Cookbooks - Heavy Hitter

Think of William Leith's wincingly cheeky memoir The Hungry Years: Confessions of a Food Addict (Gotham Books, to be released next month) as the proletarian antithesis to Mireille Guiliano's popular French Women Don't Get Fat. Leith, an overweight British journalist, went to interview diet god Dr. Robert Atkins in New York — "a cry for help masquerading as a professional assignment" — which prompted a personal and sociological exploration of Western culture's body obsession.

He starts by chronicling his own behavior in uncomfortably funny detail. His descriptions of the food he consumes are sprinkled with the self-hatred he feels while he eats, yet they also reveal how accustomed he's grown to giddily wallowing in that self-hate: "The sandwich I brought was a BLT, two slices of thick, soft white bread with crisp, pale lettuce, bland slices of water-bomb tomatoes, somebody's own-brand mayonnaise from a tub the size of a bucket, and hard, oily bacon with fat the color of aspic. Perfect."

Leith has a newspaperman's touch for launching his story with funny, charming anecdotes that gently coax readers to follow him down more somber paths. After he finds initial success following the Atkins diet, Leith embarks on a self-destructive jaunt with cocaine and copious amounts of alcohol mixed in with the food. It takes waking up in a stranger's apartment, crusted with his own vomit, for Leith to realize that maybe the consumption of carbohydrates isn't really the root of his problems.

Leith breaks his book into short, easily digestible chapters that weave in a myriad of entertaining asides — "fat clothes," interviews with overweight celebrities, therapy, a Starbucks company conference, and astute observations about the culture of airports. And despite the squeamishness of the fundamental topic, the book communicates a realist's hopefulness that sanity can be found when grappling with body image — an issue that, let's face it, impacts everyone in some way these days.

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