Book Review: Father Hunger

REVIEW BY: Dakotah Williams graduated summa cum laude from East Tennessee State University with a Bachelor of Science degree with a concentration in Psychology and a minor in Human Development and Learning.

I recently read Father Hunger: Fathers, Daughters, and the Pursuit of Thinness by Margo Maine, a clinical psychologist specializing in the treatment of eating disorders with more than 25 years of experience.

This book, originally published in 1991 (first ed.), offers an interesting take on disordered eating, with a prominent focus on restrictive eating habits.  The term “father hunger” is used to describe the emotional longing that adolescent girls experience from the emotional detachment of their fathers.  This yearning leads to dieting, food fears, and disordered eating.  Whether subconsciously or consciously . . .

. . . girls may feel the need to diet, lose weight, and use food as an attempt to gain compassion, understanding, and attention from their fathers.

Maine suggests that the father is not solely to blame.  Society has constructed expected roles of fathers to be the breadwinner — strong, stern, and emotionless.  However, these standards have often left children (especially daughters) longing for a connection with their fathers.  The absence can create conflict, turmoil, and anxiety withing a young woman who would benefit from love and attention from a father to help her develop a strong sense of self.

In order to correct “father hunger,” Maine proposes that fathers take a hard look at themselves and their relationships with others.  Fathers can be more available to their daughters by wiling to be open (letting their guards down) and making time to listen.

Maine also emphasizes the importance of keeping conversations on a broad range of topics — not exclusively on the eating disorder as this may reinforce the unwanted habits by maintaining the disappointment their fathers may or may not feel of the eating disorder.

Additionally, mothers can impact the healing of their daughters.  By exploring their own “father hunger,” mothers can reinvent their attitudes towards society’s standards.  In addition, it is important for mothers to allow their daughters to grow by letting them develop their own senses of self through learned experiences.

Finally, and most importantly, daughters have to connect with themselves.  They can do this through the three R’s: Recovery Requires Re-connection.  Maine stresses that in order to heal, one must slowly separate herself from the eating disorder.  Understanding the function of the symptoms, pain, and behaviors, provides a conscious development of the beginning of the healing process.

Overall, this book is a great read to discover, contemplate, and integrate a different aspect on eating disorders.  It provides a start in exploring reasons behind the behaviors of disordered eating.

ThA Place of Healing serving Kingsport, Johnson City and Elizabethtonis book is available to borrow at A Place of Healing in the free lending library. To purchase this book – follow this link: Father Hunger: Fathers, Daughters, and the Pursuit of Thinness

References:  Maine PhD, M. (1991).  Father Hunger: Fathers, Daughters, and the Pursuit of Thinness. Carlsbad, CA: Gurze Books.


About the book reviewer

* Dakotah Williams graduated summa cum laude from East Tennessee State University with a Bachelor of Science degree with a concentration in Psychology and a minor in Human Development and Learning.  Dakotah notices the lack of professional resources and complexity involved with the mental illness of eating disorders and has interest in specializing in this field.  She plans on continuing her studies in a clinical psychology program at a doctoral level.

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