The title of the book, Women Food and God caught my eye recently. I have been battling with compulsive eating and felt that the time had come to do something about it. Geneen Roth, the author of this book, believes that our relationship with food is an exact microcosm of our relationship to life. She says that if you track the impulse to eat when you’re not hungry down to its core, you find everything you believe about loving, living and dying. Women turn to food when they are not hungry because they are hungry for something they can’t name: a connection to what is beyond the daily concerns of life.
I was a skinny child and it was only as a teenager that I started becoming chubby. I went on my first diet at age 15 and lost so much weight I could fit my hands around my waist, my boobs disappeared and I didn’t have a period for two years. I somehow avoided developing a full blown eating disorder but my relationship to food has been a rocky one ever since. I put on all the weight again and more but I have resisted dieting because I know my tendency to become obsessed. As I become older, the desire to lose weight has increased, however, mainly because I want to enjoy a long, healthy life.
Who should read this book?
If you have struggled with your weight, unsuccessfully tried every diet known to man and can’t stand the thought of another – read this book. You will understand more about why you eat and why you can’t stop eating. Roth gives hope to those who just don’t trust themselves around food and who feel as though they are destined to be fat forever. If you think losing weight is the answer to all your problems, she makes you think again.
The book consists of three parts – principles, practices and food. Roth illustrates many of her points from the food retreats she runs and the women who attend them. As a reader you are sure to identify with these women and find the lessons they learn inspiring.
Roth says “understanding the relationship with food is a direct path to coming home after a lifetime of being exiled.” Even if your beliefs about God are different to hers, what she says can still be understood and applied within the context of your beliefs.
In her retreats, Roth tells her students that she is not going to fix their relationship with food. Instead they are going to walk through the door of their eating problem and see what’s behind it. She sees diets as just another way of trying to fix yourself. She speaks about ending the war with your own body and that most people are afraid to let go of dieting and give up that war. We use compulsive eating as a way to shut ourselves down and leave our body. When things are not how we want them to be, we use food to numb ourselves.
Roth deals with the illusion that we think we’re miserable because of what we weigh and that if we can fix that, our lives will change. She says:
“When a pill is discovered that allows people to eat whatever they want and not gain weight, the feelings and situations they turned to food to avoid will still be there, and they will find other more inventive ways to numb themselves.”
As I am already aware that food is my drug of choice, I agree with Roth that eating when you are not hungry is like using food as a drug. I know that I turn to food when I am angry, sad or anxious.
Roth believes that brokenness is learned, not innate and that we have to find our way back to what is already whole. Compulsive eating is an attempt to reach that place. She finds that the most difficult part of teaching people to respect and listen to their bodies is overcoming their conviction that there is nothing to respect. She says:
“Truth, not force, does the work of ending compulsive eating.
Awareness, not deprivation, informs what you eat.
Presence, not shame, changes how you see yourself and what you rely on.
Roth values meditation in that it helps us discover and bring ourselves back to what we love. She does belly meditations with her students and says that sensing our bellies from the inside helps us become aware we are alive. She says:
“owning your own presence – the direct, sensate, immediate experience of being in your body – by grounding yourself in your belly – has everything to do with compulsive eating. Eating compulsively is eating without regard to the body’s cues.”
We become skilled at leaving our bodies by eating to avoid being destroyed by the onslaught of pain. This prevents us from moving through the situations that arise in our lives and it also prevents us from eating only when we are hungry and stopping when we have had enough. The only signal that tells us to stop is when we cannot possibly stuff in any more food. We have to consistently bring ourselves back to our bodies to be aware of its cues.
Inquiry is another practice she recommends, giving instructions in the book. It is the ‘voice’ inside us that is the biggest obstacle to our transformation. It tells us things like “you will never change”, “you are a failure/bad person/stupid/worthless/unlovable” or “you will always be fat.” Inquiry helps us to disengage from the ‘voice’ inside us.
Roth identifies two kinds of compulsive eaters – restrictors and permitters. Restrictors believe in control. They are always trying to deprive themselves, restrict what they eat, count calories etc. The permitters are suspicious of programs, guidelines and eating charts. They numb themselves with food. However, it’s not as straightforward as that – restrictors become permitters when they can’t contain themselves anymore and binge. Permitters become restrictors when they decide to go on a diet, even if it only lasts a few hours. Roth regards both of types of eating as outdated, irrelevant relics of survival behaviour.
She feels that we ignore the most obvious solution and keep looking for the answer – the blood group diet, sugar addiction, low carbs, no carbs etc. etc. We think that if we just cut out a particular food group or restrict ourselves to another, all our problems will be solved.
She proposes the following eating guidelines:
- Eat when you are hungry.
- Eat sitting down in a calm environment.
- Eat without distractions.
- Eat what you body wants.
- Eat until you are satisfied
- Eat (with the intention of being) in full view of others.
- Eat with enjoyment, gusto and pleasure.
While the book makes you more thoughtful, it’s still up to you to reinforce the patterns and learn the new habits Roth introduces. I am trying out these guidelines and while they may be simple, they are not easy. I have a lifetime of not listening to my body to overcome. I wish I could attend one of Roth’s retreats as I think it would help. I do believe, however, that if you can master these guidelines, they will provide you with a way to put a permanent end to the misery of always struggling with weight and self-image.
Woman Food and God by Geneen Roth is available for purchase from Amazon.com.