Knowing that it’s about food and not about the food at the same time and doing something about that is the thought-provoking message of Geneen Roth’s latest book, Women, Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything. I found a copy prominently displayed at the front of the American Book Center in The Hague, and when I saw Anne Lamott’s quote on the cover, I thought I’d give it a read. Turns out it was a huge Oprah self-help title at the same time, which I didn’t know until I had finished reading it and went online to read more about Roth and her writing.
Roth tells us to remember two things, to eat what we want when we’re hungry and to feel what we feel without stuffing those feelings down with food (I think instead of “food” you could also substitute any other problem drug or behavior here, also works) (101). Simple, right? She reminds us that that is the way we ate naturally when we were, oh, four-years-old. Eat when hungry, push plate away (sometimes violently) when we were done. And then go do something else that made us simply glad to be alive.
To help describe the behaviors that accompany what Roth refers to as the natural way of eating, since many of us as adults have incredibly distorted notions of what hunger is and is not, Roth created 7 guidelines which seem pretty easy to understand and do until you realize you aren’t allowed to veg out with a bag of chips in front of the book/magazine/TV/movie screen anymore:
1. Eat when you are hungry.
2. Eat sitting down in a calm environment. This does not include the car.
3. Eat without distractions. Distractions include radio, television, newspapers, books, intense or anxiety-producing conversations or music.
4. Eat what your body wants.
5. Eat until you are satisfied.
6. Eat (with the intention of being) in full view of others.
7. Eat with enjoyment, gusto and pleasure (211).
To make this work day after day, Roth gently insists that we need to first understand that our “relationship with food is a direct path to coming home after a lifetime of being exiled” (26). That sense of home, of reunion with ourselves, Roth likens to finding God after losing our way. According to Roth, God is in the present moment where there is all the food, love and acceptance we need to be content. We can eat whatever we want, whenever we’re hungry, and stop joyfully when we’re satisfied. Not full, satisfied. We can lay our criticisms and doubts to rest once and for all and begin to live our lives full of joy and thanksgiving for the food and love and forgiveness we deserve. Women, Food and God isn’t about losing weight per se. It’s really about coming to terms with living in the present moment, re-learning to listen to our bodies and re-focus our minds on the here and now. All the tools you need to “stop bossing yourself around” (104) about your weight are here, as well as mindfulness techniques that women and men can use to let feeling come and go as they occur without abusing the escape-hatch of compulsive eating or other numbing behaviors:
“…what we believe about food and eating is an exquisite reflection of all our beliefs. As soon as the food comes out, the feelings come out. As soon as the feelings come out, there is an inevitable recognition of the self-inflicted violence and suffering that fuel any obsession. And on the heels of that recognition come the willingness to engage with and unwind the suffering rather than be its prisoner. The exquisite paradox of this engagement is that when the suffering if fully allowed, it dissolves. Weight loss occurs easily, naturally. And without the self-inflicted pain and the stories about what is wrong, what’s left is what was there before they began: our connection to meaning and that which we find holy” (12).
I will confess that the hardest rule for me was the “Eat without distractions.” What?! That means no eating while reading anything, preparing for anything, avoiding anything, no eating on the couch in front of the TV, no pigging out on popcorn at the movies, no eating in the car on a road trip…hmmm. Well, I did call it pigging out at one point. And you know what? These rules are working for me, keeping me centered on when I’m actually hungry and when I’m feeling…bored, nervous, tired, overwhelmed…so far, so good. I recommend this to anyone who is struggling habits they’d like to break, whether food, drink, too much TV, any escape hatch that has outlived its purpose.