3 funny and compassionate takes on excessive eating

Eating concerns may not be rock n roll. Three female authors nail them with funny and funky words

Compassionate takes on food addiction

Eating addictions aren’t exactly rock and roll. Laura Eades 2014

1. Food excess is a binge that carries more cultural shame than drugs

“I sometimes wonder if the only way we’ll ever get around to properly considering overeating is if it does come to take on the same perverse, rock ‘n’ roll cool of other addictions. Perhaps it’s time for women to finally stop being secretive about their vices and instead start treating them like all other addicts treat their habits. Coming into the office looking frazzled, sighing, “Man, I was on the pot roast last night like you wouldn’t believe. I had, like, POTATOES in my EYEBROWS by 10 p.m.”

Then people would be able to address your dysfunction as openly as they do all the others. They could reply, “Whoa, maybe you should calm it down for a bit, my friend. I am the same. I did a three-hour session on the microwave lasagna last night. Perhaps we should go out to the country for a bit. Clean up our acts.” Caitlin Moran, How to be a Woman, but this essay about eating, which appears in the book, is also on the Wall Street Journal, here

This really made me laugh, especially her description of Keith Richards (not quoted here – it’s rather long – look up the whole article). Of course! Coke, booze – all the others carry some sleazy glamour. Overeating just isn’t sexy. We’re so, so ashamed. Or as Marc David says in Nourishing Wisdom, “We talk more about our sex lives than we do about how we eat”.

When Moran points out it’s the self-harm choice of carers, she’s onto something: you can still fulfil your jobs; not let anyone else down.

And I’d add this: the idea that we only overeat out of ignorance or lack of willpower is shortsighted. That’s like saying we only drink wine because the taste  complements our cooking.

Should you read the book? I had Caitlin Moran’s book on my shelf for ages and didn’t get hooked, and then suddenly, the moment was right, and it was an easy and brilliant read. It’s not just about food, it’s about feminism. It’s funny frank good sense with a helping of autobiography.

It’s not gossipy or strident or even overtly political, it’s funny and real and galvanising and illuminating about the ideals that belie the time we’re living in, and the equalities that are obvious, and those we should probably take ownership of. Give it to your girls in their Christmas stocking. Sock. 

2. Articulating how a lowlevel eating unease can dominate your life is rare…

But Brene Brown describes herself in a way I absolutely recognise about myself:

“I’ve been sober for close to 15 years. Abstinence and the 12 steps are powerful and profoundly important principles in my life, but not everything about the recovery community fits for me. I have often wondered if I felt out of place because I quit so many things at one time. My first sponsor couldn’t figure out which meeting I needed and was perplexed by my ‘very high bottom’ (I quit drinking because I wanted to learn more about true self, and my wild party-girl persona kept getting in the way). She looked at me one night and said, “You have the pupu platter of addictions – a little bit of everything. To be safe, it would be best if you quit drinking, smoking, comfort-eating, and getting in your family’s business.” Brene Brown, The gifts of imperfection

Should you read the book? Follow someone trying to deliberately let go of the defences that keep us unhappy – the Brene Brown explores the striving to be perfect and its origins in society as she explains how our attempts to numb out shame (the endemic feeling of being unworthy), and even positive emotions – like joy – make us feel vulnerable. And although that vulnerability makes us recoil, inhabiting it is also key in being intimate with our fellow humans, fully ourselves, and happy. 

Where the book is really strong, is that Brown really goes to some lengths to define nebulous concepts, like shame, and love. So this isn’t just another book that says ‘hey, love yourself, have faith, feel playful’ or whatever, because she really digs into the terminology. What do we mean by ‘loving yourself?’, for example. Getting a real handle on the language is important: it’s how we take words into ourselves and talk to ourselves. 

Don’t Get Me Started on a Book Cover of an Americanised Bestseller Like This that Promises Loads of Things That Will Totally Transform Your Life. (Is this really necessary to sell a book?) If I ever get a gig designing covers for the self-development book niche, well, I could do some work there. 

3. Creating a powerful vignette of distracted eating

What do we eat while we think about what we’ll eat next? This sums up my excuses, and my distracted eating, to a t:

“Breastfeeding takes up about 500 calories a day…maybe in a time of famine you would have to manufacture milk from your own fat stores, but in a time of plenty, your body helpfully reacts by fancying a Mars bar all the time. Do you have any idea how easy it is to neck 500 calories, when you’re really hungry? Man, you can pop it into your mouth while you’re deciding what snack to have before dinner”. Zoe Williams, What not to expect when you’re expecting

Should you read the book? Not so much for eating habits, but for all things pregnancy, birth and childrearing related, this is a really enjoyable read. Zoe Williams is such a friendly and humourously honest voice.

Despite the atrocious cover, this is really well-researched, and funny, and humanising. It debunks, for examples, the oversimplified blanket advice that are given to pregnant women, assuming they can’t make decisions with integrity.

Research behind the you-should-breastfeed-for-six-months advice (based on World Health Organisation recommendations with developing countries in mind) and you-should-forego-pain-relief-in-labour advice (it’s expensive for the NHS) and abstain-from-drinking advice (it’s not that cut-and-dried and you can make your own judgements). You should definitely make your pregnant friends read this before they read any manuals. 

* * *

Open the comment thread. It’s yours for the clicking.

* * *

Read more on Illustrated Guide to Life: