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Book review: Hungry

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.

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20 Comments

dietgirl • November 23, 2007 at 9:26 am

remind me not to send you a proof of my book ;) seriously though, you are an excellent reviewer! thorough and insightful!

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Rah • November 23, 2007 at 11:23 am

UUUOooooh! Nothing personal to Allen, but I find nothing more frustrating than an list of diet tips. Your point about the narrative is so appropriate. That’s what has made your blog so helpful to me, seeing everything in context and feeling the experience with you. It is my opinion that one person’s tip is another person’s “Duh.” One of the many things I appreciate about your posts is that the tips are embedded in the narrative, and the reader decides whether or not it’s a tip for her/him.

Thanks for the review.

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TOWR • November 23, 2007 at 11:32 am

That cover IS cool!

You shouldn’t feel bad about ripping on the book–people should be prepared for criticism if they send you a book to review.

I’ve been reading your blog for at least two years, and I feel very confident when I say that your book is going to be AWESOME!

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Christine in AZ • November 23, 2007 at 12:13 pm

I am thankful that I came across your blog almost 2 years ago and after reading it for over a year and half, and even buying some of your wonderful offerings on Ebay, I got off my ass, literally and was inspired by you to finally lose weight! So far, I have lost 68lbs with 28 more to go. So, thanks for your honesty and humor and most of all, your perserverance.

Happy Thanksgiving

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Emily • November 23, 2007 at 1:08 pm

I couldn’t see the picture, so clicked on the link to go to Amazon. The reviews on there made it sound like they read a different book than you did.

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Plookah • November 23, 2007 at 2:56 pm

Wow. I’m surprised to hear you say that you don’t identify as a food addict or an overeater – not just because of how much you weighed, but because of posts like yesterday’s or the one about eating half a birthday cake or various others with a similar theme. I’m not trying to diagnose you with anything – I’m just saying that the way you describe yourself comes off that way – like a recovering overeater or food addict.

PQ – According to the book, food addiction has three components – physical, emotional and spiritual. I certainly have trigger foods that cause me to want to eat too much, but I didn’t relate to the emotional or spiritual problems of overeating. According to the book I’d be classified as a “problem eater,” not a “compulsive overeater.” This topic came up earlier in the year and after reading the comments of people who were real binge eaters I realized I wasn’t one myself. Let me put it this way: you can drink too much sometimes without being an alcoholic, and you can eat too much sometimes without being a food addict. It really depends on why you’re eating, and for me when I overeat it’s usually because I really like what I’m eating, not because I’m filling a dark void in myself. And I stop when I’m full.

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pastafan • November 23, 2007 at 3:26 pm

Pasta,

On a somewhat unrelated note, Fatty McBlog is back. I saw that you posted a comment on their site. I’m a huge fan of their site (I find them hilarious), but I was wondering how you see them fitting in to the whole weight loss blog mix?

They describe themselves as “very fat” and seem to take great joy in describing the various challenges of being overweight. I find them to be fascinating particularly because of their total disregard for their condition. They don’t seem to care. That said their insecurities and sense of inevitability about their situation sometimes pervades.

One of the presumptions I am making (and I’m rather certain unfairly so) is that you can’t be that fat and happy. I reason that they’re in denial or are so far down this path, they don’t see any way of turning back and so have adapted. They joyfully describe their binges and part of me wonders, do they really feel good about this? Are they hiding behind their wit to protect themselves from their own self-loathing? What if one suddenly lost weight? Somehow I think that the fact that there’s two of them (albeit they live very far away from one another) helps them to cope and allows them to continue down this path.. Or maybe I’m just the jerk? The one who presumes that being fat somehow makes you miserable, or that you have to be lying to yourself to bear being in such a position. Would love to hear your thoughts on this.

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MaryK • November 23, 2007 at 4:03 pm

Thanks for the review! I don’t think it was “nasty” at all. It was more negative than positive, but it was respectful and you certainly didn’t take any cheap or personal shots at the author.

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Valerie • November 23, 2007 at 4:38 pm

Your review is interesting. To add another angle, there’s the whole notion that, when presented with a problem, women empathize and sympathize and share experiences while men strategize and provide concrete solutions. That sounds like your approach vs. Zadoff’s.

On another note, Pastafan suggests that you can’t really be happy and overweight. I would disagree. I’ve lost 60 pounds over the last 3 years (well, I lost 80, gained 40 back, and am halfway back to goal). I certainly feel healthier and more energetic. I am also happier, but, I also have one more child (see gaining 40 pounds) and a much better job. Happiness is a state of mind, not body.

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Skippy • November 23, 2007 at 7:58 pm

The lack of personal revelation…the advice…it sounds like a very left-brained, masculine book. Perhaps it is the sort of book that a lot of guys will find approachable?

At the same time, the cute cover, with the lower-case letters, the powder-blue, and the gingerbread-man cookie cutter (tauntingly evoking both a cookie and the absence of a cookie, the desire for a cookie), seems *feminized.* As if the book’s sellers, skeptically, expect it to be bought by women and either read by women or left around for overweight guys to read.

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Cindy • November 23, 2007 at 8:39 pm

Hi PQ,

I’ll trust you on the review—but I will also give it a look myself to see, as I do with any movie or book (I more often than not find that I have a different opinion than the average person…). I, like you, seem to prefer the personal “stories,” rather than just preachy advice or “to do” lists. It was what compelled me to read Frances Kuffel’s “Passing for Thin” twice, about a year apart. Reading that book planted the seed for starting my own journey. That “seed” took its sweet time to germinate, but it was the start of thinking that just maybe this was worth one more good shot… I was sad to hear that she had a “relapse” (I hate that word but cannot think of another, at the moment…). And now, I fear, I may be heading down that same path and I am fighting to get back on track. This is painful and scary as all get out, so thank you for continuing your blog and sharing your journey. It helps immeasurably.

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Papaya • November 23, 2007 at 9:40 pm

I commend Allen or anyone for that matter, for writing a book -esp. about their life. I took a look at the amazon site and reading his own comments convinced me this is not a book that will speak to me – he says “I learned that my body was none of my business, and I could stop trying to manage my food and weight.” Whose business is it exactly?

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Julie • November 24, 2007 at 11:12 am

Nice review, you gave your honest opinion without making negative comments about the author.

I personally believe in food addiction so this author’s book grabs my attention. Having family/friends in recovery from other more ‘recognized’ addictions (alcohol/drugs) I can relate.

You know how people say that driving under the influence of food doesn’t cause accidents? Horse-Pucky! I once was in an accident (my fault) rushing to get to a restaurant whose food I was craving before it closed.

If that’s not addict behavior I don’t know what is…..

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Jenny • November 24, 2007 at 12:31 pm

I love the cover and the title and probably would have picked it up, so thanks for the solid review.

I hope you have a great Thanksgiving weekend!

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Elizabeth C. • November 24, 2007 at 2:50 pm

“Food Addict,” “Compulsive Overeater,” etc. etc. It’s a matter of semantics; call it what you like. Bottom line: when stress rears its ugly head, Pastaqueen, people like you and I will turn to food for comfort. Every time.

PQ – Speak for yourself. Sometimes I like to snort heroine off a hooker’s ass when I’m stressed.

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ann • November 24, 2007 at 7:37 pm

Loved your review!

I’ve recently read a book called The China Study which game me an entirely new perspective on weight, disease, food, etc. If you read it, I would be interested in your review.

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miss_thing • November 25, 2007 at 10:10 am

PastaQueen, I’m with you on the soothing benefits of snorting crank off a hooker’s ass! I personally have a hard time with the concept of food addiction – I think it’s too easy to use having an “addiction” as an excuse to rationalize negative behaviors and to avoid changing them (after all, you have no control over an addiction). One can be a stress eater without being a food addict; you can learn to respond to stress in a healthier way. But to each their own. As for your book review, it really is a matter of how an author’s voice grabs you: I recently read “Secrets of a Former Fat Girl” and hated the tone of the book, very “woe is me I was so fat and pathetic” and faux best-friendy. Others I know loved it, but to me her voice grated. On the other hand, I loved “The Incredible Shrinking Critic” – she didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know about how to lose weight, but she made me laugh and kept me interested. It sounds like Zadoff’s book just didn’t speak to you, but your review was well written and thoughtful. Oh, and I can’t WAIT for your book!

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n.b. • November 25, 2007 at 11:50 am

It’s a great cover. It somehow reminds me of the “A Million Little Pieces” cover.

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Elizabeth C. • November 25, 2007 at 6:40 pm

PQ, I seriously doubt you would have misspelled “heroin,” so I guess someone has trolled your site!

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Booger • November 26, 2007 at 10:22 am

PastaQueen, thanks for explaining the difference. I have a huge appetite and I love to eat (especially when I’m bored). But stress-eating, not so much. When life is stressful, I might eat more, put on a few. But when it’s really stressful, no way. No interest. I’d rather go for a jog or veg out in front of the TV (I know, they seem in opposition to each other).

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Comments are now closed on all PastaQueen entries. The blog is an archive only so I don't have to deal with spammers. For fresh discussions please visit my new blog JenFul.

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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