By BILL DUNCAN
There is nothing new about the eating disorder, anorexia, except we usually hear about it because some celebrity is in the news.
“Hungry,” literally brings it into our homes and may be the first memoir to connect eating disorders with our food-obsessed society in such a personal way. The book follows the heartbreaking story of a family, whose teenage daughter is battling the disorder.
The story is uniquely told from two viewpoints, Shelia, the mother and Lisa, the daughter, each sharing the story as they lived it.
Ironically, Shelia is an award-winning food critic, writer and editor for a major California daily newspaper, who was reviewing exotic cuisines unaware that her daughter was at home starving herself.
It is a powerful story intended, as Shelia said, to warn other parents of this life threatening addition that often disguises itself, particularly when teenagers become caught up in America’s glorified “thin-is-in” culture.
“Hungry” starts before Lisa’s spiral that will take her from a typical ravenously hungry, sports-active teen into the disorder and the fear of being overweight and unpopular during her high school years.
The writing is in sections, allowing the mother and daughter to each write their own viewpoint on what happened and why.
Up to a point, Lisa had a normal child’s appetite and talks about the great adventure of exploring new foods with her father, Ned, who went shopping at the Palo Alto, Calif. farmer’s market on Saturdays. Ned was the family’s cook and Lisa loved to help him prepare fancy meals.
Meanwhile, Shelia was enjoying a near celebrity role as a restaurant critic for the San Jose Mercury News. She was dining in some of the best restaurants in the Bay Area oblivious to the trial her daughter was undergoing as the eating disorder took over. One of the most poignant stories in the 276 page book, is the dual telling of an incident when Shelia must decide whether to go New York to accept the James Beard Award, the food writer’s Pulitzer, or remain in California to help Lisa with her high school senior prom.
Every parent has regretted some decision they made that affected their offspring. Shelia painfully revisits this one, and another when she and Ned chose to go on a cruise while Lisa was desperately pleading for help in dealing with the illness.
These two incidents are told from different viewpoints. The story delves into the numerous attempts at treatment when it seemed that after high school, this adolescent phase had ended. Lisa became a student at the University of California at Santa Cruz, but soon after starting college she was bulimic and her weight dropped below a hundred pounds. She was literally starving herself to death.
The reader is on an emotional roller coaster as the mother-daughter tell their individual stories, but in the end, the family finally finds four professionals, including a dietitian and a psychologist that stop the years of yo-yo treatment. Today, Lisa has begun to win the battle over a strange addiction, more deadly than drug abuse or alcoholism that still somewhat of a mystery to medical science.
The message “Hungry” has for ever parent is not to ignore the symptoms.
(Bill Duncan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by writing to P.O. Box 812, Roseburg, OR 97470)