Saving Sara is a poignant, moving, and brave memoir about a nearly fifty-year battle with food addiction. The author, Sara Somers, also descended into drug abuse and alcoholism as a young adult, the latter addiction only being vanquished after a decades-long, on-again off-again battle. More than just a therapeutic telling of a wrenching personal story, Saving Sara lifts the veil over the hidden pain and shame of food addictions. As Somers writes, this book is meant to help all “compulsive eaters and food addicts to find their way to recovery.”
Somers was the daughter of two ambitious university professors and despaired of ever pleasing these hard-driving, high-achieving parents. Her mother in particular was distant, even cold, denying her daughter the kind of maternal love and understanding that are vital to a child’s emotional development. No one understood what drove young Sara to resort to stealing money or food to feed her food addiction beast. A doctor injected her with amphetamines to suppress her appetite, akin to putting a bandage on a cancer patient.
Somers calls bingeing an “intimate” act because it is done secretly, but also “compulsive and shameful.” While hard drinkers can still seem socially acceptable, at least to an extent, food bingers act in loneliness, confusion, and self-loathing.
Somers’ writing is evocative and honest. She acknowledges that her behavior as a daughter, friend, and girlfriend were consistently self-centered and self-pitying, causing many ruptured relationships. I felt she wrote more than was necessary about her “hippie” years, her numerous failed romantic relationships, and her descent into an abyss of increasingly dangerous drug use, alcoholism, and bingeing. Fortunately, despite her acknowledged laziness, her life is touched by a few key people who recognize her intelligence and potential. These caring people offered her the lifeline of a feeling of self-worth and the motivation to work toward a goal. Ironically, she becomes a therapist, successfully helping others with their problems but unable to see what she needs most urgently.
Eventually, Somers accepts that she has a disease, one that makes her body incapable of absorbing sugar, grains, and simple carbohydrates without triggering a bingeing response. Through her sister, she discovers an offshoot of Overeaters Anonymous called Greysheeters Anonymous, a 12-step program that offers help for compulsive eaters as well as the consistent support and fellowship that has liberated thousands of food addicts from their suffering.
Despite Somers’ having a physical cause for her bingeing, I wondered if the lack of parental love and approval she hungered for exacerbated the problem. It is heartrending to read of her longing for romance: She watches “boyfriends put an arm around a shoulder and pull a thin girl close. No one had ever done that to me, not even a parent.” A pervading sense of shame haunted her for decades because of her addictions. “Shame is a strange companion,” she writes. “It taught me to be afraid of people who would actually help me and to trust people who would hurt me . . . It taught me fear, and fear caused me to be wrong about most everything.”
Fortunately, Somers trusted the right people, accepted her powerlessness over her condition, and found not only liberation from her addictions, but hope, energy, and optimism. Her memoir is both harrowing and inspiring, a book that will stay with you long after you turn the last page.