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Designated Fat Girl: A Memoir [Paperback]

Jennifer Joyner

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Designated Fat Girl Joyner pens a brutally honest memoir of life as an obese woman. She didn't know what to fear more: dying, or knowing that she was causing her own death. In the end, it is also a story of recovery and survival. Full description

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 3.6 out of 5 stars  40 reviews
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting Memoir 19 Aug 2010
By Molly Bloom - Published on
This is one of those memoirs you simply can't put down. Jennifer Joyner is surprisingly honest about her experiences, and her intimate tone and sense of humor really make you care about what happens to her. I was really struck by how she talked about food as a very real addiction that people don't acknowledge. And the wedding chapter very nearly broke my heart. She is an amazing woman with an extraordinary story. I highly recommend this book to all women who have struggled with weight--and even those who haven't. It's a genuinely good story and well written.
76 of 100 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Confusing, disconnected memoir of gastric by-pass surgery 17 Sep 2010
By Charismatic Creature - Published on
I read this the same weekend I read Edward Ugel's "I'm With Fatty" and not on purpose, but the books make interesting "bookends". Both are about people in their mid-30s who are seriously overweight (but not super-morbidly obese) and who lose weight (by different methods) in 2008, write and blog about it in 2009 and have books published in 2010. One is a man; the other a woman. The similarities and differences are very interesting.

This, "Designated Fat Girl", is the better and more honest of the two, but both are problematical. In the first book, Mr. Ugel wades through nearly 300 pages before telling us his height, a critical component of understanding how fat (or not) someone is. Ms. Joyner NEVER tells us; after finishing the book I still had not a clue if she was 5'1" (severely obese at 336) or 5'11 (very obese, but not as severely). This is essential information and certainly not as private or embarrassing as your weight, so why not say it upfront?

The major problem with "Designated Fat Girl" is the structure. This is a sympathetic story, but it meanders all over the place. One minute she's a newby TV reporter and weighs 180. Next she's getting married and weighing 200 lbs. Then it's back to her childhood. One minute she says she was normal weight until college. The next, she was ridiculed all her life by cruel brothers, and so fat other children mocked her. A chronological storyline would worked far more effectively.

The thing that comes through, however, with shining clarity is that being obese is a relatively MINOR part of Ms. Joyner's problems. It is very obvious she has mental and emotional issues that run very deep, certainly to childhood, and her REAL defining problem is obsessive/compulsive behavior. She's not eating out of joy or love for good food, as most fat people do. She's just mindlessly stuffing tasteless crap in her face. We don't hear, for example, if she is a good cook, or enjoys the taste, texture, smell of food. Only that she's a very serious McDonalds addict, on the level of a crack cocaine junkie. And her consumption of Mountain Dew is off the charts! Surely her loving husband or family must have noticed at some point that her consumption of Mountain Dew, while an INSULIN DEPENDENT DIABETIC, was more than just "eating too much" but had all the markers of an obsession.

No one ever seems to think of therapy, and she only sees a bariatric doctor briefly and never has serious mental health counseling (she does take Fen-phen for a time). No family or couples therapy either. No introspection into her childhood issues or sexual problems. She never seriously joins Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig or anything similar...never on Opti-fast. Never goes on the Atkins Diet. Mostly, her 16 year struggle with weight is about hopeless resignation, and sneaking off to McDonalds, and guzzling massive quantities of Mountain Dew.

It struck me that Jennifer Joyner could have made a serious effect to simply do NOTHING ELSE, not even cut down eating, but just gave up Mountain Dew and a significant portion of her problems might have decreased in severity. Also, I myself would not have gone in for major surgery BEFORE quitting the Mountain Dew and establishing that I had the serious committment to do JUST THAT ONE THING, that one OBVIOUSLY horribly bad and self-destructive thing, to be absolutely positive I could handle the rigors of bypass surgery and the after-effects.

In all the dozens of weight loss memoirs I have read in my life, I have noticed that almost all of then are written in the 1-2 years following a big weight loss; sometimes they are written DURING the weight loss or immediately afterwards. In other words, they are just getting off an huge high, and big success -- but they have not proven they can MAINTAIN this loss over time. (This is also true for those optimistic articles in People Magazine each year about folks who have lost 100 lbs or more without surgery.) Every serious dieter, every doctor and researcher, knows that it is not simple weight loss that is so hard -- it is KEEPING WEIGHT OFF PERMANENTLY that is nearly impossible. Until you have passed at LEAST five years of permanent maintainence, it is foolhardy to talk about.

Though gastric bypass is the most successful weight loss option ever invented, it has high risk and costs. Ms. Joyner has some very severe and disheartening complications; she doesn't even recommend the surgery to others, despite her own incredible success story.

I am troubled by both what she went through (lung collapsing, abcesses, re-hospitalization, months of recovery) as I am by her behaviors AFTER losing 150 lbs. She still adamently refuses to eat fruit (she is a super picky eater, even at 38) or most vegetables, and she "lives" today on PEPPERONI SLICES, peanut butter, scrambled eggs and JUICE BOXES -- the diet of a small child, and most of those foods unheathy or incomplete, and the juice boxes LOADED with High Fructose Corn Syrup.

I was left with not a sense of joy that Jennifer Joyner was at last normal weight and could live a happy life with her husband and children, but that she was only a few steps away from more compulsive behaviors, since she has never remotely addressed this part of the problem. And that her present diet is so unhealthy and extreme, she is at high risk of undoing her surgery (as about 20% of gastric bypass patients DO) by eating crap, or stretching out her stomach pouch.

I have to state here that a very dear friend of mine had gastric bypass surgery in 2003. She lost over 155 lbs in a year, though she was so heavy to begin with she never became actually thin (just thinNER), and over 2-3 years (with bad eating habits like Jennifer Joyners) eventually she regained all and MORE of her old weight. All that pain and money went for naught. Gastric bypass is a powerful tool, but it's just that -- a tool -- not a magic potion. And if you never address the issues of compulsive behavior, self-destructive tendences, "super picky eating", poor nutrition, addiction to sweets or soda or fast food -- then YOU HAVE NOT SOLVED THE RIDDLE OR PROBLEM OF OBESITY.

I think that today Jennifer Joyner probably looks substantially better on the outside -- but is just as sick, self-hating, poorly nourished and incapable of eating healthy food in a healthy way as she was at 336 lbs.

I know she did not intend the book to promote gastric bypass surgery as a "be all, end all" solution, but unfortunately it comes off that way. She needed to have the patience to wait and see if this truly solved her problems (over 5-10 years) rather than rushing a book or blog to print. Not to mention, deal with the many pyschological issues I mention above.

In conclusion: a little creepy and overall, depressing. Most ordinary overweight/obese people will probably not relate to this.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great read & great for classes 22 Aug 2010
By A. Davies Robinson - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I am a Sociology instructor and I am using this book for two classes, Deviance and Women & Health, which cover the topics of the perception of obesity in America and eating disorders. I have had many "normal" size students unable to grasp the issues and POV surrounding overweight individuals. This book articulates these issues in a personal and accessible way. It was a compelling read, and I feel it gave a clear and personal voice to the topic of obesity.
15 of 19 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Empty, negative, and uninspiring 28 Nov 2010
By opinionorama - Published on
Being an overweight woman myself, I have lately been reading a lot of books on this subject. This book lacks any real reflection, accountability, or inspiration. It sounds as though Ms. Joyner lived quite an empty life and suffered profound binge eating disorder, but her process out of this does not seem to include the kind of self-examination or breakthrough that would make the book of use to anyone else, or that would make her likely to lead a fuller, healthier life post-surgery. I don't see that she ever took advantage of any sort of mental health therapy that might have actually treated her binge eating disorder.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to paint obesity and binge eating as something that is healed by looking in the mirror with love and forgiveness, but those two things go a lot farther toward personal change than the kind of disgust and shame that Joyner insists on. Even through her change process of having surgery, she was self-centered, petty, and did not take much responsibility for her own healing. She was dishonest with her doctors and nurses, she refused to follow the activities and diet that would heal her, and when she had complications, she just wanted to know what someone else was going to do about it.

The common thread through many other books on healing from weight problems and memoirs of people who have had the struggles is insight and usually a close look at how, for one reason or another, overweight is not really about the food. She absolutely misses this opportunity.

Ms. Joyner's book is one long complaint. Ad nauseum, she details her miserable eating habits, how awful she feels, and how gross she thinks she looks. I am lost to find a way that this book is useful. She begins to discuss how her eating was an addiction, and how it is too bad that our system does not recognize it as this, and I heartily agree. Maybe this is where she missed her opportunity to make this book worthwhile--had she made her case for calling some cases of overeating addiction with herself as an example, she perhaps could have done some good.

Instead, I would summarize the book this way: "I eat a lot of really bad food, I can't stop, I look disgusting, I feel disgusting, I have surgery, it's really hard and I don't want to take any responsibility for my recovery." The quality of the writing is about as good as that last sentence, as well.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Designated Fat Girl 28 May 2011
By Jackie Tate - Published on
I thought this was a very engaging book. I do agree that at times it was hard to follow the chronology of the story, but overall, I did not find that a huge problem. I thought Jennifer Joyner presented the topic of food addiction with honesty and clarity. At times I did feel disgusted with the disregard she seemed to feel for the impact her selfish behavior was having on those around her, specifically her children. However, that is typical of addicts. They are so driven by compulsion that they are unable to stop themselves from doing that which they know they should not do. I do not think that this is a book for everyone. I don't think people without food issues will be able to relate to this book as easily as those who have suffered addictions themselves. I have suffered with food issues my entire life. Though I have not been morbidly obese, I could relate to many of the feelings and behaviors Joyner wrote about. This is not a book about losing weight, this is a book about a person who has a very sick relationship and obsession with food. I have known anorexics who, though on the other extreme, suffer from the same sick relationship with food that Joyner describes. If you suffer from that type of obsession that makes food rule your life you will probably find this book cathartic. Seldom do people talk so frankly and honestly about this sickness. I found this book made me feel less alone in my struggle with food. There is a whole group of people in society who do not see food as nutrition or enjoyment, but instead see it as a horrifying evil that they have no control over. Every day, all day long, I feel anxious and obsessed about what I will put into my mouth and how I will stop eating once I have started. It is so easy to feel like no one else can relate to this cycle of binge eating, or restriction, or obsessive tracking in order to prevent binging or restricting. I mean what normal person needs to write down everything they eat? Reading Jennifer Joyner's story certainly made me feel like I wasn't the only one with so many abnormal behaviors.
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