Life in the fat lane with journalist William Leith

Reviewers of The Hungry Years couldn’t quite classify it—memoir, personal diet book, literary journalism, creative non-fiction—and this intrigued me.

What would a sometimes-overweight and well-known British journalist do with the topical issue of fat? William Leith needed a good angle for Hungry Years: confessions of a food addict and he found it in his interview with Dr. Robert Atkins.

Leith, the last person to interview the infamous doctor before his death, went on the Atkins diet as any good fat journalist would do for research. And, to spice things up in the book, Leith also chronicles his fondness for cocaine, painkillers, caffeine, alcohol, as well as his penchant for women who smoke and shop too much. Leith is desperate one moment and funny the next.

Reading the book is like eating food: by the time I get near the end of each chapter, I want more. The closer I get to finishing a plate of food, I want more. Leith calls this, full but hungry. There’s about a minute or two of unadulterated gratification in eating. And then it’s a slow race to the end, knowing that within a short time we’ll be back where we started—hungry.

On the Atkins low-carb diet, Leith rapidly loses weight. He loses his heavy-smoking girlfriend too. And his father, who tries the diet, drops weight. And Leith loses his craving for food. He doesn’t crave, he doesn’t obsess, and he doesn’t long for food.

But he misses being hungry.

Losing weight and losing the craving for food isn’t enough for Leith. He has to figure out why he loves his addictions so much. And this is where the book, and Leith, takes a dive. He strolls down therapy lane.

As a good therapy client, Leith learns to build shrines of his childhood hurts and to return, week after week, for worship. He reverts to eating and drinking too much, and consuming painkillers and cocaine too much. And he lets his new girlfriend, who owns over a 100 pairs of shoes and loves shopping too much, feed him lots of toast with butter. He describes gorging on pasta and wine, and passing out with her on a hotel bed—fully dressed.

William Leith’s recent book is Bits of Me are Falling Apart: Dark Thoughts from the Middle Years.

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