anorexia

The Heavy

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I almost called this post “How to Give Your Kid an Eating Disorder.” I was turned off by the title of this book: “The Heavy: A Mother, A Daughter, A Diet.” I had a lot of mixed feelings about this book and the topics it brought up. I don’t know if there is a way to discuss the book without coming across as judgmental. So I want to start off by apologizing if I sound that way.

My mixed feelings were hard to decipher. I like weight loss memoirs and as someone who has lost 100 pounds, I can relate to the journey. You would think I’d love this book. Unfortunately, I did not.

The book is about a mother who has an obese child. Bea is about 6 or 7 in the beginning of the book and is classified by her doctor as obese. That’s pretty heavy for a 6 year old. I could relate to Bea feeling self-conscious, embarrassed and sad because of teasing. I wasn’t overweight as a kid–even though I THOUGHT I was. I didn’t gain weight and actually qualify as “overweight” until I was about 17.

“For the prior three decades, I had not attended a party, sat down to a meal, gone to the bathroom, or been physically ill without, on some level, silently calculating how that action would affect my weight. I’d be miserable with the flu, but a little voice inside of me would see the silver lining that the loss of appetite I was suffering meant I might be losing weight.  [pg 28]”

That above quote was by the author, the mother. She went on to describe pretty disordered eating patterns that she had most of her life…juice cleanses, fasting to drop weight quickly, etc etc. She talks about how she struggled with being overweight but she was 115 POUNDS instead of 100. What?!?! What kind of delusions is this woman under? 115 pounds?

“While the occasional peculiarities of my diet weren’t causing me serious physical harm. Bea’s way of eating was legitimately dangerous. She was on track to spend her life being overweight and battling the problems that come with it: high blood pressure, diabetes, difficulty moving, heart disease, poor self-esteem, social isolation, depression. [pg 30]”

This broke my heart so much. I found myself getting really angry with the mother. And this is where the judgmental attitude comes across. I kept thinking “what kind of mother lets her 6 year old daughter eat so much she’s OBESE?”

“But occasionally I’d give in to her please for a square of coffee cake, mainly because I wanted to eat half of it. [pg 33]”

Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Where were MY parents? Trust me, they were there as I was gaining my weight. I think it was the approach and what my parents said that made me rebel and do the exact opposite than what they wanted. I felt criticized and judged; I felt shamed and restricted. I never felt like I was taught the right way to eat, or portion control; I was just taught “food is bad” and food was something to be hidden. Also, to be fair, I was already an adult and moved out of the house when I truly gained the bulk of my weight. That wasn’t really in my parent’s control. I don’t fault them for that, maybe just their approach.

But what about the mother in this book? Was she not aware that her very young daughter was gaining weight so quickly? It was also a turn off that the writer apparently thought her and her husband were perfect parents in every way.

“Jeff strongly believed that the whole family should be in it together. It shouldn’t just be Bea who went to nutrition doctor appointments and adhered to a new eating plan. It should be all of us. So that Bea wouldn’t feel singled out… [pg 42]”

 

This was actually good. I was glad that the husband suggested the whole family do the weight loss plan together. I think that’s how it should be. It should be a family goal to be healthy and everyone should support each other. I don’t think one family member should be singled out and SHAMED. But of course Bea still felt singled out because her younger brother got to eat a lot more food than she did.

I really hope that someday when I have kids I can teach them healthy eating and exercise without giving them a complex. I don’t want to shame them, or teach them that foods are bad, or make them feel self-conscious about their bodies. I want them to be healthy like I am now.

“‘I want to be able to do it myself,’ she whimpered. ‘I know I need to lose weight, but I wish I could just do it myself.’ [pg 46]”

She’s SEVEN. Seven years old. That’s a weird statement for a seven year old to make. Are they even aware of something like that at that age? I sure wasn’t.

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The mother listed out the foods on their new “diet” and one thing that stood out was that her son ate a slice of pizza for an afternoon snack and Bea had homemade s’mores (two chocolate graham crackers and a marshmallow toasted in the oven). “They were delicious and she ate them almost every day. [pg 61]” Hmmm…I don’t know about those snack choices for a pre-dinner meal. Something about it just rubs me the wrong way.

Mid-way through the book, Dara-Lynn said she bought some sugar-free whipped cream to top strawberries with for only 20 calories. She was so excited about it and it made me wretch. Again, I used to be the person that are tons of processed junk food, then I was the person who ate processed LOW-CALORIE junk. Basically, food with chemicals. I’m not that person anymore so the idea of giving a kid fake food filled with chemicals is just gross to me.

“Instead of looking for whole grains and organic ingredients, I now compared calorie content, fat grams and portion sizes….I wasn’t happy that the reduce calorie content also brought with it maltodextrin, aspartame, artificial flavors, red 40, yellow 6 and blue 1. But I accepted them because the snack better served the purposes of our larger goal. [pg 84]”

How do you feel about that statement? Do you disagree or agree it was the right move?

There was a part in the book where Bea had a bunch of treats and food at a school festival and when she got home, the mom made her eat a light dinner. It was a salad with nonfat dressing and fruit for dessert. I felt badly for Bea. Her mom wasn’t teaching her how to eat in a healthy way, she was teaching her that if you go over your calorie allotment for a meal you need to starve yourself at the next meal!

“It was the most severe food-cutting move I’d ever considered, but I went ahead with it. I knew she had ingested more than enough food to make it through the rest of the day. A child who eats 700-800 extra calories at lunch is not going to starve to death if she does not get dinner. [pg 144]”

She then says “The efforts I had to take to steer Bea through these obstacles were overwhelming. I hadn’t signed up for this. [pg 145]” What? Yes you did! You signed up for this when you decided to have children. Parents are supposed to teach their kids to exercise, eat healthy, know their manners and abc’s. It’s all part of it. School certainly doesn’t teach kids the right way to eat. TV doesn’t. Their friends don’t. I so don’t get this woman!

Saturday mornings was when Bea weighed in. She woke up and was hungry and the mother said “Pee, take off your clothes, and weigh yourself first. [pg 161]” The kid threw a tantrum, saying she didn’t want to weigh herself and the mom said “Sorry, you have to.” Man is that disordered. She also ranted about how almonds, yogurt and salmon were unhealthy.

If you can’t tell, I pretty much hated this book. While I found some interesting things in it here and there, most of it made me really angry and really sad for this girl growing up with an unhealthy mindset about food. There was so much about this book that disturbed me and I didn’t even go into it all.

QUESTION: Have you read this book? What did you think?

Little Girl Blue

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I read a book recently that touched me deeply. The book was “Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter.” To be honest, I knew nothing about Karen Carpenter other than she died of anorexia. I suppose I just missed that generation being born in 1980 and never heard the music either.

What drew me to this book was the “why?”–why was she anorexic? What happened to her? The book was a very fast read because it was so fascinating. It started with her upbringing and how The Carpenters came to be, including their successes and failures. The story I really wanted to know was what happened to such a talented, young woman that seemed to have the world in her hands. This book went into detail and explained it, the best anyone really can.

I could tell right away that the “why” was probably her mother. Her mother was an overbearing control-freak who never showed her daughter love and propped her brother, Richard, up like he was a king. Even after it was clear that Karen was the talent and the star, she was still treated like a second-class citizen and neither kids moved out of their parents home until their late 20’s! Honestly her brother wasn’t much better. He was an egotistical prima donna and probably jealous of Karen’s success. There was also something a little weird about their brother-sister relationship (they both tried to sabotage each other’s romantic relationships).

Perhaps controlling her food and appearance was the only in her life she could be in charge of. And I imagine stepping out from behind the drums to become the singer made her even more self-conscious of her curvy figure.

What was most interesting to me was that this happened in a time period when “anorexia nervosa” was nearly unheard of. People just didn’t know. They didn’t know what the disease was, they didn’t recognize the symptoms, they didn’t know how to help.

” ‘Anorexia was not something that was talked about or known about in those days,’ her friend Olivia Newton-John said. ‘People were very thin, but you didn’t realize what it was.’ [pg 246]”

At one point, Karen was taking 80 laxatives a day and was using ipecac to purge. She was doing the classic things that anorexics do: not eating food but pushing it around on the plate to make it look like she was, telling her friends to take bites of her “amazing dinner” to give the food away, wearing layers and layers of clothing to hide just how skinny she was.

“She rearranged and pushed her food around the plate with a fork as she talked, which gave the appearance of eating. Another of her strategies involved offering samples of her food to others around the table…By the time dinner was over, Karen’s plate was clean, but she had dispersed her entire meal to everyone else. [pg 129]”

“She loved to go lay out in the sunshine. I don’t know whether it was to get a tan or to get away from her mother. Anyhow, I happened to go out to the kitchen for something and I saw her out there. She just had on her little bathing suit shorts. You couldn’t tell whether it was a girl or a boy. She had absolutely no breasts. [pg 131]”

She had to buy a new wardrobe for a tour and opted for several low-cut gowns, some were strapless or backless. The manager commented: “…[I] was horrified to see her bony shoulders and ribs. Even her hip bones were visible through the thin layers of fabric. [I] asked Karen to rethink the wardrobe choices before going on stage. ‘I talked her into putting a jacket on over the bare back and bare arms, but the audience saw it.’ There was a collective gasp from the audience when Karen would take the stage. [pg 137]” People wondered if she had cancer.

At the end of 1981, Karen expressed her realization to her family: “Richard, I realize I’m sick and I need help. [pg 245]” She went to New York to see a therapist and ended up living in a hotel for nearly a year while she got weekly counseling–not inpatient care like she needed. Eventually she went to the hospital for a feeding tube and put on 30 pounds. But that was just too much strain on her heart.

She eventually returned to LA “cured” and stayed with her parents. One morning her mother found her unconscious. The medics were called. It was really too late, but they took her to the ER and tried to revive her. The paramedic said: “Karen looked frail and very thin. A faint pulse was detected with her heart beating only every ten seconds. This is a sure sign of a dying heart. [pg 276]”

32 years old. 32 and she died of a heart attack and dehydration due to years of anorexia. I’m 32 years old. It’s shocking to see photos of her right before her death because she looks like she was 70 years old, not 32.

There really isn’t a “why” that can satisfy anyone. “Why” would someone who was beautiful and talented NOT see it? “Why” would she let herself get so skinny and still think she was fat? Despite the tragic topic, the book was really, really good. I’d give it 5/5 stars.

QUESTION: Were you a fan of The Carpenters? Do you remember when Karen passed away?