You Must Be Hungry

A food critic grapples with her daughter's eating disorders.

How can you starve yourself?

The anorexic doesn't sit around thinking, "Let those poor people starve."

How can you starve yourself? Don't you know there are children around the world who don't get enough to eat? Why don't you do something to help them, rather than putting so much energy into harming yourself?

These questions occasionally come up when my daughter, Lisa, and I give talks about our book, "Hungry: A Mother and Daughter Fight Anorexia" And for me, the question is: Why didn't you stop your daughter from doing this?

Because, um, we're not perfect. If either of us could have bypassed anorexia, we would have. If Lisa could have known she was crossing a line back in high school that would lead to years of pain, if I could have put the pieces together earlier and found the right professional help ... boom! Done!

Had we not been touched by eating disorders, we might be asking the same challenging questions.

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The short answer is that anorexia is not a lifestyle choice. It is a life-threatening disease that attacks brain function. Without adequate nourishment, rational thought suffers, as do many other critical body processes. It can end in kidney or health failure, or merely osteoporosis. The anorexic doesn't sit around thinking, "Yeah, let those poor people starve while I deliberately reject food" any more than an overweight or obese person thinks, "Yeah, let those poor people starve while I eat all the cookies in sight."

Parents do everything in their power to help, but our power is limited. As Lisa writes, "Parents, there's often not much you can do. Your child has an eating disorder and until that is resolved you may have to keep walking on those eggshells. Whatever the actual words or tone of voice, those of us with eating disorders often only hear:

You aren't good enough.
Everyone is constantly judging you.
No matter how hard you try, you won't succeed."

Not a mindset for taking positive steps.

How can you starve yourself? Substitute "diet" for "starve" and, the question may get personal. Who doesn't fuss about weight, body image, cellulite, BMI, fat legs, fat days? We contribute $40 billion annually to the diet/weight loss industry rather than, say, the Global Hunger Project.

For that matter, how can you or I stuff ourselves? Don't we know there are children who don't get enough to eat?

Of course we do, but would it help anybody to just feel bad, like an anorexic?

There is an easier way, but it involves moderation, not headlong attack at the extremes. Moderation is not our national living arrangement.

Eat when you're hungry. Enjoy your food. Get a little exercise. My next post will focus on the surprising joys of exercise, or moderation in motion.





Sheila Himmel is an award-winning food journalist. She and her daughter, Lisa, wrote Hungry: A Mother and Daughter Battle Anorexia.


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