Serious Reads: 'Ravenous,' by Dayna Macy

Serious Reads

Reviews of food-themed memoirs, beach reads, and histories.

Most of us serious eaters have a strong passion for food. But a love of food doesn't always manifest itself in healthy ways. As writer Dayna Macy recounts in her memoir, Ravenous: A Food Lover's Journey from Obsession to Freedom, eating can easily become inextricably linked with seeking comfort, or a respite from difficult emotions. Macy brings us into her struggle with overeating through the lens of childhood memories and incorporates interesting coping mechanisms to attempt to achieve healthy habits.

Macy's life is stable and full of love, from her caring husband and two sons. Yet she knows that there is a hole yet to be filled—she struggles to find a way to love herself. She never presents her relationship with food as a "disorder," per se. Rather, she recognizes that overeating and weight gain have been perpetual problems throughout her life, and that at 50 years old, it was time to regain control.

Her first step to recovery is to confront her four "weakness" foods—olives, chocolate, cheese, and sausage. One can surely understand her inability to resist a slice of Brie or piece of chocolate. But she feels that researching and understanding the production of these foods will somehow break their hold on her. She goes on some interesting adventures in pursuit of these food origins, but doesn't achieve the results she was looking for; at the end of her mission, she is still overeating.

In the rest of the book, Macy seeks other means of reforming her consumption habits. She intensifies her yoga practice, and becomes more aware of her body's rhythms and desires. She learns to eat just until full, rather than clearing her plate twice. She forages for wild greens and cooks with the bounty. Each of these experiences leads her to a more intimate relationship with food.

Interspersed with her adult narrative are windows into Macy's past. Her childhood was difficult—an abusive father, indifferent mother, and relentlessly skinny older sister only worsened Macy's over-eating habits and her self-esteem. She never overtly blames her upbringing for her problems as an adult, but it is also impossible to view one without considering its influence on the other.

Macy's final effort is a three-day fast, during which she consumes only vegetable broth. She faces and tackles her stabbing hunger, utilizing all the tools and skills she's gained through her past efforts. In the final pages of the book, Macy discusses her current lifestyle of measuring portions, recognizing and limiting her cravings, and thereby losing a significant amount of weight. To be honest, the resolution of Macy's long-term efforts is a bit of a letdown. I found myself wishing that her more interesting discoveries and adventures would have led more directly to a reformation of her relationship with food. But despite some narrative shortcomings and a rather unsurprising eat-smaller-portions prescription at the end, I enjoyed this book. Macy is certainly a compassionate narrator, whose journey engages the reader through its accessibility and strong undertone of optimism.

About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her work is also featured in Rhode Island Monthly Magazine.