Another graphic dispatch from the food wars, as poet, editor, and now literary agent Lerner details the insidious effects of compulsive eating on the body and psyche.
The second girl in a family that had lost a daughter at the age of two, Lerner (The Forest for the Trees, not reviewed) found consolation in eating for the fact that she was a good student but not popular. Her mother, in deep denial, never mentioned the dead sister and didn’t pressure the adolescent Lerner to lose weight; instead, she pointed out heavy women who dressed well. But Lerner, already convinced she would never have a boyfriend, was desperate to look good and get slim. She attended Overeaters Anonymous, rigorously followed all the recommended steps, and the summer she was 16 went to Israel as a svelte size 6, for the first time in her life “the girl whom the other girls hated.” Boys swarmed around, and she had her first sexual experience, but back at home she started binge-eating, and the weight returned. A psychiatrist diagnosed her as manic-depressive and prescribed medications she soon stopped taking. She went to college and then worked in New York, afflicted by extreme moods and troubling relationships with men. Soon after beginning her MFA at Columbia, a suicidal Lerner was admitted to the New York Psychiatric Institute for six months, an experience she considers pivotal to her future mental health. On her release, she went back to Columbia; another bout of depression led to the prescription of lithium, which has helped to stabilize her moods. Lerner now understands, she writes, that addiction to food is a coping mechanism she developed to deal with life and self-loathing.
Moving recollections of a courageous battle against weight gain and mental illness.