Thursday, January 24, 2008

Review: Food and Loathing

Food and Loathing: a lament by Betsy Lerner

1.5 stars

Summary (adapted from Amazon): A "post-modern recovery memoir," this is "Betsy Lerner’s account of compulsive overeating and decades' worth of yo-yo dieting." . . . there are potentially hundreds of thousands of readers (both men and women, though there is a bit of a Bridget Jones-like assumption here that Lerner is writing primarily for the former) with whom the author will strike many a poignant chord as she charts a lifelong battle with her weight. She takes us from those all-too-familiar and universally mortifying school days . . . through twentysomething years filled with sadness, unrequited love, and a pioneering membership in Overeaters Anonymous, to a bout with suicidal depression that resulted in a six-month stay at New York State Psychiatric Institute. . . Lerner is at her best when she is turning her sarcastic and unsparing sense of humor on herself . . . [but she has]a recurring confusion between trying to relate with her readers via unflinching honesty and simply sharing too much uninteresting or irrelevant information."

My thoughts: This has been on my TBR list for quite some time and when I found out that January was National Diet Month, I decided to do it for the Every Month is a Holiday Challenge. Like many people, I always start the new year resolving to lose weight and be healthier. Like many people, I pretty much always fail. While I knew it was a memoir and not a self-help book, I hoped that the story of a fellow fat girl would provide me with some inspiration. It didn't. Mainly because I found Lerner herself pretty darn unlikeable. I understand (trust me) that depressed people aren't exactly the cheery life of the party, but she comes off as incredibly self-centred and very often mean. And basically, the book is about many years of suffering and misdiagnosis by the mental health profession. And while, in the end, she does eventually get properly diagnosed with and treated for manic-depression, gets married, and has a daughter, the book left me feeling pretty flat. It seems as if, despite having a good life now, Lerner has never fully resolved either her weight issues or her emotional problems (and I wonder if anyone ever really does). I suppose it's actually a pretty universal truth - the best you can hope for in life is for it to be . . . okay. But I didn't need to spend 20 days slogging through this short book to learn that.

I guess I didn't realize the book was about depression as much as it was about weight issues. But it didn't come as a surprise, the two are certainly linked. I can't really remember why I wanted to read it in the first place, but it was probably because the title resonated with me - food has certainly caused me a great deal of loathing over the years.

About the only thing I got out of the book is that I could relate to some of what Lerner felt about herself over the years and it's always nice to feel that you're not alone, I guess. I particularly identified with this part about being weighed in gym class: "On that day of my twelfth year, I weighed 134. I was five feet tall. It was too much. What I would give to see that number again." I feel the exact same way - the other day I saw a photo of myself at 10, which is roughly when I started on the path to overweighthood. Looking back, I was really only just starting to get chubby. That cute little girl had no idea she'd be dying to be only "chubby" 20 years later.

The other line that really struck me is one that I think is one of the best ones in the book since it at least has some humour: "In college, when I first encountered Descartes, it took me no time to translate his famous dictum into something I could relate to: I weigh x, therefore I am shit." I use that formula myself.

I recently read a fellow blogger's review of The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl (sorry, can't remember who it was!) and maybe I'll give it a try. It sounds like it's at least fairly entertaining, at the very least, which this book was definitely not.

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