men see themselves.

According to Chapter 8, “The Shape of Recovery,” eating disorders are multifaceted problems that need to be addressed from a number of angles according to what works best for the individual woman. The two major obstacles—the ambivalence to let go of the eating disorder and the despair that it will never leave—are fueled by The Voice and by depression caused by malnutrition’s impact on brain neurotransmitters. Maine describes the stages of recovery, the kinds of therapies available and the different treatment philosophies and treatment settings. She provides the reader with steps that other women have used and found helpful in their recovery.

Chapter 9, “Thinking and Coping in New Ways,” helps women become aware of and restructure their patterns of thinking. It describes the different means of Cognitive Distortion where The Voice and dichotomous thinking keep women feeling badly and provides techniques for Cognitive Restructuring. Maine encourages women to develop a fuller perception of who they are and to look at adult women of substance to help them remember what really counts: inner self, values, beliefs, morals and the ability to love. While there is no consensus regarding the criteria for recovery, the keys are connection and hope.

Chapter 10, “Embracing Our Selves,” reminds women that life is not a destination but a journey of self-discovery. By embracing their values and core beliefs women can maintain a healthy body image. Women need to focus on what’s real for them, what makes them happy and what gives their life meaning. They need to find ways to create quiet time for reflection, to pay attention to themselves and to their world, to create balance (which begins with self care), to take care of essentials like eating well and getting enough sleep, to create new relationships with food and with their bodies, and to join others through connectedness and activism. Maine provides a comprehensive list of tips to avoid relapse and ends this book encouraging women to embrace their bodies and their lives along with the bodies and lives of every other woman.

The Body Myth: Adult Women and the Pressure to Be Perfect is a powerful book for women struggling with adult developmental issues, eating disorders, and/or body image issues. It is also relevant to the people who care about and support these women and to the therapists who work with them. Psychologist Margo Maine’s approach is practical, experiential and jargon free. Journalist Joe Kelly ensures that this book is well-organized, well-crafted and easy to read.

Margo Maine brings to this book over 25 years of clinical experience, insights and creativity in treating girls and women with eating disorders and body image issues. As her previous book Body Wars attests she is also active in trying to make the world a more body-friendly place for women and in helping them fight the forces that prevent them from being comfortable in their own bodies.  

Maine is able to move beyond the medicalized information about eating disorders (standard in most books) to provide thorough descriptions of what eating disorders and the other body image issues ‘look like’—what the individual woman experiences emotionally and physically, what recovery looks like, and how the barriers to recovery operate. In doing so she provides women with an understanding of what is happening to them and therefore a starting point from which to contemplate change.

The case studies (or rather the stories of women’s lives) that Maine describes are drawn from her practice and enable her to personalize the information that she presents so that she validates similar experiences of the reader. The quizzes at the end of each chapter reinforce the information presented and are valuable experiential exercises that women can use to enhance their self-awareness and to begin and/or move through the process of change.

Maine’s clarity, skills and expertise are very useful to clinicians no matter how much experience they already have working in this field. Her wisdom validates what practitioners may intuitively, provides a different way of articulating concepts and information that may be beneficial to clients, and gives tools with which to enhance practice.

The concept of the Body Myth provides a context for society’s obsession with food and weight-loss and for the body image and self issues facing women. By incorporating ‘Body Myth’ into each chapter, Maine is able to counter the false reality that it offers and replace it with a consistent message that we are not only our bodies and that “the quality of a woman’s life depends far more on the shape of her spirit, her wisdom, emotions and psyche as it does on the shape of her body.”

According to Maine, in order for women to develop a positive relationship with food and with their body they have to become real. This means that they have to learn to move their thoughts out of the Body Myth’s language of fat and translate their feelings into the language of emotions and words and reality. When women develop their voice (and with it their sense of self) and when they flesh out those parts of themselves that have been sacrificed to the Body Myth they can then move from the ephemeral thinness and accompanying emotional emptiness dictated by our culture to the fully-grounded substance of their lives. Instead of changing their bodies so that they can change their lives, women can accept their bodies and get on with and celebrate their lives. The strength of the book lies in Margo Maine’s ability to help the reader do so.

Sandra Friedman, MA
Salal Communications Ltd.
4370 Gun Club Road
Sechelt, BC V0N 3A1