Image Courtesy of Frank Bruni
Formal and informal reactions to a book start trickling in weeks and even months before its publication, and the ones to Born Round , my memoir, which just went on sale, have often surprised me.
I've been told I've done a service for people with eating disorders, by admitting and describing my own experience with self-destructive behaviors. And I've been told I've misled readers about the gravity of bulimia, because the period during which I threw up meals was relatively brief and I was able to stop without therapeutic help.
I've heard or read that my story holds lessons and hopes for overweight overeaters, and I've heard or read that by treating extra pounds as a source of unhappiness and pain I've bought into and perpetuated the idea that girth and mirth are incompatible.
I understand all of these perspectives. But they've surprised me, because when I decided to write about my turbulent relationship with food and when I later buckled down to the actual writing, I wasn't trying or not trying to make a given statement about eating disorders--or even to diagnose myself as having or not having a particular one. I wasn't trying or not trying to exhort the world's overeaters to a reckoning and to reform. I was just telling my story as truthfully as I could. There wasn't much attendant calculation, and there wasn't a real agenda.
Scratch the final half of that last sentence, or rather, amend it. There was some agenda, which was this: to promote my belief that a great many people, including those of us with a professional focus on food, have food secrets, food anxieties, and complicated relationships with food, which we love but don't always manage properly.
Most of the books I'd read by professional eaters didn't broach this. They described purely romantic, joyous experiences with food, seldom acknowledging that food can be enjoyed in excess and that eating can become an unhealthy compulsion--not unlike a drug addiction.
I wanted to get that point across, and I wanted to describe how after many turbulent decades I moved from a needy, wary, resentful, heedless, and deeply fraught relationship with food to a much, much smoother one. I wanted to recount how I ballooned to around 270 pounds--I'm just under 5-feet, 11-inches tall--and then fought to get rid of more than 70. I wanted to do that in part because I thought the lessons I'd learned along the way could be instructive not just to other overeaters but to anyone and everyone trying to integrate a sizeable appetite with a desire to stay healthy and reasonably trim.
But what I wanted more than anything else was to tell a good story. The overarching impulse behind this book wasn't an overeater's impulse, or a bulimic's impulse, or a fitness guru's impulse. It was a journalist's impulse. Upon reaching the richly ironic destination of restaurant criticism, I looked back and realized that my swerving, lurching, roller-coaster journey to get there might make for an interesting narrative. I realized that it had a clear theme: an obsession with food I had to wrestle control of and channel in a healthier direction.