Table of Contents
“A courageous account of what it is like to exist with a life-threatening eating disorder from two quite different standpoints—Lisa, the daughter who stops eating, and her mother, Sheila, a restaurant critic. The irony of this situation is lost on neither, and both are unsentimental and deeply honest about their experience. I especially admire their separate advice for how best to support recovery. This book should comfort anyone confronted with this illness as well as provide much practical help for dealing with it.”
—Marion Nestle, author of
What to Eat
“Sheila and Lisa Himmel put on paper—with rare vulnerability, wit, and courage—what millions of American mothers and daughters face privately, but fear speaking about in public. Their capacity to mine the depths of Lisa’s struggle with eating disorders and Sheila’s struggle with Lisa will undoubtedly bring an overwhelming sense of relief and recognition to so many mother-daughter pairs trying to make sense of so much pain. Perhaps most admirable, blame is never a weapon in this extremely personal memoir. Instead, these brave women acknowledge the complex sources of illness and point a way toward real, messy, tentative, hopeful recovery.”
—Courtney Martin, author of
Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters
“An engrossing look at the power of food and eating. Mother and daughter have given us a deeply personal story about what happens when that power overwhelms.”
—David A. Kessler, MD, author of
The End of Overeating
and former commissioner of the FDA
covers a deadly and serious topic in a poignant story that addresses the irony of our culture’s obsession with food. Sheila Himmel brings her talent as a journalist and food critic to show intimately how this disorder took over her family’s life for the eight years that her daughter, Lisa, suffered from a spectrum of disordered eating—from anorexia to bulimia to anorexia. As Sheila notes, ‘Eating disorders function like addictions, but no, you can’t just say no to food . . . America is a twenty-four-hour buffet.’ The Himmels bravely share their ups and downs, with honesty and sometimes even humor. Mother and daughter both learned a lot during the recovery process and report on helpful resources they found along the way. I love that the book ends with an optimistic tone and their two lists on Ten Things We Learned About Eating Disorders.
“I highly recommend this firsthand and easy-to-read mother/ daughter account of a complex illness that will provide comfort, insight, and support for anyone struggling with or affected by an eating disorder.”
—Janice Bremis, executive director of the Eating Disorders Resource Center
“Through their honest and compelling story, the Himmels reveal the human impact of eating disorders from multiple perspectives: Sheila as a mother and professional reporter and Lisa as a daughter and eating disorder sufferer and survivor. This book is a gift to anyone who wants a deeper understanding of this often misunderstood disease.”
—Ellie Krieger, registered dietitian and author of
The Food You Crave
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Copyright © 2009 by Sheila Himmel
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Hungry : a mother and daughter fight anorexia / Sheila and Lisa Himmel. p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references.
eISBN : 978-1-101-10869-7
1. Himmel, Lisa—Mental health. 2. Anorexia nervosa—Patients—United States—Biography. 3. Mothers and daughters. I. Himmel, Lisa. II. Title.
This book describes the real experiences of real people. The authors have changed the names and disguised the identities of some, but none of these changes has affected the truthfulness and accuracy of their story. Penguin is committed to publishing works of quality and integrity. In that spirit, we are proud to offer this book to our readers; however, the story, the experiences, and the words are the authors’ alone.
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To our grandmothers:
Hertha Highiet (Nana George)
Edna Phillips (Nana Bill)
Sophie Himmel (Grandma Pancake)
Annie Esenoff (Grandma Soup)
The main thing in life was staying power. That was it: stand around long enough you’d get to sit down.
—ANNIE PROULX, “The Bunchgrass Edge of the World”
LISA’S BLOOD GLUCOSE DIARY:
BINGED. One-half chocolate banana. One-third vegan apple nut pastry. Pita chips (about 10-12).
Taste-testing french fries at seven restaurants.
On a postcard-perfect June afternoon, green hills going gold, I am driving around Silicon Valley to sample french fries. It is my job. In another universe, my daughter, Lisa, records each bite she takes in her Blood Glucose Diary, a booklet from her nutritionist. She is frantic about veering from anorexia to binge eating. We don’t understand each other at all.
As the restaurant critic of the
San Jose Mercury News
, I had noticed french fries popping up on high-end menus, many more than the three instances needed to call it a trend. Was it merely another cheap thrill that posh restaurants could overcharge for, or were these
really that much better than at McDonald’s? After all, no less an authority than James Beard, the dear leader of foodies everywhere, had approved of McDonald’s fries.
Food reporting’s serious aspects concern safety, fraud, and consumer protection, but this story was just fun. It was also an escape. While I was out judging America’s favorite vegetable for flavor, texture, and price, my daughter was home, starving herself. Lisa spent much of her nineteenth year in her room, like a child being punished. Her struggles with anorexia and bulimia had become apparent two years earlier, in 2001, starting with an interest in diet, nutrition, and exercise that was healthful before going very wrong.
Lisa grew up with a lusty appreciation of food. My husband, Ned, is an excellent cook. When we get together with friends, it’s in a kitchen or a restaurant. Our vacations are food pilgrimages. Food to us is home, health, family, fantasy, entertainment, education, and employment. Heart disease in the family, yes. Anorexia, never. And bulimia? What was that?
We had experienced none of the common triggers often associated with eating disorders: divorce, death, job loss, sexual abuse. As for the anorexic family stereotype—domineering mother, distant father, perfectionist daughter—um, no. We come closer to the opposite—quietly supportive mother, loving father who cries easily, creatively disorganized daughter. We forced the kids to visit distant relatives and to write thank-you notes, but when they tired of piano lessons and soccer we didn’t argue about jeopardizing Ivy League prospects.
After a very bad senior year in high school, Lisa got well enough to go to college in the fall of 2003. There she soon relapsed, but came out of it and had three pretty good years before crashing in an even worse way, just shy of graduation. As we write this book, Lisa is twenty-four, coming back to life, and again we all have hope. But the past seven years brought police cars and emergency rooms into our life, and phrases like “seventy-two-hour hold” and “danger to yourself or others” into our everyday conversation.
As a newspaper writer and editor, I used to love irony. It made for the best stories, especially when they involved an apple falling far from the tree, or at least a little oddly. For example, “Liberal, Matriarchal Family Spawns Pro-Life Leader” and “Anti-Gay Vice President’s Lesbian Daughter Says . . .” What fun when it’s someone else! How to explain the intergenerational drama? Too often, the shortcut answer was to blame the mother. “She’s so controlling.” “She’s too lax.” “She’s distant.” “She works too much.” “She’s always home, interfering in everyone’s life.” When we need someone to pin to the wall, Domineering Mom is so convenient. I have to admit I did it, too, although I was just as quick to blame the Distant Dad in those deliciously ironic situations. As in “Publishing Heiress Patty Hearst Robs Bank.” Extrapolating, I wasn’t the only one picturing a love-deprived child of privilege, rattling around the mansion, hungry for the family feeling she was to find, briefly, as a soldier in the Symbionese Liberation Army.