The Hungry Years: Confessions of a food addict by William Leith - Reviews - Books - The Independent

BLOOMSBURY £10.99 £9.99 (P&P FREE) 08700 798 897

The Hungry Years: Confessions of a food addict by William Leith

Quick, hide the toast - he's lost control again

At 236lbs he went to interview the diet guru Dr Atkins - a cry for help masquerading as a professional assignment - and Atkins explained why Leith could never get enough of buttered white toast. The butter isn't the problem: we eat 15-per cent less fat than we did when Atkins invented his diet in 1972, and we're 20-per cent fatter. The white bread is the problem. When you eat carbohydrates your blood sugar level goes up and your pancreas produces insulin to drive it back down, making you hungry again. If you overeat carbohydrates you overproduce insulin, your blood sugar levels crash and you get uncontrollable cravings.

So carbs and sugar can never satisfy you. Like pornography, slimming products, nicotine or cocaine, they offer a short-term fix but always leave you wanting more. That's why there are so many hundreds of sugary and carbohydrate snacks on the market: they're the perfect product. And that, thinks Leith, explains why each time there's been a resurgence of interest in the Atkins diet, a powerful backlash swiftly followed. (Just as this book was published, sales of Atkins products were revealed to have crashed.) Low-fat diets promote the sale of low-fat products, but Atkins had nothing to sell and his low-carb message was potentially very damaging to the food industry: "Carbs are powerful. Carbs have influential friends."

By cutting out carbs Leith eliminated his cravings, and has since maintained a fairly ideal weight of around 200lbs. After a while he reintroduced a moderate amount into his diet without feeling the urge to binge, and he even had the odd drink or two. Then three or four more. And a few lines of coke as well. Then three or four more of those. And then he woke up in a stranger's house, bleeding and in a pool of his own vomit, realised that his compulsive behaviour was symptomatic of a deeper problem that Dr Atkins couldn't help him with, and booked himself into therapy.

So carbs weren't really to blame for Leith's obesity. As The Hungry Years closes we find him learning to blame his parents for sending him to be bullied at boarding school and for never noticing how abandoned he felt. But that's material for a different book; a more self-indulgent and less interesting book, about his own personal woes.

The Hungry Years, on the other hand, because Leith owns up to the fact that "if we have a core problem, here in the Western world, I am an embodiment of that problem", is a book about all of us who live in a consumer society which teaches us to be dissatisfied and to crave what we haven't got, and which promises to sell us a quick and easy solution to the problems that it creates.

So, with a good newspaper columnist's flair for spinning interesting parables out of the mundane fabric of his own life, and in little, compulsively readable, bite-sized chapters that always leave you wanting to read more, Leith writes about glossy health and beauty magazines which make their readers feel insecure enough to purchase the products manufactured by companies whose adverts pay for them. About brightly packaged headache tablets, which are now consumed in such high quantities that they're giving people headaches. About mobile phones and Catherine Zeta Jones, Dawn French and French fries, about clothes, plastic surgery, self-help books, strip clubs, casual sex and drugs.

Because the Atkins diet worked for him, because he absolves so many of our insecurities, because he writes so frankly and without pity about the most mortifying moments of his life, and perhaps, too, because he's a man writing about vulnerabilities that only women usually admit to, it ends up being a rather reassuring book. So go on, buy yourself a copy. It really will make you feel much better about yourself, I promise.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 contestants and their professional dance partners open the twelfth run of the celebrity ballroom contest

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin teaches Clara to shoot an arrow
doctor who
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week