FOOD AND LOATHING: a lament, by Betsy Lerner

A memoir about being a compulsive overeater. The title, the contents, and the very existence of the book probably provoked a number of reviewers to rant about the evils of the memoir form and how it encourages worthless self-absorbed women to pretend that their pathetic self-indulgent travails are important. That being said... I actually did find the book somewhat lightweight.

I've read a couple of memoirs about eating disorders and/or body image issues, mostly because I read a lot of memoirs in general. By far the best-written was the anorexia/bulimia memoir WASTED, by Marya Hornbacher. (I liked the latter so much that I gave it to a friend of mine who is interested in psychology, only to discover much later, to my chagrin, that she had wondered if I was trying to send her some kind of message.) That book is intense.

However, with others I have a very very sick tendency to find myself enjoying the loving food descriptions on the exact same level that I would enjoy those in a cookbook. Compulsive eaters are second only to food writers in their ability to conjure up the complex web of emotions and sensations associated with eating.

Anyway, Lerner becomes a compulsive overeater at a very young age, spends years under the care of a clueless psychiatrist, and finally ends up in a mental hospital after a suicide attempt. (She contemplates jumping off a bridge, but is interrupted by a man who had been beating off in the bushes. This is definitely the best truth-is-stranger-than-fiction moment in the book.)

Women in America have huge issues with body image, weight, and food. I am one of only about two or three American women I've ever met who has never been on a diet, and I have known a lot of women with eating disorders and body image obsessions. So a book on eating disorders and body image had better either address those issues in sociopolitical context or else be one heck of a compelling story. Lerner's book didn't quite make it for me on either count. More humor would probably have helped, and more of a focus on the interplay between her dysfunctional brain chemistry (she turns out to be bipolar) and the dysfuctional circumstances of her life.


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