Food Addiction — a Fertile Field

Eating Ribs

Recently, Childhood Obesity News has been focusing on food addiction, and it seems there is still more to reveal. The subject is… addictive. Here are some philosophical words from William Leith, author of The Hungry Years: Confessions of a Food Addict, and an explanation of why he felt compelled to tell his story:

We have more of everything than we’ve ever had, and yet we feel emptier… I thought: if I can understand the despair, my own and everybody’s else’s, I could write the story — of why we hate fat, of why we are fat, of why, in some perverse way, we want to be fat.

These are some deep waters, and the word “perverse” sticks out. Scholars of popular culture have noted the increasingly blurring line between reportage and pornography, when the topic is obesity. Leith’s book is said to combine “the science of food addiction with memoir, humor, and sociological insights…” and to be “hilarious, self-lacerating.”

The synopsis of The Hungry Years says:

Combining the revealing cultural commentary of Fast Food Nation with the visceral insights of A Million Little Pieces, this is the story of a journalist’s struggle with weight, and an unflinching look at our own culture of fat and thin.

This is a strange endorsement. A Million Little Pieces is a book about drug addiction that brought its author notoriety as some variety of literary con artist. Nevertheless, that does not preclude the possibility of visceral insights. And it must be said that, for anyone to describe their experiences with food addiction, the possession of visceral insights would be a necessary qualification.

For The Guardian, Rachel Cooke reviewed Leith’s book. She says:

Which of us hasn’t stared at a fat person in the street or on the bus and wondered how and why they got to this stage, and hated and feared them even as we registered the despair, the utter hopelessness, in their eyes?

But the reviewer does not seem to have much sympathy for Leith himself. She cheerfully calls him a “reformed lardbucket” and cites as an example of his depravity that he ate leftover fried rice for breakfast. Why is fried rice for breakfast so much worse than fried rice at any other time? Cooke also capsulizes the author’s tenets in a way that he may or may not approve:

He loses weight and becomes a diet conspiracy theorist, his argument being that no one will tell the truth about carbs because they are all — governments, nutritionists and doctors alike — in hock to the carbohydrate industry, to the growers of wheat and the bakers of bread.

Then she goes on to refute his theories. But the overall balance is positive, and Cooke offers a convincing recommendation of The Hungry Years:

It is Leith’s addiction to bad food, and his analysis of the hurt this addiction has caused him and countless millions — his funny, sad, clinical willingness to detail the everyday humiliations of bulk — that really gives his book its strange resonance… Leith’s book […] has a desperate import all of its own. ‘Look at me,’ he says at the outset, ‘I’m fat, and it’s horrible. Someone, please make it stop.’

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “The Hungry Years: Confessions of a Food Addict,”
Source: “The man who had a bellyful of eating,” The Guardian/The Observer, 08/20/05
Image by weasello, used under its Creative Commons license.

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