Sara Somers is the author of the new book Saving Sara: A Memoir of Food Addiction. She worked as a psychotherapist in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years, and now lives in Paris.
Q: Why did you decide to write this memoir about food addiction, and how long did you work on it?
A: When I first started writing this, it was for a writing class that I was taking here in Paris. Then an agent read 15 pages and asked me if I could write a whole book. I was incredibly honored and, truthfully, a bit scared. I had no real skills in writing.
When I had much of it done, she referred me to a coach/editor who taught me the craft of writing. It was during the work with her that the idea began to take shape of writing my story as a way of putting hope out into the world: that there is a solution for compulsive eating and food addiction.
So I concentrated on the bingeing and dieting and all the crazy stuff I did while hostage to food addiction. I started in July 2016 and finished the writing in December of 2018. At that point, the editor recommended me to SheWritesPress who agreed to publish the memoir.
Q: You describe some very difficult periods in your life. Was it difficult for you to write about them?
A: Yes, particularly my teenage years. I was taken by surprise. I thought I’d done so much work therapeutically and spiritually and my adult self was not being jerked around by my young teenage emotions and misconceptions.
All that was true but, by writing what I consider my complete truth as I know it, I was digging up memories that I’d forgotten. It was painful.
For example, I had to acknowledge that the hurt, lonely, rageful girl that I was took everything out on my younger sister. Up to that point, I hadn’t understood why she was scared of me and had no interest in being friends with me. As I wrote, I put myself in her shoes, and it was not a pretty picture.
I felt deep shame and had to remind myself that I had a disease of food addiction and one of its characteristics is denial and hurting others.
For the last two years, she and I have talked more than we ever have in our lives. I can’t speak for her but my feeling is that we both want a relationship with each other and have been willing to let the past be the past and make our present one of getting to know each other. She has forgiven me and for that, I am very grateful.
Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?
A: It’s a bit of a funny story. While I was writing, I had a working title of “Becoming Sara.”
I wanted to try and express that, as I recovered, I grew into the person I was meant to be. Just as I finished in 2018, Michelle Obama came out with her memoir. With the same intention. I discussed it with my editor and she said not to worry, it would be fine.
Six months later, as Becoming by Michelle Obama became a bestseller, we both agreed that yes, in fact, it would make a difference!
One of my editors that I was working with wrote me some feedback, and she called the book Saving Sara by accident. I thought, “Don’t question it, Sara. If she is picking up that I’m saving myself, go with it.” And, voilà, I had a new title.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from your story?
A: I want readers to understand that food addiction is a serious disease. As serious as drug addiction and alcoholism. Most of us have grown up with a diet mentality, and that makes it very hard to think of “food” in the same category.
The truth is that alcohol is made up of grains and sugar. No one in this day and age doubts that alcoholism exists. Yet the exact same ingredients in hard form causes people to raise their eyebrows and think “Really? Why don't you just use willpower?”
The second thing I hope they take away is that there is a solution for food addiction. This book is my story. My story is not very different from millions of other stories.
I hope that other food addicts can identify with something in the book and say to themselves “it worked for her, maybe it will work for me.”
I hope that parents and loved ones take away that it is not helpful to tell a food addict to just pull their bootstraps up and use willpower, and that shaming someone is just about the worst thing you can do to get them to look at the truth.
I hope that educators and medical professionals will start looking at a heavy child or teenager differently when they misbehave or show addictive tendencies, can learn some appropriate questions to ask them, and to see the pain and hopelessness inside.
There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that obesity is one of the biggest issues facing us today. Yet the diet professions have never made more money. There is a disconnect there. People like me need to know that there is an answer and it is not dieting.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I have been writing a blog for four years called Out My Window: my life in Paris.
Since the pandemic started, I have been writing there twice a week. This is an extraordinary time and I want a record of the facts, my feelings about the facts, and what I’ve been doing as much of the world has gone into lockdown.
People have written to me, thanking me for inspiring them to do exercise at home, take advantage of all the free things that are available to all of us, putting into words the changing emotions we all have had as week follows week and none of us really knows what’s going on.
And for the photos of an empty Paris. No one in my lifetime has seen Paris without multitudes of tourists. Wildlife has now returned to the Seine—there are geese and ducks on the river!! Maybe I will turn it into something later. Anyone is welcome to join the journey at www.sarasomers.com.
And for the last three months, I have been writing on another blog once a week just on food addiction. I take a topic like “withdrawal symptoms from sugar” and do my best to correct misconceptions. I have professional friends in the food addiction recovery field who I look to for suggestions and advice.
I welcome readers who want to know more than just one person’s story to go to: www.saving-sara.org.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: I am very grateful that people like you have shown interest in the book. There are so many "Saras" out there who are miserable and hurting. Whatever I can do, with your help, to get information out in the world is a real blessing.
I started an Instagram account @savingsarathebook to let people know about the book. This is no easy feat for someone my age! Even being bad at it, I got 35 followers in two weeks all wanting more information. I can often feel someone wanting to hope but scared to take that step again.
So my final word would be, if you can’t stop bingeing like I couldn’t stop bingeing, there is hope, there is a solution. For 15 years, I have been in recovery. It is not easy.
I welcome anyone to go to www.saving-sara.org and ask me any question you want. I also have a Facebook page called Saving Sara The Book. It also is interactive. Whatever I can do to help, I want to do it.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb