November 23, 2007 at 8:00 am
It’s the day after Thanksgiving, so I know you’re not hungry today and probably won’t be hungry for weeks, but I’m going to review Hungry: Lessons Learned on the Journey from Fat to Thin by Allen Zadoff anyway because his publicist sent me a copy of his book and asked me very nicely.
Full disclosure: I got a free copy of this book to read. After I got the book I learned it’s published by Da Capo Press which is part of the Perseus Books Group just like my own publisher Seal Press. However, I don’t know Allen, his editor, his book jacket designer, or even his therapist, though I probably know someone who knows someone who does, you know?
I really liked the cover. It went downhill from there.
Zadoff was a chronic dieter and overeater who topped out at over 350 pounds twelve years ago at the age of 28, before overcoming his food addiction to lose about 150 pounds. His book is “part memoir, part how-to,” but it’s heavier on the how-to. The chapter titles serve as an outline of the tips Zadoff has to dispense – all 65 of them. Zadoff recounts some of his early weight history, but mostly focuses on his realization that he was a “food junkie” and how he manages this addiction which he compares to alcoholism.
The appeal of reading a book by someone who’s lost a lot of weight is that they have the unique advantage to personally relate what that experience was like. They can describe the process via stories. People love stories and stories stick in our minds. That’s the big appeal of blogs; they’re personal stories. However, Zadoff relays tips mainly through vague allusions to his life as though he’s giving a speech. It’s a light-hearted, lecture that offers many good tips, but it didn’t leave much of a lasting impression. Even though it’s part memoir, I feel like I barely know Zadoff.
The events and advice that stuck out most in my mind were ones tied to specific stories, like the time the author secretly makes several trips to his boss’s office to eat a two pound chocolate bunny offered to the staff. I connected with him when he mentioned he wore only one pair of pants for so long that the thighs wore through and he had to patch them. I’ve got a pair of those pants too, Allen! They’re right there to the left. But as I try to recall many of the other chapters, they blur into a fuzzy cloud of typical weight-loss advice you might see on Dr. Phil or Oprah. While Zadoff has a lot of good advice to share with overeaters, nowhere in the narrative did I feel like his hand reached out of the spine of the book and pulled me in.
One of the final chapters is titled “This is Not a Self-help Book,” but honestly it is. Zadoff’s site itself pitches the book as “how-to.” Six of one, half a dozen of another. As much as Zadoff talks about his addiction, I would have liked to have read some science on the subject. Since most people don’t consider overeating to be an eating disorder in the same way as they do anorexia or bulimia, it seems like he missed a good chance to sway some of the public by making a case for it as an eating disorder.
That being said, there is a lot of good advice here if you identify as an overeater or food addict. I myself do not, so I found it less compelling to read. I still found myself nodding along at places, such as when Zadoff recommends removing trigger foods from your life or to stop waiting until you’re thin to start living or when he says the “process of getting sane felt like going insane.” If you think you are a food addict or know one, it might be helpful to read a book by someone who has been dealing with those issues for over a decade and has managed to keep his weight down. I know hard it is to keep the weight off and how hard it is to write a book about it, so I greatly admire both of Zadoff’s achievements.
Now for a technical nitpick, I felt like the numerous short chapters were a cop-out to cover a lot of material without taking the effort to link them narratively. Granted, it can be hard to string together events that happened over the course of many years, but there was one chapter that was only two paragraphs and a sentence long. Couldn’t that have been better integrated into the story as a whole?
All that said, I’d also like to say, “Hi, Allen! Sorry I had to rip into your book like that. I tried to be constructive! Less telling, more showing, okay?” In this Internet age I’m pretty much certain you’re reading this. Everyone Google’s their own name at least once, right? I used to run a personal blog where I reviewed books and the only people who ever commented were authors who’d searched for their own names. If you are pissed at me for my mixed review, don’t worry, I’m sure six months from now when my own book comes out I will someday search Google and read a nasty review. Then I will experience whatever you are feeling right now and we’ll be even. What goes around comes around and my time is coming up soon.
But I still love the cover.