Interview: Kelly deVos’s Eat Your Heart Out exposes horrors of diet culture

Eat Your Heart Out by author Kelly Devos. Image courtesy Penguin Random House
Eat Your Heart Out by author Kelly Devos. Image courtesy Penguin Random House /

Fat camp stories have seemingly been done to death, but Kelly deVos’s latest, Eat Your Heart Out gives diet culture a horrifying new satirical spin.

When Vivian, the captain of her soccer team, gets sent to a bougie fat camp for the children of the rich and famous over the Christmas holidays, she’s outraged and hurt. But things are only more complicated when she finds out her one-time best friend is there, too.

Together, they soon realize that something strange is happening at the camp, and with the help of the other campers, have to figure out how to survive it together.

Eat Your Heart Out mashes up the best tropes of ’80s horror classics and zombie movies with the unique body diversity of fat characters rarely seen in action or horror movies. deVos smartly scrutinizes the impacts of diet culture while humanizing those who it hurts the most.

(It’s worth noting that the novel may be triggering for those who have suffered from body dysmorphia, disordered eating, fatphobia, or other issues, which the author briefly addresses in an author’s note at the beginning of the novel.)

Overall, Eat Your Heart Out is a savvy and scary page-turner of a summer read with plenty of feeling. Readers looking for more stories about fat characters, unique twists on zombie thrillers, or unique found family structures will love deVos’s latest.

Culturess sat down with deVos to discuss Eat Your Heart Out‘s unique premise and structure and the power of casting a fat girl as the Action Hero.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Culturess:  Eat Your Heart Out has a very specific premise—horror satire about fat camp. How did you come up with this idea?

Kelly deVos:  
The book started with the idea that diet culture turns people into monsters. I wondered what it would look like if I took the idea literally; if a weight loss product created actual zombies.

I decided to place the book at a fat camp because that setting really represents commercialized fatphobia and I could empower my characters to directly fight back.

Culturess:  Eat Your Heart Out also has a unique structure based on classic horror movie plots and characters. It also has some meta moments that include screenplay narration of the action within the story. What led you to this structure and why?

Fat people aren’t usually included in horror films and when we are it’s typically as some kind of horrible villain (where fear of overeating and looking fat is used to terrify people) or as zombie food.

I wanted to subvert some of that by having a filmmaker character, Allie, who insists that a fat girl is the Final Girl–the girl that will survive. I included some of the action in screenplay format to, hopefully, help the reader see Allie’s point of view as an aspiring filmmaker.

Culturess:  How did you balance characterization and emotion alongside the action and pacing in the story, especially in a multi-POV book? What was the most challenging and joyful part of crafting the narrative?

deVos:  I wanted the book to have a pretty fast pace so I kept the action moving. I also wanted to be realistic about how much time people would have to discuss and think about their feelings while on the run from a horde of zombies. So I tried to balance things.

From the beginning, it was important to me to have a variety of points-of-view, mainly because I wanted to show people in a variety of different sizes and body types and how fatphobia was affecting them. I swear one of the toughest things for me was dealing with the nighttime sequences.

I had to make a spreadsheet to keep track of which characters had a flashlight and where those flashlights were at any given time. I had the most fun writing the scenes where my characters dismantle and destroy the fat camp.

Culturess:  The novel heavily satirizes and specifically scrutinizes fatphobia and diet culture. What do you want young readers to take away from Eat Your Heart Out? 

deVos:  I really hope it opens up a dialogue about diet culture and weight loss products and how to disengage from those things. Right now, being fat is perceived as a personal failing or character flaw (the result of having less self-control or willpower than thin people).

But increasingly, we know that body size is the result of many, many factors, most of which are genetic and not under an individual’s control. Meanwhile, there are all these weight loss products. They cost a fortune and the vast majority of them don’t work.

But they pull off this magic act of selling a product that they don’t deliver (specifically weight loss) yet they blame the individual for the product’s failure to perform. It’s worth noting that we rarely tolerate this in other industries.

For example, we hold car companies responsible for designing safe cars even though accidents are the result of driver behavior. 

I’d ideally love for young people to opt-out of the narrative that they have to be thin to feel good about themselves and to critically analyze a lot of this messaging that they are receiving.

Culturess:  Without spoiling anything for readers, can you discuss the ending a bit? How did you decide who made it out and who didn’t? 

deVos:  It was so hard to decide who would survive. In fact, there was a major character who lived in the original draft but ended up meeting a sad end in the finished book because I had a lot of dialogue with my editor about this issue.

Ultimately, I was trying to send the message that diet culture hurts everyone — not necessarily just fat people — so I tried to keep that in mind when deciding my characters’ fates.

Culturess:  How do you think the character archetypes fit into the story you were trying to tell? In particular, can you talk about Vivian being cast as Action Girl?

deVos:  I think wondering what role you are meant to play in the world is a typical coming-of-age feeling. The horror genre tends to have a lot of recurring character types or archetypes. I thought it would be fun to make characters in a horror story aware of their archetype and then let them decide if they would continue to make choices to reaffirm that identity.

Like Paul, for example. In the book, he starts out as fatphobic and self-centered and is cast as The Jerk by Allie. Then he has to decide if he’ll continue to be a jerk to those around him.

 Also, as I said, in horror, fat girls don’t often survive usually because of stereotypes about fat people being unusually slow or physically unfit.

The thing is, I absolutely know that if my life depended on escaping a bunch of zombies, I would find a way to do it. Not only did I want to put that energy into Vivian, I wanted Allie to put forward the idea that Vivian was the most likely to survive because Vivian could do the same physical things as everyone else but was also extraordinarily brave and heroic.

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Eat Your Heart Out is available June 29 wherever books are sold. Let us know if you add it to your TBR pile.