Let's do the math: Food adds so much to our lives that we can lose track of the grand total. We love the feelings food arouses—the sensuality, the comfort of old favorites, the thrill of discovering new treats, the entertainment value of food—just not those pesky calories. We don't want to bother with meal planning and preparation, but we care more than ever about what we eat and how we look. This doesn't compute, except perhaps for those mythical gods with such a "fast metabolism" that they can eat anything and never gain an ounce. They are like students who always ace the exam and claim to "never study." For lesser mortals, passing tests and eating healthfully both take effort. We exist on a continuum of difficulty. Who doesn't have some kind of food addiction? It may be fleeting, like the woman who downs a box of Wheat Thins while sitting in freeway traffic the day before Thanksgiving (me). It may be deadly serious, like the teenager who obsessively counts every calorie as an enemy (Lisa).
Eating disorders fester in an individual's biological and psychological makeup, but we all live in a society that prizes thinness for women above all other qualities. Meanwhile, food gets in your face all the time, the elephant in the room. Project Runway and Top Chef battle it out for your desires. Want to look like a supermodel (or date one), or do you want to cook and eat like a great chef?
The national panic about obesity provides more grist for obsession. Maybe you didn't feel fat, just a touch overweight, before the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revised the height/ weight tables, and now your weight is considered morbidly obese. Are you going to exercise more and eat less, or just fuss more about food and appearance? Obsession is what food addiction is all about, and the accompanying compulsion to eat or starve yourself in order to soothe emotional pain, avoid scary feelings, or perhaps narrow your thighs or reach your "ideal body weight." Eating disorders are diagnosable food addictions.
Excerpted from Hungry by Sheila and Lisa Himmel. Copyright © 2009 by Sheila Himmel. Excerpted by permission of The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.