Emma Noyes, GUY'S GIRL

Emma Noyes, GUY'S GIRL

Zibby welcomes Emma Noyes to discuss her adult debut, GUY’S GIRL, a raw and beautifully written story about twenty-somethings Ginny and Adrian as they navigate adulthood and an intoxicating, unexpected love, set against the backdrop of Ginny’s recovery from anorexia and bulimia while navigating life in New York City. Emma opens up about her personal experience with OCD and eating disorders, revealing that her own recovery inspired her novel. She and Zibby discuss the themes of friendship dynamics, young womanhood, misconceptions around eating disorders, and the importance of seeking professional help.


Zibby Owens: Welcome, Emma. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books” to discuss Guy’s Girl.

Emma Noyes: Thank you for having me.

Zibby: You’re welcome. I really, really enjoyed this book. I feel like you created characters so well, the scenes, the friendship dynamics, what it’s like to be that girl in the mix, what it’s like to be a young girl at all in New York City, in a new environment navigating all of it, the job that you think you want that you don’t really want, and all the eating stuff on top of it. I found it quite delightful.

Emma: Thank you.

Zibby: You’re welcome. Why don’t you tell listeners about the book?

Emma: Guy’s Girl, I say it’s a love story. It’s a love story between both Ginny and Adrian, who are the main characters, but also Ginny and herself as she navigates recovering from anorexia and bulimia and learning to love herself for who she is. My selling line for it is often, New Girl, but if Sally Rooney had written New Girl, so a little bit darker, a little bit more psychological. You’ve still got the fun dynamics of the group of guy friends and being a girl amongst the guys.

Zibby: These guys, I wanted to just bash them across the head sometimes. Not in a mean way. That’s going to come out wrong in the transcript. That’s going to look terrible. I just mean they’re joking around. So silly. We all know those guys. We all know that time of life. Now of course, I’m in my mid-forties, and those guys are still around.

Emma: They never change.

Zibby: Things never change. Maybe slightly, but hard to disguise. Where did this book come from? It’s your debut novel. Congratulations. How did this come to be?

Emma: Thank you. I myself was in recovery. I got into recovery July 2020. As I was going through recovery, I journaled a ton. I never had a book in mind. I never had a novel in mind. When I would be writing books on the side — I was working on a YA fantasy series as well as some other projects. I always found myself wanting to have a main character with an eating disorder, but it never really felt right. I would start a book, and I would think, okay, maybe this will be the one. It never really felt right. Then in 2021, I went through a breakup with a guy that I had been seeing for a long time. I was devastated afterward. I couldn’t get out of bed. I relapsed. I’d been in recovery for a while. I had been purge-free for a while. I relapsed. It was then when I was feeling at my lowest, couldn’t get out of bed, that I started writing about Ginny. It just immediately felt right. I was like, this is the character that’s going to be the one where I really work through all of this. It ended up being, as I was going through my relapse and then fighting my way out of it, Ginny started doing the same in the book. It really just dovetailed with my life. That’s how it came about.

Zibby: Wow, that’s amazing. It’s crazy how these characters can actually make a dent in reality.

Emma: Totally. Absolutely.

Zibby: Otherworldly and yet so powerful. People will feel like we’re crazy, but it’s true. Thank you for being so open about your own journey through eating disorders. Do you mind talking a little bit about when it started and how it has affected your life?

Emma: Not at all. Absolutely. I would say that I first developed anorexia when I was eighteen. I was diagnosed with OCD at a really early age. It developed when I was eleven or twelve, my symptoms. The type that I had was not the typical OCD that you see on Monk or in different TV shows and movies where you have to touch things a certain amount of times or wash your hands obsessively. Mine was really debilitating intrusive thoughts. I was in therapy for that. Nothing was really working. I went on this mission trip with my church. They didn’t really feed us very much when we were there. It was just by chance that I kind of became — I didn’t know it, but I was starving. I needed more food. I found that all I could think about when that was happening was food. I came back from this mission trip, and I had lost weight. I looked in the mirror, and I really liked the way that I looked. What I liked even more than that was how quiet my brain felt. When you’re starving or when you’re not getting the nutrients that you need, you can’t think about, oh, this crazy obsessive thought. All you can think about is food and where your next meal is going to come from and whatever. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was developing anorexia. It felt to me at the time like I was fixing my OCD. I was like, oh, my god, at last, I’m having some relief from these thoughts.

Zibby: Sorry to interrupt. Weren’t the thoughts replaced by thoughts about food?

Emma: Absolutely, but when you go your whole life worrying about things that — my OCD thoughts were very much moral faced. When I was little when I first developed it, I would think about every bad thing I’d ever done as a kid. I had to apologize to my parents. The thoughts were so persistent and obsessive that it’s very torturous. My next novel that’s coming out next year, the protagonist has OCD. If you read it, you’ll get to see exactly what I mean. To me, thinking about anything that wasn’t the worry, tense thoughts that I had for years, it was a relief. Eventually, I would realize that I had come to replace one monster with a different monster, but it took me a long time to realize that.

Zibby: Do you mind — I’m doing a deep dive on you.

Emma: Not at all. This is the whole reason I published this book. I want to talk more openly about this stuff.

Zibby: When you had the intrusive thoughts and they started off apologizing and ruminating on that type of thing, how did it change as you become a teenager? What were you obsessing about when the trip happened? What was the week before the trip like?

Emma: It morphed as I got older. I didn’t realize it at the time. I would learn later in therapy that OCD kind of switches, often, to attack whatever is most important to you in your life. When I was a kid, my parents and my parents’ opinion of me was really important to me. Every bad thing I’d ever done, I had to apologize for and get their forgiveness for. Eventually, it turned into things more like — I remember I had my first boyfriend in eighth grade. I was totally obsessed with him, loved him. I started obsessing over cheating. I started being afraid that — this is the same thing that happens to my protagonist in — the book’s called How to Hide in Plain Sight, that comes out next year. It wasn’t even just like, oh, you talk to a boy, and you get scared that means you’re cheating. I would think that if a spit droplet landed on my hand and I didn’t immediately wash it away, that it could then get into my mouth and that would count as me cheating on him. It’s very persistent thoughts. It affects every moment of your life. I would have specific routines for washing things off my hands, specific ways I had to shower to make sure I was getting all of any spit that could’ve landed on my body that day off. As I started dating, it morphed into that.

I had a period of harm OCD, which is where you think that even though you’ve never hurt someone before, you might actually be a murderer. You look, and you see a knife. You have a thought of, what if I picked up the knife and hurt someone with it? Then your brain, instead of being like, oh, that was a weird thought, why did I have that? my brain goes, that means you’re actually a murder, and deep down, you want to kill people. Then I would obsess over that for weeks or months or even years. It really just changes. It always attacks the things that morally, you care about. I would never want to hurt someone, and so my OCD said, no, but actually, you are a murderer. It hurts so much that then when I learned — I didn’t learn. I just felt that starving myself would turn those thoughts off. Of course, I wanted to. Of course, I wanted to escape that.

Zibby: Did you know you had OCD? Did you ever get any treatment for it?

Emma: I knew that I had OCD, but when I was a kid, I was only ever in general therapy. I didn’t go into specialists. I now know if you have OCD, the best type of treatment, the gold standard is exposure therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy. I never did that as a kid. I was only ever in general talk therapy.

Zibby: Okay, thank you.

Emma: Of course.

Zibby: I love psychology. I was a psych major. I worked in Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders. I worked at the adolescent in-patient unit at Westchester Hospital. I am just obsessed with psychology. I’ve learned a lot about OCD and how it can even be inappropriate sexual thoughts. You blurt out things. The stereotype of OCD is — I guess we should save this for your next book. The stereotype of OCD in the movies is so not what it is.

Emma: Not at all. So much of it is internal that no one would ever see or guess is happening to the person.

Zibby: So you go on the trip. You don’t eat. You find relief from these things. You no longer are worried you’re a murderer. You know that all you have to think about is how to get food because you’re so hungry. First of all, what has happened to these church leaders who took you on this trip as a result of this? Oh, my gosh.

Emma: I won’t name any names or say anything because I’m sure it wasn’t on purpose. I remember that there were opportunities on the trip to go have candy at some points through the day. I had gotten into this headspace where I was like, I’m just going to try and eat as cleanly as possible — I hate that term now, clean eating; it’s so triggering to me — on the trip.

Zibby: We won’t say it again. Delete, delete, delete.

Emma: I think there were opportunities to have more candy and desserts or whatever, but I had gotten into this very rigid mindset, which would become my mindset for the next couple years. When I came back, I had lost ten pounds. I didn’t need to lose weight. I was a perfectly healthy and normal eighteen-year-old girl, but I loved it. I thought, I’m going to try and keep this off. I’m going to college in the fall. I’m going to really try and have “the perfect diet.” I became really obsessed with no starch. I wouldn’t allow myself bread, rice, corn, potatoes, anything like that. I just became really obsessed with creating what, at the time — because I had been exposed to things like the Zone Diet and the Paleo Diet and whatever, in my mind, I thought the perfect diet involves no starch whatsoever, which I now know is not true. I got to college. Then that kicked off years of just — it took me three years to even admit to myself that I had anorexia. Even once I did, it took me another one, two, three years to get into proper treatment. I tried to “fix myself.” I think a lot of people who suffer from eating disorders think that they can do it on their own. It’s almost impossible. Once I started getting the support and help from specialists and therapists and nutritionists, it completely changed the game. Doing it on your own is impossible because you don’t know that it’s your — your brain thinks that it’s keeping you safe, so when you try to argue with it and say, no, I want to make a change, I want to do things differently, you’re really arguing with yourself. It’s really hard to tell the difference between what’s a healthy thought and what’s a disordered thought.

Zibby: Did you have a low weight? Did you have to be hospitalized?

Emma: I never had to be hospitalized. I’m grateful for that because I know how insane it is just from my experience of reading about treatment centers. I think that there were times when I probably should’ve gone to a treatment center and done in-patient. I never had to be hospitalized. That’s another thing that I feel very strongly about with eating disorders, is the misconceptions that people have of, in order to be anorexic, you have to look really scary. There are so many people out there who have different eating disorders, and you would never know just from looking at them. They look like a “normal” person. When I started talking about my recovery process on social media, I had people comment and say, you were never anorexic. You don’t look like you were anorexic.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. So helpful.

Emma: People don’t know. They have no idea.

Zibby: Wow. I’m sorry for those terrible people.

Emma: You know, the internet is full of them.

Zibby: How did you finally get yourself into the proper treatment? Then what did that look like from then to here?

Emma: It took the same way that Ginny — her anorexia turns into bulimia. It took the same for me to finally get into treatment. I would later learn this in recovery. It’s more common than you think for one to turn into the other. I had gone six years of basically starving myself. When I started trying to refeed myself, my brain thought that I had been in a famine, basically, for six years, the primal part of my brain. When I finally started eating bread and starch again, it said, oh, we’re finally eating. Great. We have to shove as much food into our body as possible. Then of course, I panic internally because I feel like I’m out of control. Then it turns into binging. Then the binging turns into purging. That’s what happens for a lot of people when they try to recover. It was a pretty seamless transition from anorexia into bulimia for me. I was seeing my childhood therapist at the time just doing general therapy talking about anxiety and OCD. It was during COVID. Everything was kind of heightened for people then, their mental health. I would say, “I threw up today. I threw up yesterday.” I still was kind of in denial that I was really bulimic. My therapist was like, “I think we need to get you in to see a specialist.” I did. She gave me a number of a person, a referral. I called the number. I left a voicemail. Then she called me back. I had thought that I had needed to go into treatment for a while, but I had never had the guts or never had something really push me to do it. Something just felt right about this woman when I talked to her. I started treatment. That was July 2020. It went from there.

Zibby: It’s not like that was an easy time period for anybody.

Emma: No.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, wow. You’ve overcome so much stuff. Not to say that something is ever tied up with a bow.

Emma: No, you’re always in the process still.

Zibby: Just like anything else. I feel like food is so hard because it’s not like — not to minimize alcoholism, which is, of course, horrific, but you could theoretically avoid drinking. You cannot avoid eating.

Emma: You got to eat. You got to eat three times a day. That’s three times plus snacks. That’s multiple times that you have to face what scares you when you’re in recovery.

Zibby: Tell me how it felt and how the process was creating Ginny and giving her all of these things. Were there moments where you were like, I don’t even want her to go through this?

Emma: I think because I was also in the thick of it when I was writing about Ginny — I had just relapsed. I got onto a new meal plan. That was really helpful for me, but it was still hard, obviously. Recovery is always hard. Hardest thing I’ve ever done. Also, most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. I think because I was kind of in the thick of it with her, I never had a moment where I was like, I don’t want to do this to her. It felt more like, I’m going through something that I know that thousands, hundreds of thousands, potentially even millions of other people are also going through at the same time. Bulimia in particular, no one wants to talk openly about that. With anorexia, society sees your behaviors as good, eating a certain way, exercising a ton. You can kind of get by. You can skate by on being seen as a culturally positive thing. With bulimia, there’s nothing positive about throwing up. It’s dirty. It’s shameful. If you had told me in the thick of my bulimia that I was going to be on a podcast talking about my period of time throwing up, I would’ve laughed. I would’ve been like, no way, I can barely even tell my own mom what’s happening to me. When I really got into writing this book, I was like, this needs to be a book. This needs to be a story that is seen by the rest of the world. I need other people who are going through what I’m going through right now to read this and see that they’re not alone and that healing is possible. I never really had a moment of being like, maybe this is too much. It just felt like, this is my experience. I’m sure it’s other people’s experience as well. I want to put this out there. I want Ginny’s story to be read.

Zibby: One of the things that you did, also, is — when you are going through something like this and then you have a partner added to the mix, what does that do? You examine that. Tell me what that was like to write.

Emma: When I wrote Adrian — Adrian has a lot of his own issues. Especially at the point in Budapest with his grandparents, I really wanted his character — I imagined, I was like, for myself, what would the perfect supportive partner be? I was single at the time when I wrote this. I had been dating on and off unsuccessfully for years. I was on the apps and swiping. It was kind of wish fulfillment. What would the perfect partner look like for someone who’s trying to recover? Six months after I finished writing the book, I met my now fiancé. He is everything that Adrian is for Ginny and more. It’s crazy. It’s like I manifested him, truly.

Zibby: That’s amazing. Oh, my gosh, I love it. I love it so much. I don’t know, the universe has done stranger things.

Emma: I know. The universe is always listening.

Zibby: Wow, that’s crazy. Amazing. Where did the whole Hungarian childhood thing come from?

Emma: I went to Budapest with my mom right after I had first admitted to myself that I had anorexia. It was at the end of my time studying abroad. I actually think a lot of college girls, especially when they study abroad — I know at least, off the top of my head, four or five different stories of girls who went abroad and developed eating disorders. It’s just a very common way when you feel alone or distant from home to have a sense of control. Mine got really bad when I studied abroad. Then at the end of my time there, my mom came. We did this trip in Budapest. It was this bright spot for me. We did the ruin pub crawl. We had wonderful meals together. We had a really wonderful mother-daughter time. I wanted to have that be a part of the story in some way. Then Adrian ended up being from Hungary. Then it just naturally all fit together. I’ve had a lot of people, after they read the book, say, now I want to visit Budapest. It sounds so amazing.

Zibby: It was an unexpected journey. You wouldn’t know. Oh, really? This is where we’re going? That’s the greatest thing about picking up a book. It’s like, huh, look where I found myself today. That’s wild. Your next book is coming out when, exactly?

Emma: We don’t have a set date. Right now, it’s approximately September of next year.

Zibby: That’s so exciting. How long does it take for you to whip out these books?

Emma: It so depends on the book. The longest it’s ever taken me to write a book was two and a half years. The shortest is a month and a half. That was Guy’s Girl. Guy’s Girl, it was like a fever dream. I had relapsed. I was in the middle of a breakup. Then this was just like, all of a sudden, my heart was flowing out onto the page.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, wow. For those people listening who have just sat through this conversation and maybe they have a loved one with an eating disorder or they’re worried about their child or themselves and maybe they haven’t reached recovery or maybe they have but it’s always a part of their lives, what would you say to them? Are there resources they should turn to or anything like that? What next?

Emma: My first piece of advice would be, just be there for them. Listen. Don’t try to force food onto them. Listening and just loving the person does so much more. Just feeling like you have people in your corner did so much for me. Like you said, sometimes it takes time to find your way to treatment. If you can, if you are financially able to, getting yourself or them the support that they need of a professional is so important because it is so hard to recover by yourself. Having support, not only psychological support, but also just the support of big people in your life, family, loved ones, it’s so important. Check in on the people you love. See how they’re doing. If someone who you know struggles with eating, even just asking, “Hey, how’s your eating going?” That means a lot to me when people in my life do that.

Zibby: When are you getting married?

Emma: I’m getting married July of next year.

Zibby: Yay! Are you going to switch your name to your new name?

Emma: I am personally, in my personal life, but for writing, I’ll keep Emma Noyes as my name.

Zibby: Amazing. Emma, this has been so delightful. I feel like I just totally probed into your life like it’s an ordinary day.

Emma: That’s okay. It’s fine.

Zibby: I feel like I could’ve just kept asking you questions. It’s so nice to talk to someone who’s so open about going through a hard time because that’s how other people get helped, right?

Emma: Exactly. I do it so that other people can benefit and know they’re not alone.

Zibby: And plus — not “and plus.” Plus, you wrote a great book on top of it all.

Emma: Thank you.

Zibby: It’s also enjoyable. It’s, somehow, fun in the midst of all the stuff. I feel like our conversation might lead people to think it’s this super heavy book, but it’s very fun.

Emma: There are laughs and fun along the way.

Zibby: Laughs and fun along the way. It was great to meet you.

Emma: Thank you so much for having me.

Zibby: My pleasure. Have a great day.

Emma: Bye.

Zibby: Bye.

Emma Noyes, GUY'S GIRL

GUY’S GIRL by Emma Noyes

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