Book Review: Women Food and God

by Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD on May 12, 2010

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Today on her show Oprah will announce that she will never diet again. Many of us who embrace a non-diet approach to healthy living are doing the happy dance. We’ve seen Oprah struggle and have been waiting for the day she would learn to eat more intuitively – and use her platform to get the message out.

The person responsible for Oprah’s “aha” moment is Geneen Roth, the author of the new bestseller, Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything. Roth has gained and lost 1000 pounds in her lifetime bouncing between anorexia and obesity. When I heard of this book I rushed to the store and devoured it.

And, of course, I had to tell you all about it.

The premise
“No matter how developed you are in any other areas of your life, no matter what you say you believe, no matter how sophisticated or enlightened you think you are, how you eat says it all”

This is the crux of Roth’s message. After years of many highs and lows in both her weight and emotional state, she decided to give up the struggle with food and her body. She not only naturally fell to the right weight for her, she found her true self in the process.

Roth is not new to writing books or helping women conquer their issues with food. But for the first time the mainstream might be ready for what she has to say. Having Oprah’s endorsement is a major plus, but it helps that many women are tiring of the endless quest for the perfect weight, body and diet.

The concepts in Women Food and God, like food, take some time to digest and absorb. It’s the kind of book you want to read and then re-read. What one woman takes from it, another will completely miss. But this is what makes it such a wonderful and potentially life-changing read (and the perfect book club pick!).

The why of eating
Roth eloquently explains why there is more to overeating, weight problems and food obsessions than people think. (And if food or weight is not your issue, you can still relate what she says to almost any “obsession,” whether it be shopping, over-working, people pleasing or worrying. Men can enjoy this book too).

Obsessions about weight and food, Roth explains, take us away from our true selves:

“Compulsive eating is a way we distance ourselves from the way things are when they are not how we want them to be. I tell them that ending the obsession with food is all about the capacity to stay in the present moment. To not leave themselves.”

Of course there are differing degrees of eating for non-hunger reasons. One person may eat out of boredom or stress while another eats out of sheer dissatisfaction with life. Roth explains that when we learn to tolerate uncomfortable feelings, instead of trying to flee them, we become more in touch with our true selves. And the weight part takes care of itself:

“When you stop struggling, stop suffering, stop pushing and pulling yourself around food and your body, when you stop manipulating and controlling, when you actually relax and listen to the truth of what is there, something bigger than your fear will catch you.”

This bigger-than-your-fear is what Roth describes as God. She admits that God will mean different things to different people. Roth explains that the lessons learned from suffering, the same things we try desperately to hide from, is the gateway to love and holiness. And she believes our relationship with food can lead us there.

I often write about parents raising kids to have a healthy relationship with food by how they feed. But this book reminds me that teaching kids its okay to feel — and learn from — difficult feelings is also important.

How to eat
Towards the end of the book Roth discusses her “eating guidelines” which are not a set of strict rules but rather a very simplistic way to eat. The key is to eat with awareness and listen to your body (not your mind):

“When I first realized how simple it was to end the compulsion with food — eat what your body wants when you’re hungry, stop when you’ve had enough — I felt as if I had popped out of life as I knew it and suddenly found myself in another galaxy.”

When Roth first started eating whatever she wanted she ran to the very foods she wasn’t allowed to eat on many diets. In her sugar-induced state, she realized it wasn’t food she was looking for:

“I needed to prove to myself that what I wanted most was not forbidden, but what I didn’t understand was that I didn’t want the cookies; I wanted the way being allowed to have them made me feel: welcomed, deserving, adored.”

Roth says that when women stop listening to their minds, and start tuning into their bodies, they find it doesn’t want a bunch of cookies, cake, loaves of bread or salty foods. It wants to be nurtured with wholesome food. It wants to move. It needs sleep and self-care.

Moving away from diets and bodily perfection, ironically, make us healthier, stronger and inherently more beautiful.

I highly recommend this book to all women but realize it may not be for everyone. If you get the chance, tune into to Oprah today or record the show. Listening to Geneen Roth just might change your mind — and your life.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Lindsay Ek, RD May 12, 2010 at 7:26 am

Maryann,
I’m so glad you blogged about this! I really wanted to but things have been very busy! I’m excited to have a link to share with my twitter and facebook crowd. Thanks! Great post!

Lindsay Ek, RD

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Angela Lemond May 12, 2010 at 5:23 pm

Great article. And it sounds like a good read. Thanks for sharing!

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Cindy May 13, 2010 at 1:15 pm

Excellent review. A pleasure to read. Thank you. This is the first I’ve heard of this book. I’m going to let it sink in and see what happens. Thanks again.

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD May 13, 2010 at 8:58 pm

Thanks Cindy. If you end up reading the book let me know what you think!

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Geneen Roth May 14, 2010 at 4:31 pm

Dear Maryann,

Thank you for this wonderful review of Women Food and God. It’s through the Oprah show and excellent, thoughful blogs like yours that others will hear about this message and begin to heal. The truth is that women turn to food when they are not hungry because they are hungry for something they cannot name: a connection to what is beyond the concerns of daily life. Something deathless, something sacred. Thank you for helping to spread this important message. And remember, everything we do is to reteach ourselves our loveliness.

Warmly,
Geneen Roth

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD May 14, 2010 at 8:56 pm

Thanks so much Geneen! I’ll keep recommending your wonderful book.

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Meg Escobosa December 12, 2012 at 1:20 pm

Hi Maryann,
I just read the book and your review in preparation to talk with friends tonight who all have read the book. Our “assignment” to ourselves was to read this and reflect on our own relationships with food and key insights we took away from the book. I found the book hard to take at first, but quickly appreciated Geneeth Roth’s sense of humor and writing style. She effectively conveys what people who struggle with food do to themselves. It caused me to recognize that while I never saw myself as someone who has an unhealthy relationship with food to see that in fact, I DO use food to escape the present moment and the current frustrations I face. I am lucky that my metabolism uses up the unneeded sugars, and thus I hadn’t noticed this behavior before. What a revelation!

Your review is a well-written, insightful review and I will refer my friends to it.

Best wishes.

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Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD December 17, 2012 at 10:05 pm

Thank you Meg! It’s hard to be in this environment and not have some type of food struggle. I’m glad you were able to make some important connections!

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