Book Review: Women, Food, and God

(or Women, Food, and a Side of Goop)

Welcome to the first edition of Wellness Wednesday! Today, I’m reviewing Geneen Roth’s book Women, Food, and God, which is about our relationship with food, and how the endless cycle of bingeing and dieting is just a way to fill the parts of our lives that feel empty or broken. Geneen’s solution: start listening to what your body actually wants and eat that. No more sweet potato diets or juice cleanses, just mindfully eating the right foods.

women food god

My therapist assigned me this book weeks ago, but I kept putting off reading it First, I absolutely had to finish re-reading Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone. Then it just wouldn’t do if I didn’t re-read Misery before I worked on my Annie Wilkes costume post. Finally I was out of excuses and didn’t want to have to tell her once again that I’d only read a chapter or two. I made it my mission to finish the book before the end of October by reading minimum one chapter a night before bed.

Here’s what I thought.

What I Liked

As an emotional eater, it was interesting to sit down and examine what that was about. The year after I moved to Toronto, I got relatively fit and healthy. I was walking everywhere and actually taking the time to prepare healthy meals. For the first time in a long time, I felt great.

Then, there was the traumatic incident, and all of those good habits went to shit. I was tired all the time and just getting by. The last thing I wanted to do was cook something, so I was constantly eating whatever crap I could get delivered. There was also an emotional aspect to my eating that I recognized in the book. As Geneen writes:

“…Compulsive eating is an attempt to avoid the absence (of love, comfort, knowing what to do) when we find ourselves in the desert of a particular moment, feeling, situation.”

In my case, the absence I felt was having my sense of safety suddenly ripped away. By diving headfirst into a pizza, I could numb myself of that horror for a little while.

The part of the book that has resonated with me the most is where Geneen discusses being curious about yourself and your emotions. Instead of reacting to whatever emotion you’re having, examine it. Roll it around a little. Really live in it instead of avoiding it. I’ve been trying to do that since I finished the book, and I’ve found it’s been really helpful in identifying exactly what’s going on with me, rather than jumping to conclusions.

For example, maybe I’m at home and I suddenly feel like the biggest loser in the world. Instead of avoiding the feeling by distracting myself with food or succumbing to the sadness, I examine it from a removed perspective.

Huh, that’s interesting. What is it about this moment that makes me feel like a loser? Well, nobody wants to be around me. I have no friends. 

…But is that really true? No. I definitely do have friends. So what’s going on?

Turns out that I’m just a little lonely from not having met up with my friends in a while. Instead of wallowing in that feeling, I reach out to a couple people and make some plans for later in the week. I feel better.

(This is a common problem with me. I overbook, get overwhelmed and overtired, and then vow to have a day all to myself. One day turns into a couple days, turns into every evening for a week. Suddenly I’m stir-crazy and desperate for any sort of human interaction. One of these days I really need to learn to keep that pendulum near the middle instead of letting it swing wildly from one extreme to the other.)

What I Didn’t Like

Even though I liked a lot of the content and found it valuable, there was just something about the book that wasn’t bringing me in. I knew it was something about the tone, but I couldn’t put my finger on it until this conversation with my therapist:

Me: So I finished that book you assigned.

Her: Oooh, and?

Me: Well, some of the stuff was good. But there was just… the tone bothered me? Like, if I met Geneen in real life, I’m pretty sure we’d hate each other.

Her: (laughing) Oh, yeah. She’s totally Goop-y.

Yes! That was it! Her writing style and tone definitely reminded me of Gwyneth Palthrow’s Goop. Parts of it verged on eyeroll-y for me, even when I was relating to the message behind the words.

What I’ve Implemented

Since finishing the book, I’ve  started checking in with myself to see if I’m actually hungry before I eat. Once I’ve determined that, yes, I’m pretty much ready to eat my own arm at any second, I ask myself what my body is craving.

Now, this is different from what my mind wants. My mind pretty much always wants pizza. I’m basically a ninja turtle. But when I dig deeper, I find that my body wants something with some more nutrients, like maybe some fajitas with a ton of vegetables. Something that will keep me nourished instead of making me full and bloated for an hour before I’m hungry again.

As I mentioned in the What I Liked section, I’ve also started trying to examine my feelings a bit more, rather than just taking them as truth. Geneen talks a lot in the book about how we fear actually feeling our emotions:

“The belief, unconscious as it was, that I couldn’t handle, couldn’t tolerate, didn’t have thick enough skin or a resilient enough heart to withstand what was in front of me without fragmenting… The glitch here is that it’s not life in the present moment that is intolerable; the pain we are avoiding has already happened. We are living in reverse.”

The confidence that I can endure my feelings without falling apart is really reassuring. That knowledge keeps me grounded when my anxiety creeps up or when I find myself feeling a blue. The things that happened that sucked, they happened in the past; they’re not happening now. And the things that might happen in the future? There’s no point in worrying about those now. I can’t change them. All that I can do is live in this one moment, right now.

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