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Food and Loathing: A Life Measured Out in Calories Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 28, 2003

35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

As post-modern recovery memoirs go, Betsy Lerner’s account of compulsive overeating and decades' worth of yo-yo dieting may strike the casual reader as considerably less compelling than, say, Elizabeth Wurtzel’s similarly toned though far more solipsistic and seemingly endless diary of her affair with Ritalin, Now, More, Again.(The editor of Wurtzel’s breakthrough Gen X memoir, Prozac Nation, Lerner figured prominently as a character in the sequel.) Lerner’s admission that, "I am powerless over Hostess cakes, and my life has become unmanageable," may not seem to equate with the far more harrowing revelations recounted in so many gripping first-person dependency confessionals. But there are potentially hundreds of thousands of readers (both men and women, though there is a bit of a Bridget Jones-like assumption here that Lerner is writing primarily for the former) with whom the author will strike many a poignant chord as she charts a lifelong battle with her weight. She takes us from those all-too-familiar and universally mortifying school days (the book opens in 1972, when Lerner was a 12-year-old being weighed in front of her sixth-grade class in the gymnasium), through twentysomething years filled with sadness, unrequited love, and a pioneering membership in Overeaters Anonymous, to a bout with suicidal depression that resulted in a six-month stay at New York State Psychiatric Institute. Like Wurtzel, Lerner is at her best when she is turning her sarcastic and unsparing sense of humor on herself. ("In college, when I first encountered Descartes, it took me no time to translate his famous dictum into something I could relate to: I weigh x, therefore I am shit," she writes.) But she also shares with her celebrated protégé a recurring confusion between trying to relate with her readers via unflinching honesty and simply sharing too much uninteresting or irrelevant information. --Jim DeRogatis

From Publishers Weekly

Lerner's first book, The Forest for the Trees: An Editor's Advice to Writers, offered funny and frank talk from a publishing professional. In this follow-up memoir she reveals her lifelong struggle with compulsive eating and mental illness. A literary agent and former editor, Lerner joined Overeaters Anonymous at age 15 and rigorously adopted the 12-step program. A year later, she was prescribed lithium, though side effects soon forced her to quit the drug. Unmedicated and with an insensitive therapist, Lerner began her inevitable descent. While enrolled in the M.F.A. program at Columbia University, she came close to committing suicide, and this desperate act led to her voluntary admittance to the psych ward at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. Her experience there and at the New York State Psychiatric Institute is the heart of this sincere book. Lerner's descriptions of fellow patients and hospital staff, the day-to-day routine of "the bin" and her therapy sessions are poignant and darkly comic; she emerges months later with a keen understanding of the psychology that drove her there and a newfound desire to live. In her epilogue Lerner writes: "It took a lifetime of tomorrows struggling with the scale and severe mood swings before I was accurately diagnosed and properly treated." Neither happened in the hospital. According to Lerner's current doctor, "All [she] needed was lithium" (albeit, an adjusted dosage); hospitalization was a "waste." Whether or not readers agree with this assessment-and Lerner herself has doubts-her lament is a triumph.-- needed was lithium" (albeit, an adjusted dosage); hospitalization was a "waste." Whether or not readers agree with this assessment-and Lerner herself has doubts-her lament is a triumph.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st edition (January 28, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743221834
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743221832
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 6.6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,100,216 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

How many writers does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Two.
One to screw it in, the other to say it was his idea first.

The Forest for the Trees is about what makes writers tick. It's not about how to write, or what to write, though I have strong opinions on those things. The chapters describe kinds of writers: ambivalent writers who can't get anything done, naturals (if they exist), self promoters and sabateurs, neurotics, addicts, and wicked children (those who tell vs. good children who write nice prose, yawn). The second half of the book is about inside publishing from my vantage point as an editor, author, and now as a sleaze bag, er, agent.

My blog is http://www.betsylerner.blog
Daily musings on publishing bile, writer misery, and hopelessness. It's fun.

I'm a recovered poet (card carrying Columbia MFA), a former editor and now agent with Dunow, Carlson and Lerner Literary Agency. I represent amazing clients and you can check us out at dclagency.com

Thanks for reading. If you buy my book, The Forest for the Trees or my memoir, Food and Loathing (about food and loathing), I will be very grateful.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

43 of 45 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 21, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is a terrific read. Lerner has such a light touch, and such a delightfully wicked sense of humor, that anyone will empathize with her story: she's not just a fat girl looking for love and attention, but an extremely intelligent and self-aware person struggling with questions of meaning and worth. Her shocking swings up and down the scale are, for Lerner, swings between life and death, and between meaning and meaninglessness, hope and hopelessness. This memoir is one of the best I've read.
I can think of about five people I want to buy this book for -- it would make a wonderful gift for anyone who's struggled with weight, depression, or any kind of existential angst.
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16 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Marsha Marks VINE VOICE on February 12, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Betsy Lerner, has done us all a service. Those of us who are thin and have never struggled with weight, get our eyes opened as to what the other "world" is like. To quote a blurb on the back of the book "It broke my heart in 1,000 places". And those of us who have friends and relatives who struggle with being more than 100 lbs overweight, will want to rush out and buy this book for them, because here FINALLY is a book written by a "FAT" (actually former fat) person who describes in detail the pain "FAT" people experience.
Betsy is good at drawing you into her world, and making you feel as if you are observing her struggle (almost as if you were seeing it played out on the big screen.) The fact that she overcame her stay in the mental institution and the stint with the grossly inept therapist, and then rose to the place she is now, is encouraging to say the least.
I recommend this book for anyone who knows anyone who has ever been in O.A. And to anyone who would like to know the pain of the most discriminated against group in "American Society".
And of course, for those of us authors, who want to know what our editors, and agents really think of us, I highly recommend Betsy's other book THE FOREST FOR THE TREES.
Both books are good reads. Impossible to put down, once you start reading them. And the desire to tell other's about them, is...quite frankly, complelling.
Marsha Marks
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By E. Bukowsky HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover
"Food and Loathing," by Betsy Lerner, is ostensibly about a young woman's eating disorder and how it affects her self-esteem and her ability to cope with life. Lerner begins her memoir at the age of twelve. She is an affluent and bright girl from a loving family. However, Lerner is self-conscious about her weight and she believes that if she could only learn how to control her eating, she would be blissfully happy.
Lerner's adolescent years are filled with cigarettes, joints, a membership in Overeaters Anonymous and a fruitless relationship with an unsympathetic psychiatrist. Nothing that Lerner tries brings her peace of mind and she eventually sinks into a serious depression. She frequently indulges in binge eating. It takes a stint in a mental hospital and a caring psychiatrist to help Lerner diagnose her problem and gain some control over her life.
"Food and Loathing" is a searing and honest portrayal of a lost soul. Lerner floats unhappily through life for years, with no handle on what is wrong with her or how she can bring herself back from oblivion. She learns the hard way that the pleasures of life are too precious to give up without a fight. Although Lerner's book has little new to say either about eating disorders or mental illness, it is a competently written book that will appeal to readers who are interested in these two subjects.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 31, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I couldn't put this book down. Lerner writes extremely well, and with a deliciously mordant sense of humor. As someone who has suffered from compulsive overeating and binge-eating, I can tell you that Lerner's account is deadly accurate as to what life is like for people like us. This is a story that I have lived in many respects, yet Lerner puts it into words in a way that I never could. This is not just about the obese or overweight person; it is also about the multitudes of us who are consumed by calories and the struggle to lose weight, whether it be 100 pounds or 10 pounds. A very good read.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 20, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
But for some reason I can't get enough of these. Lerner has a light touch, a sympathetic spirit. She's a manic depressive whose self-loathing takes the form of compulsive eating. For many years she thinks all she needs to do is stick to the strictures of Overeater's Anonymous and she'll be fine, only to figure out much later that she's suicidal and needs serious psychiatric care. Her story has a happy ending -- she accepts her illness, the medication it requires, she gets married, has a career, a baby, etc. -- and yet one feels she wouldn't have arrived here if it hadn't been for her parents' money. One could have asked for more details here and there, but this is a painful story, well rendered, and a must read for other depression memoir junkies. So many people are (or have been) worse off than we.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 25, 2004
Format: Paperback
Overall, this book was very disappointing. Yes, the author's story is quite poignant, as she recants her struggles in very good detail. It even has its funny parts. The problem is what the book does not do. Honestly, as a person who has had trouble with eating from time to time, I was hoping this book would give me some insight about why people become addicted to food, and some tips on how to overcome it. Unfortunately, I am now much more aware of the author's early sex life than I am of the nature of food addictions.
I suppose that one could, after reading this book, come away feeling better about themselves, knowing that they are not alone or others may have it worse, but most readers of this book would probably know that already.
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