Thursday, November 10, 2011

Book Review: Women, Food and God

I have recently been sharing with friends the concepts in a book I just finished called, "Women, Food and God" by Geneen Roth.  My mom read the book first and recommended it to me. I then saw the author on Oprah (before the show ended) and put it on my kindle reading list.  I then promptly forgot about it for a good 4 months.  Turns out, it is a great book and gave me a new perspective about compulsive eating and food addiction.

As a tall dancer, I have often been dissatisfied with my body composition.  I have never been seriously overweight, but by dancer standards I carry more general "insulation" than most in my field.   I naturally have a long, muscular build, a proportioned torso and nice legs (so I have been told).  But, my 5'11" frame always skewed my sense of size.  Being taller made me bigger in a world of smaller and thinner.

Im result, I always felt big, being placed in back and selected as the dancer to lift others and rarely the lifted one.  I always got the largest leotard and could never squeeze into the cute, vintage outfits we borrowed from the theater department.   I abandoned ballet because being partnered by a ballet boy of 5'7" was not an option.

So, needless to say, there has always been a shadow of disapproval of my body shape, a nagging feeling that I shouldn't eat that last roll, second helping or second cookie. 

Roth's book was a refreshing take about interacting with food in a way that really made sense to me.  She stresses eating what you really want, eating when you are hungry and quieting the body enough to know when you are full.

Sounds overly simple perhaps, but the magic lies in the fact that following these simple "rules", you take away food's power and the the connotations you have tied to it over the years. 

By constantly depriving yourself of the heavenly piece of chocolate cake or yummy plate of spaghetti, you have developed a system of guilt associated with food. In other words you begin to believe that eating the cake is "bad" and therefore you are "bad."  Likewise, we have learned to reward ourselves with a food "I've been so good. I can't break the rules this ONE time!"  Again, this is giving undeserved power to something that is fuel and might be tasty, but certainly doesn't revolutionize the world.  Finally, we equate eating with self sabotage or loss of control. We numb our mind and hearts by stuffing our stomachs.  But, that just leaves us in no better place.  On the other side of the bag of Kettle chips, we feel just as troubled and now additionally guilt ridden.

No food should have power beyond the enjoyment of its taste and the nutritional value it provides.  By trusting in Roth's system, you can relearn these basic facts.  You step outside of the diet game of chutes and ladders. By taking away the power of the food as a slave to soothe you or a weapon to punish you, food finally loosens its grip on you and (gasp) can even become undesirable when it is not needed. 

This was a hard thing for me to relearn.  I had become so attached to food that leaving anything on the plate seemed crazy.  How could I possibly leave something that tasted soooo good?  It turns out, that I can and should.  Not to deprive myself, but as a practice of being honest with myself. 

I realized that I have been clogging my system with excess and that is part of what has been making me feel bad periodically.  Too much food physicality makes me tired and exacerbates my depression. 

But all of this is just a precursor to the most insightful thing I learned about myself by reading the book.  Roth challenges us to identify when we are physically hungry and when we are hungry for something else (eating for any other reason).  In thinking about my own life I realized that I have been eating for two main reasons other than being hungry:

1. Fatigue
2. Fear of future fatigue

I thought eating would help me stay awake and alert, but what I really need to do is rest (or at least let go of the fear of being tired).  Strange that just the fear of being tired is enough for me to eat.  But all that excess was just dragging me down.

The best part of all of this is that I am getting over the guilt of eating.  Eating is becoming more enjoyable because it is no longer forbidden.  Now the candy bar sits on the table because I am not forbidden to eat it. It holds less sway over me and doesn't taunt me with its presence.  And, when I want to eat it I will and it is no big deal. 

It feels good to let go of all the anxiety surrounding this aspect of my life.  It frees my mind and energy up for more productive endeavors. 

A welcome change and one I thought I should share.

Have you read the book? What did you think?


  1. Beth, thank you so much for posting this. I am a former student of yours from Moorpark. Ironically I have actually been struggling with this vey issue of guilt and food, which unfortunately lead to me developing an eating disorder. I am in treatment now for the eating disorder where I am learning about intuitive eating.
    Agan thank you for posting this because it really goes hand in hand with what I am trying to fix in recovery. I'm adding this book to my wish list. =]

  2. Dear Anonymous,
    I am so pleased this post was useful to you. Sometimes, I wonder if what I write will be interesting and your feedback made my night. I will keep writing and sharing. Also, I am so proud of you for getting the help you need. If you are looking for additional ED blogs or resources check out:

    or a more informal blog:

    I know both authors and they know how to tell it straight. Two very different approaches to ED but both wonderfully insightful.