Review- Women, Food and God by Geneen Roth

A lot of women don’t view food the way I do. It has often baffled me when people load several mayo-laden salads onto their plates and don’t even blink.  They buy real ice cream and ignore the fat content printed on the side.  They walk into a grocery store and believe that it’s possible to choose to eat every single item on every single shelf, except for what they don’t like.  For me, food has always fallen into two categories: enemy or treat.   I will look at the ice cream that I really want and buy the low-fat, low-taste stuff instead.  That’s how I’ve been for a long, long time.

This book was recommended to a good friend of mine by a woman we both also like and respect.  She hadn’t even read it but as an academic, she had heard the buzz.  Usually when Oprah jumps on something I hesitate a bit but O is all over Women, Food and God and if Oprah thinks someone has something good to say about food and weight, well, that’s high praise indeed.  Ms O’s weight has been up and down and all over and somehow through it all she has learned to love and accept what she looks like which is the goal for any of us.   

When I saw an endorsement on the cover that called Women, Food and God “life-changing” I thought, oh yeah, strong words!  Now having read the book I don’t think they’re strong enough! 

I’m reluctant to discuss the book’s contents in specifics only because trying to sum it up can inspire someone to say, “Of course, I knew that!”  Some people will feel the need to give well intentioned but ultimately useless advice.  ALL advice is useless unless it comes from within.   A dismissive attitude about Geneen’s simple approaches to eating overlooks the excellent writing and the way the ideas within worm into your consciousness.  This is a self-help book that reads like the memoir of a self-deprecating, funny and flawed woman who thoroughly knows her subject.  She lived it.  There’s a gentleness about her approach that permeates the hard shell of a person who is covering up their feelings with food.  Someone who hasn’t been there couldn’t begin to have created this manuscript.  She’s brilliant.

Here’s a checklist I’ve made up to tell you whether this book is for you.  If you answer yes to any of these questions, Women, Food and God is a must-read. If they seem completely foreign to you, well, good for you.

1.  Have you ever looked in the mirror and felt so disgusted with yourself that you don’t want to leave the house?
2. Have you ever thought, I really have to try harder to lose weight, and immediately gone foraging for a snack?

3.  Have you ever felt repulsed and a little self-righteous while watching a healthy weight friend put whatever she wants on her plate while you load up on raw veggies and low-fat dip, thinking you understand food and she does not?

And I have one no question:

4.  Has it ever occured to you that there are people in the world who actually eat what they WANT to eat?

In this book, the author defines God as the power that knows and accepts your real self and the circumstances of your life.  Those circumstances can range from illness to an injustice that happened to you when you were 4.  Ultimately those bad experiences don’t have to shape who you are right now and you don’t have to eat to numb the pain of them.  They are not the present – they’re the past and that’s where they belong.  As I read chapter after chapter and recognized bits of myself that I don’t particularly care for, I wondered if it would truly sink in. And then near the end it was as if a lightbulb went on over my head.  I got it.  The old diet habits and the flawed beliefs just fell away like a shattered clay pot.  Geneen doesn’t advocate eating everything in sight.  She promotes the belief this body your in is the only one you’re getting and it does amazing things so stop hating it because you will never, ever take good care of something you hate.  And taking good care also means stopping overeating.

Geneen writes about quieting what she calls “the voice” – it’s the narrator in your head that takes a negative tone; “You can’t do that”.  “You’re so stupid”.  Geneen says people confuse that voice with the self when it’s actually other peoples’ reflections of your self, maybe from one single moment, that are coming back to yell at you.  I’ve made tremendous strides in quieting that voice in recent years and if it crops up I can easily tell it to piss off and ignore it.  For anyone who can’t, she has practical ways to diminish its effect.  And looking in the mirror and deciding you’re not worthy of being seen in public?  That’s just bullshit made up by your brain, too.  It’s all just feelings.  Nothing has changed from the moment you walked from where you felt good to that reflective glass, where you didn’t.  Nothing. 

This book is brilliant beyond words.  I’m going to read it again and so far I’m following the very short, very simple eating guidelines. It takes 21 days to create a new habit.   I’ll talk to you in a couple of weeks and we’ll see how I’m doing.