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Sensing the Self

Sensing the Self

Women's Recovery from Bulimia

Sheila M. Reindl

ISBN 9780674010116

Publication date: 10/15/2002

Hearing about the destructive compulsion of bulimia nervosa, outsiders may wonder, "How could you ever start?" Those suffering from the eating disorder ask themselves in despair, "How can I ever stop?" How do you break the cycle of bingeing, vomiting, laxative abuse, and shame? While many books describe the descent into eating disorders and the resulting emotional and physical damage, this book describes recovery.

Psychologist Sheila Reindl has listened intently to women's accounts of recovering. Reindl argues compellingly that people with bulimia nervosa avoid turning their attention inward to consult their needs, desires, feelings, and aggressive strivings because to do so is to encounter an annihilating sense of shame. Disconnected from internal, sensed experience, bulimic women rely upon external gauges to guide their choices. To recover, bulimic women need to develop a sense of self--to attune to their physical, psychic, and social self-experience. They also need to learn that one's neediness, desire, pain, and aggression are not sources of shame to be kept hidden but essential aspects of humanity necessary for zestful life. The young women with whom Reindl speaks describe, with great feeling, their efforts to know and trust their own experience.

Perceptive, lucid, and above all humane, this book will be welcomed not only by professionals but by people who struggle with an eating disorder and by those who love them.


  • Sensing the Self is an eloquent and important book, potentially a turning point in the study of eating disorders. Its most original insight is highlighted in the title: the importance of coming to experience a sense of self, with the stress on sense rather than self. No other book so successfully combines psychodynamic understanding and a practical, systematic "how-to" approach. Reindl describes the impairments in sensing self-experience that lead to bulimia, the six essential elements that enable individuals to sense when enough is enough, the aspects of oneself that need to be sensed, including the "beast," and how one learns to sense self-experience. Her understanding of the way elements of bulimia can persist throughout life, and yet not ruin life, is simultaneously realistic and hopeful. Sensing the Self will appeal to therapists and patients alike, and for that matter, to all women who have struggled with eating and deep self-doubts about their bodies.

    —Susan Sands, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley


  • Sheila M. Reindl is a psychologist at Harvard University's Bureau of Study Counsel and has a private practice of psychotherapy in Cambridge.

Book Details

  • 350 pages
  • 5-13/16 x 9 inches
  • Harvard University Press