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Posts Tagged ‘Geneen Roth

Women, Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything by Geneen Roth, Scribner, 2010, 211 pp.

women food and godI don’t even know how to start talking about this book. Geneen Roth is the non-diet expert, who speaks to women of their food issues by telling us it is about issues first and food second. This book is the summary of all of her other works, the one that puts her philosophy and worldview together in one place. As always, it just makes sense to me, even if I am not ready or able to change my life to conform to it entirely.

The basic premise of the book is that women who struggle with their relationship with food are using food to deal with their emotions, either by exercising control through denial or indulgence through regular binges. I find this to be true to my experience–I eat to celebrate, eat to grieve, eat to decompress, eat to be happy, eat to be sad. My relationship with food has far more to do with my emotional life than my body or my belly.

Roth urges us to be present–to  listen to our bodies when they ask for food, but to listen to our feelings when they are doing the talking. Food should not be a substitute for our feelings or a suppressant for them. Food should not be a tool to keep the feelings at bay. She writes, “With awareness (the ability to know what you are feeling) and presence (the ability to inhabit a feeling while sensing that which is bigger than the feeling), it is possible to be with what you believe will destroy you without being destroyed.” (92) Further, she instructs her readers to “eat what they want when they’re hungry and feel what they feel when they’re not.” (101)

The central part of Roth’s philosophy is summarized in her guidelines for eating. Simple, whole, and reasonable–yet still a challenge for those who struggle against emotional eating. The guidelines include eating when you are hungry, stopping when you are full, sitting in a calm environment, being free from distractions, eating what your body wants, and eating with “enjoyment, gusto and pleasure.” Finally, eat (with the intention of being) in full view of others. Even if change is slow, I try to be mindful of these guidelines and take small steps as I am able.

Roth’s books have been a help to me, and this one has too.

Appetites: On the Search for True Nourishment by Geneen Roth, Dutton Books, 1996.

This post feels like an act of courage.

I’ve never talked or written openly about my struggles with eating. I don’t usually read self-help books, or anything that could be found on those shelves in the bookstore. I ardently refuse to consider any materials on dieting, and I loathe the culture of thinness that prizes an impossibly unhealthy body type for women.

But the truth is that I don’t have a good relationship with food, and I am trying to work on that relationship, for the sake of my physical and mental health. And this book doesn’t talk about how to get thin, or why we should want to eat healthy food, or an eight-step program to a better you, or BMI or exercise or clothing size or body image or even addiction. If it had, I probably would not have continued reading it.

This book talks about exactly what I am working on—a relationship with food, which is about a relationship with ourselves and with our bodies. Geneen Roth chronicles her own difficult relationship with food in a voice that is so raw and honest that it almost feels like you are reading someone’s well-written personal journal. Her brokenness and craziness and twisted thinking and self-doubt are right there, exposed to the light and thoughtfully captured in language. But so are the words of forgiveness and healing and rationality and sympathy and advocacy. They are right next to each other—brokenness paired with healing, good thinking intertwined with continued bad choices, reasonable perspective mingled with crazy old tapes full of negative self-talk.

Which is exactly my experience of my relationship with food. Ah, companionship! (Ironically, a word derived from sharing food—com, with; pan, bread; companion, one you break bread with.)

Roth’s raw honesty and good writing are the great gifts of this book. She captures my experience and that of so many other women, and somehow just seeing your thoughts and feelings reflected on the page, organized and articulated, helps sort through them and even let go of some of them.

The other great gift is Roth’s own brokenness. For me, my relationship with food cycles through good and bad. I keep thinking I have found healing, only to end up right back where I started in a bad place. Roth, in spite of having written bestselling books and held thousands of seminars, does the same thing. And she doesn’t just say, “Now, I still struggle sometimes,” and cover it over with slick presentations of the way forward—she takes us right with her to the crazy place that still lives on in spite of books, seminars and success.

There were particular moments of crazy—and accompanying insights of healing—that especially touched me, but I feel vulnerable enough already without exposing my particular crazies. I wish I could be as honest as Roth is. Daylight in itself is healing. But for now, I will continue my search for true nourishment with the gift of companionship, and a reminder that healing in relationships is not a once-and-for-all, one-and-done experience. Just like healing in relationships with people, finding healing in my relationship with food is an ongoing journey, fraught with obstacles and setbacks, yet still a journey well worth taking.

One small, crazy step at a time.

About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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