Woman's fatal anorexia battle chronicled in book

Steamboat man fulfills promise to dying daughter

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— One night last winter, Michele Pezzuti, an associate editor with the publisher McGraw-Hill in New York, was looking online to make vacation plans.

After being passed randomly from link to link, she came to a Web site about an author looking to publish a book.

A line from the book's preface caught Pezzuti's eye: "I should've died in the nursing home where I was supposed to "

As Pezzuti read on, she learned that the author was the father of a young woman who died of anorexia. In writing the book, he had used his daughter's journals to show what people being treated for the eating disorder think and feel.

Pezzuti immediately wrote a letter to the author, Graydon "Dee" Hubbard of Steamboat Springs, asking to see the book.

Once she read it, she said she knew she wanted to publish it.

"I thought, this is something," Pezzuti said. "My first impressions from reading it were more feelings and thoughts, which was very exciting for me. And I thought that it was a unique book because it went more into her treatment and her response."

In May, McGraw-Hill signed a contract with Hubbard to publish his book, called "Slim to None A Journey Through the Wastelands of Anorexia Treatment."

The book should be in bookstores in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia in early 2003.

Hubbard said he wrote the book at the wish of his daughter Jenny, who died at the age of 25 after suffering from anorexia, an eating disorder in which a person feels compelled to refuse food and starve him- or herself.

While Jenny was sick, she kept journals about her illness and her treatments. During the 10 years she was sick, she wrote more than 700 pages of journal entries.

"It was kind of her dying wish that I try to do something with her journals," Hubbard said. "She knew she was dying and she just hoped she could still make a difference."

Hubbard said he promised his daughter he would try to write the book. After Jenny's death in 1989, he began to read through the journals and her story emerged.

More than three-quarters of Hubbard's final book is in Jenny's own words.

Her feelings are clear and cogent, and her understanding of her illness is starkly perceptive, Pezzuti said.

"Jenny was a very good writer," Pezzuti said. "She was really tearing her thoughts apart and really just being so honest."

Pezzuti also said this is the first book about an eating disorder that is presented from a non-survivor's point of view.

Hubbard said the book should give medical professionals a much-needed perspective on how it feels to be a patient.

"One of the tragedies of the illness is that it's not understood very well, even by the professionals who treat it," Hubbard said. "One thing that I really hope to achieve with the book is that for the first time, the professional people that treat the illness will have a chance to see how they're perceived by the people they treat."

An estimated 8 million people suffer from eating disorders in the United States; about 7 million of those are women, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders.

Anorexia is characterized by refusing food and starving oneself, sometimes to the point of death. Bulimia, which can appear along with anorexia, is characterized by periodically binging on large amounts of food and then purging it. For many sufferers, these illnesses are like a compulsive addiction.

Jenny became sick when she was 14 years old, Hubbard said. She was the middle of five children, and up to that point, she was a bright, happy and active child.

Her parents recognized that she had an eating disorder right away and tried to help her through various treatment programs.

Jenny continued high school in Denver, where the Hubbard family lived at the time, and graduated first in her class. She started college but became so sick she had to drop out after a year.

She then spent most of the last five years of her life in different hospitals, Hubbard said.

"It's an emotionally devastating thing to happen to any parent," Hubbard said. "The way I dealt with it was to always keep trying."

Hubbard said they tried most of the treatment programs available, but none seemed to work.

When Jenny died, she weighed only 45 pounds and was suffering from various effects of malnourishment.

Hubbard, a retired public accountant who moved to Steamboat about 10 years ago, said he was not able to start writing the book right after Jenny's death.

He took a few years off and then set guidelines for himself as he wrote. He said that he decided not to let the book become his life and that he vowed not to work on it after 5 p.m. at night.

Reading Jenny's journals was very difficult for Hubbard, and he said he hopes he will never have to read through them again.

"There are tears on those pages that nobody is ever going to see lots of them," he said, referring to his book.

But, he said, he never felt like giving up. When he finished the book he began the search for a publisher.

After three years and two agents, he connected with Pezzuti at McGraw-Hill through the author-link Web site and learned the company was interested in publishing the book.

He said he felt fortunate a major publisher picked up the book, a feat that is often difficult for first-time authors.

Now the motion picture company Kahn-Power Pictures is thinking about making a television movie based on the book, Hubbard said.

Hubbard said he is hopeful that "Slim to None" will help people who are suffering from eating disorders, people who have friends and family dealing with the illness and people who might become sick in the future.

"If it is an illness of choice, if one young woman can look at this book and say, 'Oh my God, I sure don't want to end up like that,' and so be persuaded not to make a bad choice," Hubbard said, "then the book is a success."

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