An Appetite for Hunger

A new book on eating disorders shatters stereotypes about who's susceptible.


“In exact reverse of the order I had consumed them, the turkey, stuffing, yams, pie, cranberry sauce and string beans came up. With a feeling of accomplishment, I flushed the toilet and turned to the sink to wash my hands.” Browne’s bio for the Essence piece described her as a recovered anorexic and bulimic. But, she admits in “Finding Home,” “my battle would go on for another decade.”

Now, she describes herself as vigilant about her weight, but says she has learned to eat well and value herself and her health. She occasionally notices a woman slip into the bathroom after a meal. “Once I would’ve felt a kind of twisted solidarity. But these days I look away: I take a deep breath and thank God that I am well. And then, sometimes, I even have dessert.”

Latria Graham, who contributed “Black-and-White Thinking” to the Going Hungry anthology, describes how feeling out of place in her matronly dresses—while the other girls in her school wore designer jeans—led to bulimia. “I wanted to be like Hannah D.,” she writes. “She was everything I was not: She was of medium height (not tall and gawky, like me) and medium build (not emaciated but not fat like me), and she had long, straight, brown hair. She was popular, all the boys liked her, and she didn’t have to get braces to have pretty white straight teeth. White. Oh yeah…and she was white. There weren’t many minorities where I grew up, so pretty much anyone I admired was going to be white.”

What started as meal skipping and occasional throwing up, turned into full-blown bulimia, once Graham graduated from high school and landed at Dartmouth College. “The cafeteria was buffet style, which was dangerous,” she writes. “If I had time I would eat, throw up, finish eating, sneak off to the science wing and throw up, then go the library before my friends caught up with me. Sometimes in my room by myself, I’d order meals from Steak-Out, and then throw up in a trash bag.”

Eventually, Graham started cutting herself, which left raised, keloid scars on her arms. The weekend she told a friend that she wanted to set herself on fire, she was sent home from college on medical leave. After two treatment centers, Graham writes that she is better but that she still has bad days. She struggles to figure out who she is in a white-dominated world, where black women have few roles to play. “I could be the motherly black woman who feeds everyone, or I could raise my voice and be defined as a bitch.”

Like the other stories in Going Hungry, Graham’s doesn’t end with a miracle. “God didn’t perform a miracle and cure me so that I never think about food again,” she writes. “But [He] performed a different type of miracle: He made it possible for me to get the help that I needed, and now, one year out of treatment, I’ve begun to believe in Him again.”

Linda Villarosa is a regular contributor to The Root.