Sheila and Lisa at kickoff event for
HUNGRY, the Saratoga Library
Lisa, Sue Chenoweth, and Janice Bremis, executive director, Eating Disorders Resource Center of Silicon Valley
Dr. Seham El-Diwany, Director of Tee
n Clinic at Kaiser San Jose Medical
Center; Janice Bremis and Denise
So many readers of HUNGRY have said to us, “I had no idea anyone else felt this way!” Nobody’s perfect, everyone stumbles, but families carry on. HUNGRY raises questions about food in our culture, our self-consciousness about weight, and what happens to a family when a child becomes seriously ill. As one mother wrote after reading HUNGRY, "Are we allowed to enjoy ourselves at all when our child is ill?" Here are some questions for reading groups as well as individual readers.
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1. What does the title, HUNGRY, say to you?
2. Psychology Today reports that eighty-nine percent of American women want to lose weight, and that twenty-four percent would sacrifice three years of life to lose weight. How does body image affect your life? Does a day go by when you don’t think about your weight? Did reading HUNGRY change the way you think about your body?
3. Two episodes in HUNGRY were the source of tremendous hurt, guilt and misunderstanding. The first was when Sheila had to choose between flying to New York for a James Beard Award – the food industry’s version of the Oscar – and being home the weekend of Lisa’s senior prom. The second was when Sheila and Ned decided not to abandon plans for a cruise with Sheila’s mother – even though Lisa’s health was deteriorating. How has your family resolved similar conflicts -- between caring for your child and a mother’s need to work? What about the father?
4. Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. Is the health campaign that focuses on weight, fat and calories a helpful trend? Some experts worry that with this attention to numbers like Body Mass Index and fat grams, and idealizing thinness, agencies attacking obesity could inadvertently encourage more disordered eating. After all, obsessively counting every calorie isn’t hard. Moderation is hard. As generations of dieters know, changing habits is hard. Do you find that the attention on obesity is helping people make better choices?
5. The common perception is that eating disorders are a young woman’s issue, but that is changing. The American Medical Association found the greatest increases in hospitalizations for eating disorders to be among boys and girls younger than twelve, and among adults ages forty-five to sixty-five. Have you seen evidence of this? What do you think causes a five-year-old boy or a woman nearing seventy care so deeply about weight?
6. Binge eating disorder (BED) is increasingly discussed as an illness. Who among us doesn’t binge occasionally? Talk about your favorite binge foods, and why you tend to lose control around them. What is it about these particular foods? It could be a comfort food from childhood, or a favorite texture. But when does binging become a disorder? One of the warning signs of an eating disorder is to “make self-defeating statements after food consumption.” Do you do that after binging?
7. Treatment for eating disorders ranges from psychoanalysis to twelve-step programs to zinc supplements. How would you go about finding help if you feared your child was developing an eating disorder?
8. Lisa writes about losing weight: “I knew I was hurting myself but I couldn’t get out of it. I could barely stand, and my stomach was constantly growling. But I got used to the emptiness, and when I didn’t hear a grumble I assumed I had gained weight. Finally, I was the thinnest among my friends. What I was doing was working.” In hindsight, Lisa’s perception of herself was impossible. Talk about a time your perception of yourself differed from reality. How did you finally get out of it?
9. In reading HUNGRY, do you find your sympathies at first lying mainly with Sheila or Lisa? Did this change? What surprised you about how each of them felt?
10. A columnist reviewing HUNGRY boiled the questions down to three: When do little girls stop liking themselves? When do they decide they have to be perfect? And how can parents assure them that they are good enough just the way they are?