Monica’s got a grip on more than her racket.

A few weeks ago, the good people at Avery saw fit to send me a copy of Monica Seles’ new book, Getting a Grip: On My Body, My Mind, My Self.

And what kind of asshole would I have to be to turn down free books?

As I read through it, I dog-eared each page that mentioned anything about food. That book is now double the thickness it was when I started, because damn near every page mentions something about food.

In case you weren’t aware, Monica Seles is a former professional tennis player — a spectacular one. She won the French Open when she was 16, and was ranked No. 1 in her sport for three consecutive years — in total, winning nine individual Grand Slam tournaments by the time she was 19 years old.

When she was stabbed in the back.

Literally. With a knife.

A man described as stocky and balding leaned over the three-feet-high (91 cm) barrier and stabbed her from behind. Miss Seles let out a scream, clutched her back and stumbled on to the court.

The attack took place in full view of the 6,000-strong crowd watching the match.

“He held the knife with both hands as he stabbed her in the back,” said one eyewitness.

~BBC News, April 30, 1993.

Following this traumatic event, the tennis world rather ungraciously left Monica behind as she struggled to recover, physically and emotionally. She lost her ranking and her sponsorships. Then her father died.

And in the course of dealing with all of this, her natural love of food was replaced by disordered eating — namely, binge eating.

She gained a significant amount of weight, and the press responded to this with the classiness and sensitivity one might expect. Which is to say, none whatsoever.

Monica Seles has got her appetite back, and not just for tennis. A frisky wind in Florida shows how she is piling on the pounds. Thunder thighs Monica, 23, made heavy going of her latest match…

~The Mirror (London, England), March 27, 1997.

The book details her attempts to get back into the game of tennis — attempts that would, ultimately, only deepen her disordered eating, as she fought against her body to lose weight and whip herself into competitive shape.

Surrounded by an entourage of trainers and nutritionists, who eventually became both food-police and babysitters, Monica seemed to have lost touch with not only her phenomenal athleticism, but with her body as a whole.

The turn comes when, surprise-of-all-surprises, she chucks the rules, chucks the diets, chucks the insane pressure, and decides to live her life.

She figures out food, and grief, and how to be in her body. In the process, she loses the weight she’d gained. She feels better about herself; she feels like she’s come home.

And that’s all very nice for Monica Seles.

The thing is, I kind of wish the weight loss thing wasn’t emphasized so much. There’s even an iconic too-small dress that she uses as a symbol of her progress. But, really, I believe weight changes are secondary to whatever is going on with one’s eating and health in general.

Besides which, if she hadn’t lost any weight, but still managed to figure everything else out, should she then consider herself not to have gotten a grip? To be, for all intents and purposes, gripless?

I think you know my answer, which is a resounding naaaaaaah.

At any rate, I am happy for her. I am always relieved and gladdened to hear of any woman negotiating her way out of weight obsession and dysfunctional eating. And though it’s not going to be winning any Pulitzer, this was an engaging book that exposed me to a surprisingly interesting world I hadn’t ever thought much about — the world of the professional athlete and tennis player.

Though I’m assuming it was ghostwritten, Seles’ playful — one might almost be tempted to say bubbly — personality comes through in an appealing way. Right along with her wildly enthusiastic love of food, which I can totally get behind.

There’s also an unconfirmed report floating around that I may have cried once while reading it. Yeah, just don’t go around telling people.

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  1. sannanina
    Posted June 13, 2009 at 5:23 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the review – I actually considered reading this book, but now that you mentioned that her weight loss is very prominent in it I will not do so – not because I think this makes it automatically unworthy of reading, but because an emphasis on weight loss is a huge trigger for me right now.

    I am already reading a book for therapists on how to treat binge-eating disorder; though I am not a therapist I really like to know what people that might up treating me are taught about BED. The good thing is that the author of the book makes very clear that weight loss should be secondary to normalization of eating habits. The bad thing is that although she concedes that normalization of eating alone does often not lead to weight loss she also promotes pursuing intentional weight loss as a second step in BED treatment. If I would go into therapy knowing that weight loss would eventually be one of the goals, I would probably start restricting right away. And considering that treatment is usually limited to a relatively short period, I would even have a high likelihood of being “successful” – after all I was “successful” before and dieted without bingeing for over six months several times in my life. Usually, people around me (including health professionals) are thrilled and congratulate me – and then I slide into an other episode of my ED that is worse than before I started to lose weight.

    Are you aware of any truly size positive books on BED? If yes, I would be very grateful for a hint… (The only one that comes to my mind was Overcoming Overeating – and they don’t deal specifically with BED.)

    • Posted June 13, 2009 at 7:39 am | Permalink

      If I would go into therapy knowing that weight loss would eventually be one of the goals, I would probably start restricting right away.

      You know, and that’s exactly what freaks me out about weight loss goals related to treatment for BED.

      I wish I knew of a book to recommend, but I don’t. I do, however, have a friend who would probably know of one. I’ll ask her and let you know.

  2. Posted June 13, 2009 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    Sannanina, I don’t know a book on the exact thing you’re talking about, but it sounds like you’re in a very similar place to where I was until a year ago. So, if you come back and if you want to talk to me about how I got past it, without professional help and without including weight loss as any kind of goal or priority (because I, like you, found that even putting that on the table as a positive outcome completely triggered my eating), feel free to email me at myrialejean [at] gmail [dot] com.

  3. Posted June 13, 2009 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    Some weight loss (not much) has been the result of me beginning to normalize my eating (excuse the awful sentence construction; I’m tired). Of course, that’s the only thing people are interested in or congratulatory about. (An acquaintance saw me chowing down at a party recently, as I am wont to do, and said, “Oh, Emily, but you’ve been so GOOD!” Because good = thinner, I suppose.)

    Even when I was obsessively dieting to lose weight I hated how people would comment on it as though it were on par with curing cancer or winning a Nobel Peace Prize. Sheesh! Now that weight loss is no longer my goal, I am SO much happier and healthier (and not because I ditched a few pounds, either).

    Best of luck to you, Sannanina.

  4. Melissa
    Posted June 13, 2009 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    I read Monica’s book as well, because she was my favorite tennis player during my teens, I still remember when she got stabbed.
    I think she mentions alot of good things about emotional eating in this book, however I agree that weight loss is focused on alot. Not just in terms of when she was restrictive dieting then bingeing, but it is also mentioned as a reward of her being able to get back to her “core”.
    I think that not all people who confront and deal with binge eating are going to drop all the weight and be an optimal size, mainly because they don’t share all the same attributes as Monica does.
    Monica’s binge eating came as a result of one traumatic event (the stabbing) and then another devastating blow (fathers death). There was a very specific turning point in terms of realizing how her emotions were connected with food.
    Not everyone has this. Some people have a life time of daily stress or abuse that has accumulated to the bingeing, and it takes a lot longer to deal with it or to have break throughs.
    Also not everyone shares the same genetics or athletic ability as Monica, so their bodies are going to respond differently.
    I think it’s important to remember that weight loss isn’t the ultimate goal, but I think Monica is still very influenced by the idea that extra weight is a bad thing.
    I wonder if she hadn’t lost the weight if she would have come to the same conclusion from living her life?
    All in all I enjoyed reading the book and I think Seles is an amazing athlete, but I don’t recommend it as a book to help people with binge eating disorder. It is a biography.

  5. Tracy
    Posted June 14, 2009 at 12:19 am | Permalink

    Sannanina, you may also want to read this piece:

    The whole blog is written by two women who are recovering from eating disorders.

    I wish you well.

  6. Posted June 14, 2009 at 1:33 am | Permalink

    My sister trained to be a tennis pro when we were kids. She played a bunch of tournaments, but took a full scholarship instead of going pro, then quit. It’s intense pressure, and she used to play at 6 am before school. She had no fun, and was a total perfectionist. (Actually she’s still a perfectionist who’s no fun). She had all kinds of people yelling at her all the time, and she had a temper and was (is) awful to me. I remember she could eat a whole pizza by herself, while the rest of us split one. Now she runs 6 miles a day and is somewhat orthorexic. When she got preggies, the doctor told her she needed to learn to eat some fat, immediately. Anyway, I ignored them all, raised myself, cooked for myself, sat at the table reading a book while the rest discussed tennis.

  7. JennyRose
    Posted June 17, 2009 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    I suggest “Beyond the Shadow of Diet” by Judith Matz. It is a book aimed at therapists who treat people with binge eating disorders as well as those who have been traumatized by the diet culture. It is similar to the work done by Hirschman and Munter with Overcoming Overeating but it is aimed at the professional. Judith is a proponent of HAES and size acceptance. She does not make any weight loss claims but focuses recovery through self acceptance.

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