Friday, September 17, 2010

Book Review: Women Food and God by Geneen Roth

Have you ever read something that you've so connected to that you suspect the author has somehow managed to peek inside your mind and sort through the madness within? That's how I feel about Geneen Roth's latest book, Women Food and God. Aside from the lack of traditional punctuation in the title and the fact I think a more appropriate name would be "Women Food and Awareness" or "Women Food and Vague Spirituality," this book pretty much blew my mind.

I don't know much about author Geneen Roth. It seems that she has been working largely with compulsive eaters through workshops and retreats, although she has served restrictive eaters, too. Also, according to the book's flap, Roth has "gained and lost more than a thousand pounds" since her teen years. After reading the book, I interpret this to mean that she has lived through the black hole of dangerous obesity and dangerously low weights, so she truly knows the pervasive darkness and depression of a life lived around food and body issues.

But, since she has written many books about breaking free of such issues, I assume that she has found (and maintains) an equilibrium. Roth has somehow discovered how to live a balanced life -- starting in a disordered place -- free from the cage of eating (and not-eating) addictions).

I remember reading an article by Geneen Roth during my mad days of anorexia and overexercising before I began to receive treatment. It was in some health-related magazine that I was reading while elliptical-ing away early one morning at the gym. She was writing about compulsive eating and how to avoid such behavior, but being as I was already skilled at restricting my food at the time, I read Roth's words with a mixture of morbid, obsessive fascination and revulsion. I remember turning the page and trying to push her message of limiting overeating aside -- because, at the time, I felt that any eating was overeating. I find it amusing that the same woman whose message I reviled those years ago I now resonate with so deeply.

Because Geneen Roth has apparently lived inside my brain. She knows what it's like to be me, somehow -- probably because none of us disordered eaters are as alone as we think. There are so many quotes that I'd love to share from Women Food and God, but the one that struck me most is this:
When you believe without knowing you believe that you are damaged at your core, you also believe that you need to hide that damage for anyone to love you. You walk around ashamed of being yourself. You try hard to make up for the way you look, walk, feel. Decisions are agonizing because if you, the person who makes the decision, is damaged, then how can you trust what you decide? You doubt your own impulses so you become masterful at looking outside yourself for comfort. You become an expert at finding experts and programs, at striving and trying hard and then harder to change yourself, but this process only reaffirms what you already believe about yourself -- that your needs and choices cannot be trusted, and left to your own devices you are out of control (p.82-83).
When I read this, something in me broke a little. I wanted to cry tears, and I wanted to cry out, "Yes!" because this is the root of my eating disorder. At least, I think it is. From a very young age, I've always tried to be someone else, to fix myself -- and by "fixing," I wanted to erase the very base of my self and my personality from the planet. During the worst times of my battle with anorexia and restricted eating, I remember telling the Best Husband Ever that I couldn't be home alone during the day because I couldn't trust myself not to eat everything in sight. As a result, when I wasn't substitute teaching (which I was doing less and less anyway because I just couldn't handle being in charge of a class of rowdy students with my tank running on empty) I spent my days in coffee shops, where I inevitably shivered away over my coffee and computer because I was too thin to maintain my own body temperature.

But that's not true. My body was not made to be starved, but rather made to hold that part of me that is truly me. It is the vehicle my soul is using to jet around this life. It is a gift from God, and it tells me what it needs and when, if only I'll listen.

So I'll try. When that negative eating disorder voice starts to snark at me, I'll talk back -- literally. It is nearly impossible to separate the disordered voice from my own thoughts right now, so these past few days I've been trying out one of Roth's suggestions -- to respond with positive self-talk and rebuttals when the negative words start flowing. And, so far, it's been working. I've been able to find my way back to morning time with God, to wind my way out of the tangled maze of crazy I've gotten caught up in this summer. I'm not out yet, but I'm on my way.

All that to say -- I really, really liked Geneen Roth's Women Food and God. She's got some powerful stuff to say, and powerful experiences to share. And, as awful as being trapped in the flat, false life of disordered eating, it's good to know that we're not alone in here and that there's a way for us all to grope our way to freedom.

If you liked my post and are interested in checking this book out, I'd love it if you'd click on one of my links to the book's Amazon page. I get a [tiny] 4% commission for every sale. Also, find more mind blowing quotes from Women Food and God on my Goodreads page.

Have you read any mind blowing books about health, eating, body image, and/or freedom?


  1. Lindsay and James CoSeptember 17, 2010 at 10:37 AM

    Wow, this just re-affirms what I saw on Oprah. She was on the other day talking about her book and I was so intrigued. I'll have to read it. I've also read Eve's Revenge,Women and a Spirituality of the Body. its very good. Check it out.

  2. "Decisions are agonizing because if you, the person who makes the decision, is damaged, then how can you trust what you decide?" UGH, YES! This makes me think of the "intuitive eating" stuff I see all over the place. I get so frustrated reading peoples blogs and tips about it sometimes, like its just as simple as "xxx." It isn't just my "mind" that can't make decisions at this point, my body signals are so screwed up. I guess its just part of recovery, and acceptance of where I'm at. Anyways, thanks a ton Beth. This book is in my Amazon cart now, via your link of course. ;)

  3. sallymandy/redressclOctober 27, 2010 at 3:09 PM

    Thanks for a thoughtful and honest review of this book.


"I am glad you are here with me."
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King