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4.2 out of 5 stars
The Hungry Years: Confessions of a Food Addict
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 12 October 2005
From the title of the book to the picture of a bitten glazed doughnut on the cover, it's clear that the publishers are shrewdly aiming this book squarely at the whole obesity/dieting sector of the market, but it is about so much more than just overeating. Sex and cocaine abuse feature heavily too, and really the subject matter is any compulsive behaviour we indulge in to unwittingly fill an emotional hole.
I love this book. I'm slightly bigger than Leith ever got, and became so by a different route, so his hilarious descriptions of junk food binges go over my head a bit. But I experienced enough moments of startling self-recognition reading this to make the whole thing ring horribly true, and make me think about myself in ways I've resisted before. Best of all is his writing, which is dry, funny and brutally confessional, all strung around a set of amazingly impressive, casually name-dropped contributions on the subject from important figures he has met as a journalist - everyone from Dr Atkins and the head of Starbucks to the chip guru at the McCain factory and a panoply of scientific and medical experts, celebrity fatties, feminists and philosophers. If you're worried that this is going to be all about the Atkins diet, don't be. I'd recommend this book unhesitatingly to anyone who enjoys a good read and has ever overindulged in anything.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 20 February 2009
Some parts of this book are confusing, some are boring, but overall I think it was very informative and, yes, entertaining. This isn't some po-faced diet book; it's intelligent journalism and a memoir by someone who is reassuringly human, like the reader. Leith fails and he fails spectacularly and then he tries again ... It reads as a sort of strange stream of consciousness with plenty of slang and ums and ahs to add realism. Usually I'm not a fan, but Leith makes it accessible.

Some other reviewers, I note, have said that this book isn't ONLY about overeating, but rather addictions in general, such as: drink, drugs, cosmetic surgery and shopping. But I think that's wrong. This book IS primarily about overeating, but it digresses into other addictions and compulsions to illustrate a wider point related to comfort eating. And apart from the therapy sessions, which take up many pages in the last quarter of the book, where the author regresses into his childhood and blames his parents for his unhealthy eating habits, I really enjoyed the book. The therapy felt a bit too self-indulgent. I notice someone else called this book nothing but self-pitying drivel (or words to that effect) and I thought: "Hang on a minute! What do you expect? This is a memoir." I prepared myself for such introspection and thought in so doing I had inoculated myself against it. Still, it turns out I wasn't immune to those thoughts.

But I like the style of his prose. It zips along, pings off the walls, fizzes through the pages. I rarely had to re-read passages, but I did occasionally.

One question I have after reading this book is: what happened to his Atkins diet? One minute he starts it, he's singing its praises and his only symptoms are an unease that he can't quite pin down and then he's off it and back on carbohydrates. Did I miss something? Is this mercurial sense of ... of something DIFFERENT really a reason to give up a diet that is working so well? Not even any bad breath or constipation! Or did he reach his ideal weight and so go for a maintenance Atkins? At the end he's eating like a horse again!

There's another thing that is bugging me at the end of this book. I like his analyses, his interviews, his meandering thoughts, his neuroses, but I think he's missed a trick, so to speak. I think people get overweight because they eat whilst they're doing something else. Like watching telly, reading a book, walking, surfing the net. They eat on auto-pilot! So they don't ENJOY the experience and they wolf it down without noticing. I think people should slow down. Put down your book, turn off your monitor, sit down, switch off the telly and LOOK at the food in your hands and watch it go to your mouth and FEEL it in your mouth.

Buy this book and you will gain a rewarding insight into your relationship with food.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 1 August 2013
This is the story of an overweight and insatiably hungry man, who sets out to understand and conquer this hunger, and resulting weight issue (along with the more complicated issues of body image, body consciousness and societal acceptance).
With pure candour William Leith lets us into his world; the world of someone who has lost control in the attempt to, by any means possible, sate that empty , hollow, hungry feeling.
Leith is a journalist, and as such his research is thorough and impeccable, his conclusions eye-opening and thought provoking. He starts his journey with an interesting interview with the late Dr Atkins, and some success following his no/low carb diet, which surprisingly irks many around him.
I was particularly interested in his description of the humble potatoes' journey from field to French fry (and don't think I'll ever touch a crisp or chip again!)
The interpretation of the economic reasons for promoting high carb and sugar diets, despite the rising obesity problems, is alarming and probably accurate.
Leith speaks to many other industry figures, addicts, famous fat people, anonymous fat people, therapists, gurus and task forces, and presents us with wide-ranging perspectives on the reasons the West, and those parts of the world being Westernised, are over indulging, getting bigger, becoming more unhealthy, less happy, and apparently being encouraged to do so by media and market forces.
With unhindered graphic insight into his personal relationships with food, alcohol, drugs and promiscuity we conclude that there is hope, a way out of being fat and hungry.
But I would say it seems that hope will come to the individual who explores his or her own reasons for over eating, and researches for themselves what a healthy diet is.
This memoir is both moving and told with great humour; I only hope this review has done its wit, depth and honesty justice.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
This is a personal memoir of what it means to be an addict. Leith starts off the book defining his issue as an unhealthy relationship with food, bread in particular. He then spends considerable amounts of time researching and eventually participating in the Atkins diet, with some success. When he finds that this does not lead to ultimate personal happiness, and that he has simply channelled his addictive personality traits into other, and equally harmful past times, his world starts to fall apart. The hunger he refers to in the title of the book has very little to do with food, and everything to do with the unquenchable need that he identifies within himself to be fixed in some way. This is moving and fascinating, although not a 'finished' work in any way. I recommend it highly as both a tremendous piece of journalism, and as an intimate insight into what it means to be addicted to just about anything you care to mention.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 16 July 2014
As a (reformed) binge eater and a PCOS sufferer, I had to read this book. The majority of the narrative is interesting and useful, although I can 't say as I was especially in to the breakdown of the guy's therapy sessions. I came to realise that the vast majority of us are addicted to carbs, and have been inspired to check out Atkins and Dr John Briffa's books. My skin has improved, my energy levels have increased, and my eating is under control. I would recommend this book to anyone who has similar issues!
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on 12 June 2011
I have just finished reading this book for the second time; there is so much in it that it merits two readings. William Leith writes with startling honesty about his struggles with food, alcohol and cocaine. His anatomy of a binge - the feelings leading up to it, the experience of it and the aftermath - are the most accurate I have ever read. Most men who write about bingeing have clearly never experienced it first-hand; they tend to write in a dispassionate and slightly blaming way, in the same way that non-smokers urge you to give up smoking. Mr. Leith describes in agonising detail the hole, the space inside which arises from abandonment by one's parents - physically and/or emotionally - which one is destined to try to fill throughout life, with whatever substance is to hand. His childhood was bleak in the extreme - uprooted, moved around and abandoned - yet his profound insight and intelligence has enabled him to analyse his behaviour and, finally with the help of therapy, to get a handle on it. His insights have helped me enormously to understand my own problems with food and to look back at my childhood as an only child with two emotionally illiterate parents. Of all the writers I have read on the subject, male or female, Mr. Leith is by far the most intuitive and insightful. I am looking forward to reading more of his books.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 18 July 2009
An incredibly moving book that really cuts to the heart of why we overeat for emotional reasons but is also an in-depth expose of the food industry and its exploitation of our weaknesses!

I spent the whole book, which I read in one long sitting, laughing / snorting and nodding in agreement like an idiot. Thankfully I was alone...

I'd recommend this book to anyone, foodie or food-addict, with a warning to ignore the annoying front cover and just enjoy the journey of discovery.
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I like the way this guy writes and that's why I'll give him 4 stars. His basic thesis (pro-Atkins, all-carbs-are-bad) I'm not so sure about, but it's a good read anyway.

One of the main arguments goes something like: we have only diverged from our hunter-gatherer diet relatively recently in our human evolutionary history; this diversion involved the cultivation and consumption of cereals including wheat; obesity is a relatively recent phenomenon in human history. Ergo, carbs are to blame.

My objection to this general theory is that "recent" is a relative term. Humans have been cultivating wheat for 10,000 years, whereas obesity is no more than 2-3 generations old. I think there is some truth in that carbs are cheap to mass produce and form the "vehicle" for junk food. Go into any high street coffee shop and look at all the beige food on offer, it is all junk to be sure. So if you commit to avoiding carbohydrates, you are committing to avoiding all this junk food & that's where the health benefit comes from (no bad thing).

But there ain't nothing wrong with wholemeal bread, brown rice, wholemeal pasta ... it's all good!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A speedy holiday read...... but not particularly a holiday novel! I found it compelling as although Leigh starts on the subject of food, he ultimately ends on compulsive behaviour.
If I wanted to recommend a novel about eating disorders, then I'd say read Fat Girl by Judith Moore. But I just like Leith's factual writing style and the insight he provides into the world of overeating.
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I am not English and didn't know who WL was before I put my hands on this book five years ago. I expected a diet book written by a man (I am a woman myself), but the book was so brilliant to me that I have read it three more times after. The prose is dry and witty, and even though Leith is so frank about himself, there is not self-pity at all. He is intelligent, brilliant and I think that never before I have got to see the soul of a man so deeply (except for my husband). The book is not about food addiction, this is only a marginal issue.

Buy it if you want to read and original and well written book about how a man conquers his demons. Besides, all the extracts of interviews used in the book are very interesting.
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