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Hungry: A Mother and Daughter Fight Anorexia Paperback – August 4, 2009

4.3 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"As the family stumbles towards recovery, the book winds down with mother and daughter (Lisa is now in her early 20s) expressing hope for the future. There may still be a bumpy road ahead, but the mere fact of Lisa's survival, and the revelation that healing is possible, will provide comfort for many families on the same path."
-CURVE Magazine

"HUNGRY illustrates that, whether the problem concerns food, drug abuse, or alcoholism, even amid the depths of pain and despair healing becomes possible when the desire for it is real and strong."
-San Jose Mercury News

A courageous account of what it is like to exist with a life-threatening eating disorder from two quite different standpoints-Lisa, the daughter who stops eating, and her mother Sheila, a restaurant critic. The irony of this situation is lost on neither, and both are unsentimental and deeply honest about their experience. I especially admire their separate advice for how best to support recovery. This book should comfort anyone confronted with this illness as well as provide much practical help for dealing with it. "
-Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics and What to Eat

"Sheila and Lisa Himmel put on paper-with rare vulnerability, wit, and courage- what millions of American mothers and daughters face privately, but fear speaking about in public. Their capacity to mine the depths of Lisa's struggle with eating disorders and Sheila's struggle with Lisa will undoubtedly bring an overwhelming sense of relief and recognition to so many mother-daughter pairs trying to make sense of so much pain. Perhaps most admirable, blame is never a weapon in this extremely personal memoir. Instead, these brave women acknowledge the complex sources of illness and point a way toward real, messy, tentative, hopeful recovery."
-Courtney Martin, author of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters

"An engrossing look at the power of food and eating. Mother and daughter have given us a deeply personal story about what happens when that power overwhelms."
-David A. Kessler, MD, author of The End of Overeating and former Commissioner, FDA

"Hungry covers a deadly and serious topic in a poignant story that addresses the irony of our culture's obsession with food. Sheila Himmel brings her talent as a journalist and food critic to show intimately how this disorder took over her family's life for the eight years that daughter Lisa suffered from a spectrum of disordered eating-from anorexia to bulimia to anorexia. As Sheila notes, 'eating disorders function like addictions, but no you can't 'just say no' to food, especially in our culture where...America is a 24-hour buffet.' [The] Himmels bravely share their ups and downs, with honesty and sometimes even humor. Mother and daughter both learned a lot during the recovery process and report on helpful resources they found along the way. I love that the book ends with an optimistic tone and their two lists on '10 Things we learned about eating disorders.' I highly recommend this first-hand and easy-to-ready mother/daughter account of a complex illness that will provide comfort, insight, and support for anyone struggling with or affected by an eating disorder."
-Janice Bremis, executive director Eating Disorders Resource Center

"Through their honest and compelling story, the Himmels reveal the human impact of eating disorders from multiple perspectives: Sheila as a mother and professional reporter and Lisa as a daughter and eating disorder sufferer and survivor. This book is a gift to anyone who wants a deeper understanding of this often misunderstood disease."
-Ellie Krieger, registered dietitian and author of The Food You Crave

From The Washington Post

From The Washington Post's Book World/washingtonpost.com Reviewed by Juliet Wittman The irony is obvious: Sheila Himmel is a former restaurant critic for the San Jose Mercury News and a winner of the James Beard award. Her onetime workplace is situated in the heart of America's foodie revolution, where the tyranny of French cuisine was long ago rejected in favor of fresh, organic, local and simple. But her daughter and co-author, Lisa, once a kid with a healthy, inquisitive appetite, suffers from anorexia and bulimia -- disorders that nearly took her life. In alternating segments, the two women describe their separate realities. Sheila is well aware of our culture's dysfunctional relationship with food: the overeating and the obsessive dieting, the passing fads, the simplistic labeling of types of food as either good or bad, and she analyzes her daughter's problems within this larger context. Lisa's contributions are narrowly autobiographical. This memoir will prove useful to those suffering from eating disorders, and their families will find it informative too. Other readers, though, will not find much here to enjoy. There's too much self-searching and too little storytelling, and while Sheila speaks of the delights of eating, she doesn't evoke them. Instead, we get tedious descriptions of everyone's eating habits, like this one from Lisa: "More often than not I ordered a junior scoop of cookies and cream, which had a minty undertone in its creamy vanilla base with generous chunks of Oreos. I still prefer my chunks of cookies nestled within the creamy texture of vanilla, but sometimes I branch out into the land of peppermint. . . ."
Copyright 2009, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley; Original edition (August 4, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0425227901
  • ISBN-13: 978-0425227909
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #612,466 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robin Sacks on October 12, 2009
Format: Paperback
This book should really be titled " Sheila Himmel's Illustrious Career and how her obsession with it created her daughter's sense of alienation". Lest you think I am generally one to judge, I need to tell you that I run a peer-to-peer support group, at no charge, for parents whose teens are in therapeutic boarding schools. By simple objective standards, if you count the pages talking about Sheila's career, and compare that to the number of pages spent talking about her daughter's issues, you'll quickly understand what I mean. The comment that upset me the most was Sheila's revelation of the small dress size she wore when she attended the James Beard Award ceremonies. It stands as a stark indictment of her repeated claims that she didn't obsess about appearance. During the book she repeatedly talks about Lisa's behavior during Sheila's job-related forays into eating out. Where are the pages about this family doing ANYTHING not food related? Never a trip to the movies, the beach, or simply a quiet night of playing board games or reading together as a family. When there is a choice between supporting LIsa and advancing her career, by her own admission Sheila chooses career every time, then justifies it in her book. I have read outstanding books written by parents who really cared and really shared what they went through when their teen's life fell apart. For an excellent Mother-Daughter book, this one dealing with drug and alcohol addiction, read Kritsina Wandzliak and Constance Curry's book The Lost Years. Or try Beautiful Boy, David Sheff's poignant story of his teen son's meth addiction.
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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.
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Hungry is heartbreaking, funny, and hard to put down. It's a wonder to have a book on the troubles that beset families (the kind of books so many parents pick up, whether or not our children have the particular issues dealt with in the book -- here it's extreme eating disorders)that is so well written. The mother involved is an award-winning journalist, and it shows.
If you happen to live with someone with eating disorders, you will take away a tremendous amount of insight and useful information. If you don't, you will be enlightened on the topic and also be moved by this inter-generational story of child-rearing, professional ambition, and the love and hate of food.
Highly recommended.
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Although my family isn't dealing with eating disorders, I believe this book is essential reading for every mother of a daughter, every daughter, even every woman. There is so much truth in these pages, which are written beautifully and bravely, about the mother-daughter relationship as well as our culture's obsession with appearance. Both Himmels write with self-knowledge, but without self-pity. They write about near-tragedy, yet are never humorless. They manage to disagree with each other, yet express their love. What an accomplishment! You won't be able to put it down.
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Hungry should be read by every ED patient, as well as family members of anyone who suffers, or has suffered, from an Eating Disorder. In fact, the Himmel women's canvas extends beyond themselves - their painting, in one way or another, is that of every family. It will start conversations that may not happen otherwise. It's not an overstatement that Hungry has the power to change, and even save, lives.
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Hungry: A Mother and Daughter Fight Anorexia is truly a tour de force...a daring that is beyond what one could have dreamt of when I was suffering from anorexia twenty years ago. I know Sheila Himmel's work through her writing as a food critic, her outreach support for parents and teenagers coping with anorexia and bulimia, and personal interviews; all in addition to this collaborative and rather revolutionary book written with her daughter, Lisa.

The daring of this prolific writer and budding literary daughter (from what the text promises) is a breath of fresh air for the mother and/or daughter confronted with such suffering. Beyond that - and outside of the scope of the starving, purging, and all of the outward manifestations of the illness that one will likely gain new insights into - the book stands out in its own right as a loving exploration of mind and spirit for both mother and daughter who are willing to expose the painful stages of growing up... together.

Inspiration for my own website created in order to help mothers dealing with teenage anorexia, the wisdom of Sheila and the insights of her daughter insure that my own assessments of the disease and possibilities for recovery and life after starvation remain true to life. The book is triumphant - a must read for mothers, daughters, clinicians and anyone who believes that pain can be the touchstone for growth, new relationships and new beginnings.

Written by Kim Bistrong, host [...]
Visit my site to hear Sheila in her own words.
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