Hungry: A Mother and Daughter Fight Anorexia Sheila and Lisa Himmel August 4, 2009 304 pages Nonfiction, Memoir My Rating: 4 out of 5
Unbeknownst to food critic Sheila Himmel – as she reviewed exotic cuisines from bistro to brasserie — her daughter, Lisa, was at home starving herself. Before Sheila fully grasped what was happening, her fourteen-year-old with a thirst for life and a palate for the flavors of Vietnam and Afghanistan was replaced by a weight-obsessed, antisocial, hundred pound nineteen-year-old. From anorexia to bulimia and back again—many times—the Himmels feared for Lisa’s life as her disorder took its toll on her physical and emotional well-being.
Hungry is the first memoir to connect eating disorders with a food-obsessed culture in a very personal way, following the stumbles, the heartbreaks, and even the funny moments as a mother-daughter relationship—and an entire family—struggles toward healing.
I have to admit, I’m completely fascinated by eating disorders. Fascinated in a car-crash type of way: I want to learn everything I can about them, I can’t look away from any literature I can find on the subject, but the entire idea of starving oneself makes me so sad and almost sick to my stomach. So when I was approached about reviewing Hungry, I absolutely jumped at the chance.
This book is different from most eating disorder memoirs (and trust me, there are a LOT out there, some better and more interesting than others) in the fact that it’s mostly the story of the anorexic’s mother, Sheila. Lisa, the girl who suffers from anorexia, did co-write the book, but the memoir is much more Sheila’s than her daughter’s. And I have to say that it was quite interesting to read about anorexia from a mother’s point of view. No parent wants to see their child hurt or suffering in any way, and this feeling must be compounded by about a billion when it’s your child who is actually doing the harm to him/herself. Hungry perfectly illuminated this feeling – Sheila had to watch while her daughter starved herself for years, and she was completely unable to do anything that would help Lisa get better.
I definitely appreciated that Lisa had a voice in this memoir, too, because it was very interesting to read about certain periods of her life from Sheila’s point of view, then read right away how Lisa experienced those same situations. At the time of the book’s publishing, it was said that Lisa was in recovery from her eating disorder, and it was made clear that she is not “recovered” fully – she stated that she absolutely still has food issues, and has to make a conscious effort to not go back to disordered eating. I liked that she was so candid about her disorder; I think it is a help for women and girls who struggle with food issues to know that even someone who is “recovered” has to really work at being healthy. The disorder doesn’t just go away, it’s something that it is always a part of life if you have it, and I am glad that Lisa Himmel made this very clear in the book.
Hungry has a lot going for it. It is a super honest portrayal of one family’s experience with an eating disorder, and because of its truth there is are a lot of heartwarming and funny moments in this book. It’s not all doom and gloom, the Himmels seem like an extremely close and loving family and that really shows through in the book. I enjoyed this memoir and I finished it feeling close to Lisa and Sheila, and hoping for Lisa to get better and stay better – from what she wrote, it sounds like that is finally happening for her.