Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Hungry Years - Recommended Reading

The Christchurch library has recently had a spending spree on health books. It's enough to make a health book junkie like myself feel a bit giddy and take home more books than I could ever read in the month that I am allowed them for. Currently, I have in my possession: The Cardio-Free Diet, Winning by Losing and The Hungry Years. Just to round it out, I'm also reading Mozarts brain and the fighter pilot and Angels and Demons.

I love The Hungry Years. I've read it and I've started re-reading it, which doesn't happen often. This is not just a 'warts and all' account of the emotional underside of food addiction - although it certainly is that - but also deals with addiction in general. The addicted individual living in a society that is addicted to consumption and glued together by the religion of consumerism.

Journalist William Leith has a way of shining a light on things that are right under our noses, but that we do not see because we do not question. For example, is any government really interested in getting their population to eat less refined food, when these foods (primarily grains) bring in the most revenue? He makes a sharp observation as to why the low-fat diet still persists, in spite of increasing obesity, while the low-carb, or low-GI diet is consistently pushed to the background. Could it possibly be because the grain industry contributes big time to the government coffers and that this industry can easily make low-fat foods, but doesn't forsee a lot of profit in down-carbing? The author is referring to the situation in Britain. I'm not actually sure what goes on between the food industry and the govt. in NZ (and you'd think I would, seeing as I'm involved in the food industry), but you may recall that when I took a university paper in Nutrition, I had some issues explaining why my theoretical fatloss diet, for my theoretical overfat client, did not contain the recommended 6 or more servings of grain products per day. I couldn't understand the recommendation, especially since the category wasn't 'carbohydrate foods' but actually 'grains and cereals' and therefore excluded things like starchy vegetables, beans and pulses. In the end I compromised my principles for a better mark. I feel dirty.

There was one point, when I was reading The Hungry Years, that really sparked in my brain. I had to put the book down and think 'OMG.. why hadn't I noticed that?'. This 'ding' moment happened when I began considering the authors observations of what we are supposed to feel about ourselves in order to keep society afloat. We are supposed to feel like we are not ok. We are supposed to feel like there is something wrong with us and that we have to go searching for something, to buy something, that will make us better. It's essential that you feel a sense of lack, and when you think about it, it's quite easy to see how that becomes part of the need that drives compulsive overeating. Say, you read a womans magazine, even a 'fitness' magazine. If you read through the articles with a critical eye, it becomes obvious that nearly every one of them is pointing out some area of your body or life that needs fixing up. Interspersed, sometimes obviously, are advertisements for the very products that you absolutely need to make you.. less wrinkly, thinner, more fashionable, more successful, more like the perfect person you are supposed to be. If you didn't feel bad about being who you are then you would not buy as many of the products that, by advertising revenue, ensure the success of that magazine. Interesting, no?
For those of you that prefer to read a personal weightloss memoir, the Hungry Years is that as well and doesn't shirk on the nasty details. While trying to find some way to discredit Dr Robert Atkins during an interview, William Leith instead finds himself intrigued by the possibility that refined carbs might indeed be a problem in his life. Adopting the Atkins diet got the weightloss started and then he 'only' had the task of facing the problems that had been driving his compulsive eating and figuring out how to keep the weight off long-term in a world that actively encourages addiction to fattening foods. That's all.

One thing I loved about this book is that the author doesn't try to paint himself with any sort of soft-focus rosy glow and is, in many instances, quite gross and even unlikeable. If you are dysfunctional, addicted and hopeless, read this book. By the end of it you will know that if this man can do it, so can you. :)


  1. Right. I'm going looking for this, pronto.

    I've recently bought two weight loss "self help" books that were recommended by several people, in the hope that they'd a) teach me something new and useful, and b) give me some info that I could use to help clients with binge eating/overeating problems.

    Both books annoyed the crap out of me - both authors talked about becoming a "succesful dieter" (aargh!!), and gave no consideration to the needs of those who exercise pretty intensely (advocating cutting out "snacks" between your stock-standard 3 meals a day, for one thing - pfft!). The whole philosophy was one of deprivation - kind of just suck it up, Fatty, you're not meant to be happy.

    Both also claimed not to be giving any dietary advice, but sprinkled in amongst their mental and emotional guidelines were references to outdated nutritional teachings, like the goddamn food pyramid. And "Oh, you don't need all that protein".

    You, I trust.... so I'm sure this book has something going for it. Hmm, do you feel the pressure of my expectations?


  2. Believe me, Kek, YOU are going to love this book! ;)

  3. At least the fact that you found it in a NZ library gives me hope that I might actually be able to get hold of a copy here. I always have to special-order books on fitness and nutrition. *pouts*


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