You Must Be Hungry

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

Walking the Talk

Recovery can be measured in steps and conversation.

Just before winter, the San Francisco Bay Area gets a final burst of the most perfect weather—cool in the morning, upper 70s by afternoon, cool again by sunset. Zero humidity.

It is a reminder to get your body outdoors before the rain starts. Lisa and I recently took the opportunity to walk a popular trail, called The Dish because of the bowl-shaped radiotelescope at its highest point, on Stanford University land. We enjoyed the views, and we had a nice talk.

This is significant because, while we had long done this hike and others as a family, it completely fell off the radar when Lisa began struggling with eating disorders in high school.

Much of the time, Lisa wasn't strong enough to even think about the hilly four-mile loop. Or she was so obsessed with exercise and weight that she'd run the four miles. One afternoon we did start out together, and she left me in the dust. A beautiful walk was by far not the biggest thing that eating disorders took from our family, but now that we have it back, I can see that taking a walk together—at the same pace—is a major step forward.

In our book, Hungry: A Mother and Daughter Fight Anorexia, Lisa and I write from the points of view of the journalist/food critic mother and the eating disorder sufferer/survivor daughter. Now let's talk about the walk.

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Sheila: I was so happy when Lisa called from work and asked if I wanted to walk The Dish. My mind flew through the bad years when Lisa was very, very ill. Seeing friends, going to school, working—all out of the question. Choosing to spend time with me? Are you kidding?

Lisa: I currently work part-time, leaving my afternoons open to take advantage of the beautiful fall weather here in the Bay Area. I absolutely love being outdoors, especially with the crisp air, sunshine and perfect climate to enjoy a nice walk in the hills with my mom. Over the past few years, I've developed a dedication to fitness and leading an active lifestyle, so any chance I get to take the activity outside I jump on.

Sheila: OK, but is Lisa over-exercising again? The Dish attracts a lot of exercise fanatics, some clearly anorexic.

Lisa: Although I am quite fit and healthy now, just being able to physically walk carries extreme importance. There was a time, still fresh in my mind—when eating disorders ran my life—that I could barely walk around the block, if at all. I had become so weak from mal-nourishment and sleep deprivation that any bit of physical activity completely exhausted my energy. Nowadays, calling my mom suggesting we walk The Dish after my workday is not only a fun activity for which, my mom and I can bond, but also a telling sign of how far I have come in my recovery and path to health.

Sheila: We did the loop at a healthy clip, talking the entire time—without tiptoeing through the old eggshells of topics, words and feelings to be avoided. We did have one snappish moment, but in an hour and a half for a mother and daughter, what could be more natural?

 

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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