Book Review: Women Food and God

August 24, 2010

I will be forever annoyed that there are no commas in that title.

I’ve told this story for many more years than I lived it, but it only recently became clear to me that the radical part of the tale is not that I stopped dieting; it’s that I stopped trying to fix myself.

women food and god1You may have heard of Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything by Geneen Roth. It’s been on the non-fiction bestsellers’ list since its first week, and it was featured in O Magazine (how I first heard about it) and on a little something called The Oprah Winfrey Show.

The title alone had me interested in the book, and before I read one O-endorsed word, I knew I was going to read the book.

It’s funny because when I started the book, I was a detached observer thinking the book didn’t apply to me.  I kept feeling that way until I got to the end of the prologue and one line jumped out at me. In that one line, the book became personal.

When Roth was on Oprah (and, yes, I watched both of the episodes before reading the book), Oprah said that you could substitute “food” with “sex” or “drugs” or with anything else women may have an unbalanced relationship. After reading the book, I’m inclined to agree. The main thrust of the book is getting women to consider why they crave or reject food when it comes to dealing with emotion. Why is it so much easier to over- or undereat instead of allowing ourselves to feel?

When a diabetic tells me that she can’t eat what she wants because what she wants will kill her (and therefore she feels deprived), my response is that what will kill her is wanting another life than the one she has, another condition than the one that is hers…It’s not her eating that is killing her, it’s her refusal to accept the situation.

I think Roth is definitely onto something in terms of examining relationships with food. She advocates mindful eating and intentional eating. Eat when you’re hungry without distractions and make sure you feel your feelings. Easy enough, right?

In some ways, though, I think she oversimplifies. Her notion that you’ll eat what’s right for you if you stop and listen to your body sounds good, but the reality is that sometimes people do need to be re-taught what and how to eat. Not only that, but her book ignores the importance of support in the form of a group or an individual to help women work through the issues/triggers for over/undereating.

Ironically, most of her observations are made based on not only her personal experiences with dieting and weight, but on observations of retreats she runs for a group of women. I mean, I know the focus is on self, but feeling full emotions can be terrifying if there isn’t someone else around to help you as you think about turning to food instead.

Maybe that’s why Mighty O started a companion guide for the members of her community? [Yeah I am kind of an Oprah kind of person. Shocker, right?]

I also got annoyed with the tone at times. It’s very calming spa/yoga voice, which I don’t necessarily have a problem with, but it just got annoying to me in a few places. [It’s kind of like when someone starts talking to me like I’m going to flip out. Granted, I may be on the edge, but the calming voice can be its own irritant. Then again, it does give me something else to focus my annoyance/rage on. But I digress.]

I’m glad I read the book. It made me think about my relationship with food–as well as other areas in my life I might use to numb emotion.

Women Unbound: 8/8

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