________________ CM . . . . Volume VII Number 8 . . . . December 15, 2000

Inner Hunger: A Young Woman's Struggle Through Anorexia And Bulimia.

Marianne Apostolides.
New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 1998. (Distributed in Canada by Penguin Books).
171 pp., cloth, $29.99.
ISBN 0-393-04590-0.

Subject Headings:
Anorexia nervosa-Patients-United States-Biography.
Bulimia-Patients-United States-Biography.

Grades 9 and up / Ages 14 and up.

Review by Cheryl Archer.

*** /4


I had binged the night before. When I woke up, a familiar pastiness glued the insides of my mouth. My eyes passed from one empty food wrapper to another - hollow packages of cookies, muffins, granola, bread - all lying in chaos on the floor. I was tired that morning. Tired of feeling disgust, anger, embarrassment; tired of lurching from starvation to binges to purges. I had felt that kind of exhaustion many times before.

I started dealing with the exhaustion in my usual manner: by focusing my mind, collecting my money, and buying food for another episode of binging. But as I stood in my dark apartment decorated with the remains of the binge, the tension I had held in my muscles released itself in tears. I dropped my money, took off my jacket, and turned on the computer. I didn't hesitate, I didn't look at the gray emptiness of the screen, I just wrote. All the emotions I had suppressed by means of diets and binges and routines gathered in my body, moved through my fingers, and charged the computer with life.

Inner Hunger is a courageous account of its author's decade-long struggle, beginning at age 14, with anorexia, binge eating, and bulimia. This is a frighteningly honest and painful story, a story that will help readers understand the experience of an eating disorder. Equally terrifying is the fact that nearly one out of every ten females is seriously affected by an eating disorder. This is a statistic that should alarm even those fortunate few not concerned with body image.
    Apostolides shares her personal experiences as well as her diligent research on the ups and downs of her tortuous journey. She attributes her eating disorder to her way of coping with the pressures of life as a young adult: she was insecure, unable to communicate with her parents, and pushed to achieve at school. For anyone who knows or works with teenagers, this description might sound disconcertingly familiar. According to Apostolides, she felt she could only control her life by calorie-counting, controlling her diet and eating schedules, and pushing aside her emotions to concentrate on food (or the lack of it). "My island of safety," says Apostolides when referring to her eating disorder.
    When dieting and excessive exercise had reduced her anorexic body to a mere 80 pounds, she started to crave food. She then began to have uncontrolled eating binges, followed by shame, self-hatred, emotions which led to further starvation. From there, it was only a short step to bulimia's vicious cycle of binging and purging. Eventually, after therapy and time to heal, Apostolides realized she needed to change her patterns of thinking and feeling and acting in order to survive.
    What makes Inner Hunger more than just a memoir are its invaluable final chapters. Here, readers will find substantive information to help either themselves or others with eating disorders. Based on research articles, books, and consultation with professionals, these chapters provide advice for communities and institutions (schools, health care workers, media), people who care about those with eating disorders (parents, siblings, friends, mentors), as well as advice for girls and women with eating disorders (medical, psychological, and spiritual advice are given).
    Apostolides says that working together we can begin to "understand one another's options and roles in the process of letting go." Because shame and fear prevent many from seeking treatment, it is imperative those working with young women (and men) be trained to notice signs of eating disorders and to act on those signs. The author also offers the following advice: "If adults interact with young people in a way that encourages the three 'conditions of empowerment' - caring relationships, high expectations, and opportunities for participation - kids can begin to form a healthy sense of themselves and their abilities."
    Apostolides writes clearly, boldly, and with passion. By the end of the book, readers will feel somewhat expert on the topic of eating disorders (its causes, types of treatments, its prevention) as well as on how to handle emotions (highs and lows) and stress in more healthy ways. This new knowledge can only be a good thing. However, before handing this book to young people, there is a caveat: phone sex and the drug "ecstasy" are mentioned (in a somewhat positive light). Taken in context, these passages shouldn't be a problem for those readers mature enough to handle the topic. One other quibble: the appendix lists only American organizations offering information and support for eating disorders. Therefore, Canadian readers will have to check their local phone books for assistance closer to home.
    Inner Hunger should be in every high school library in Canada and on every guidance counselor's reading list. In a perfect world, everyone involved with young people would read this book. The odds are just too high that someone you know will develop, or already suffers from, a life-numbing (even life-threatening) eating disorder. This book will empower girls and women to free themselves from the trap of anorexia and bulimia.

Highly Recommended.

Now residing in Alberta, Cheryl Archer, author of the children's non-fiction book, Snow Watch, and past Manitoba Officer for the Canadian Children's Book Centre, is also the concerned parent of a 14-year-old daughter (who - thank goodness - vows she loves food too much to ever diet!).

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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ISSN 1201-9364