“While I was growing up, the only people watching their figures were us gals. Fat was not yet a feminist issue.”
But fat was an issue for Lerner, who opens the book with the first day of sixth grade and its dreaded weigh-in. Lerner is not the fattest girl in class, but she still lives in fear of the scale and of comments about her weight; she is the girl who relies on loose clothes and long hair to camouflage her weight. At 15, she joins Overeaters Anonymous and loses weight, just in time for a summer tour of Israel, where she meets a boy and becomes the girl whom the other girls hate.
Back at school, she eats a 120-calorie ice-cream sandwich, which was innocent enough, but “what followed was nothing short of cataclysmic”. She begins binge eating, and the newly installed drive-through at McDonald’s becomes her best friend: “It was a dream come true to get fries without leaving the car, to talk into an anonymous box and have a cheeseburger handed through a window.” She goes from a size 6 back to a 12, with 14 looming ahead.
Food is her drug: “the first bite of McDonald’s was like heroin, the salt and grease combining in a hot explosion that traveled right to the pain center and wiped it out. All feeling was numbed as the potato sticks, like tiny soldiers, decimated the emotional terrain, leaving me bloated, drugged, transported.”
Her psychiatrist Dr Mizner is not helping. He calls her the boy who cried wolf, adamant that all her problems and fears were in her head. But this cycle of overeating, binge-eating, isolation, desperation spirals until she finds herself standing on a ledge above traffic: “Let go, the voice in my head urged. Just let go.”
She lands at a psych ward, eventually opens up to a young doctor and begins to understand herself and her problems: “I had put myself in a place where I could no longer hide the terrible truth that I was a person who wanted to die, who courted death, whose breath was sour, whose skin smelled pasty.”
Food and Loathing is a brave book and one I couldn’t tear myself away from despite its difficult, rather painful story. Lerner fearlessly opened up her past and her demons to her readers and I cannot help but be awed at that. And yet, Lerner has managed to put together this memoir in a very readable (i.e. non-angsty) way.
This is my first read for the Women Unbound Challenge!
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