Hungry for the perfect body

In Hungry: A Mother and Daughter Fight Anorexia, restaurant critic Sheila Himmel and her daughter Lisa write about Lisa’s long struggle with anorexia, bulimia, bingeing and compulsive exercising.

While award-winning food critic Sheila Himmel reviewed exotic cuisines from bistro to brasserie, her daughter, Lisa, was at home starving herself. Before Sheila fully grasped what was happening, her fourteen-year-old with a thirst for life and a palate for the flavors of Vietnam and Afghanistan was replaced by a weight-obsessed, antisocial, hundred-pound nineteen-year-old. From anorexia to bulimia and back again — many times — the Himmels feared for Lisa’s life.

The dialogue between Sheila and her daughter gives the book a special power. What could Lisa be thinking? Lisa tells us.

“Once, as a peace offering to my parents after we’d gotten in a huge fight, I baked a cake from scratch and spelled out ‘I’m sorry’ on the frosting with chocolate and butterscotch chips. My parents never saw it. I tried a little corner piece, just as a taste, but then the surge of adrenaline passed through my body and a little turned into more, which became me taking a fork and diving right in.”

I’ve known Sheila for 35 years. We worked together in my first job out of college and then at the Mercury News. I was at her wedding to Ned. I’ve seen Lisa exercising at the Y.

My daughter, who had many anorexic friends in middle and high school, bought Hungry for me and wrote a note: “Wow!

About Joanne


  1. I read and appreciated the honesty. Do you have contact info for Sheila ?

  2. I’d try sheila at sheilahimmel dot com. If that doesn’t work, e-mail me at joanne at joannejacobs dot com and I’ll pass it on to her.

  3. “I’d try sheila at sheilahimmel dot com.”

    Actually it’s on the home page of sheilahimmel dot com.

  4. Eating disorders are all over the foodie world. I know of at least 2 TV hosts who are bulimic and a number of chefs. Perfection is a very cruel master.

  5. Anorexia really isn’t about hunger for the perfect body.

    It’s about hunger for perfect control.

    Anorexia is a statement that I *will* have power over my body, over my desires, over what others want of me, just as much as the bingeing is a release of needing to control that power, and purging is a way to handle the shame.

    At some point in that quest for control, the knowledge that it means *so much* to these other people that the anorexic eat *appropriately* is just another lever of power to the anorexic. Of course, killing yourself is ultimately not the best way to show someone else how powerful you are, but it’s hard to see that from inside the rabbit hole.