Wednesday, December 28, 2011
Book Report: Women, Food & God by Geneen Roth
The beginning of a New Year feels like the perfect time to write about Women, Food and God, because our culture touts January 1st as the time to dive into yet another punishing diet, take up a grueling work out routine and finally transform yourself into A Skinny Person Who Has It All and Is Blissfully Happy.
Geneen Roth calls this Sisyphean. That rock is doomed to roll back down the hill.
I've just finished reading this book for a second time because I wanted to pass it along to a friend and fellow blogger. The first time, I read the entire thing on a plane ride in a few hours. This time, I took my time and read it slowly, a chapter every other night or so. (The difference between inhaling three pieces of sheet cake and savoring one really good piece of chocolate.)
The premise of Women, Food and God is that many of us are disconnected from our bodies, and therefore from our most direct access to our divinity. This book intends to help women come back into their bodies, respect them, listen to them and stop their incessant battle with food.
No small feat.
What I both love and hate about this approach is that it demands that you address the source of the problem. Getting To The Bottom Of It is hugely attractive in theory. Once and for all. But this isn't about getting in touch with your emotions surrounding food so you can untangle every past hurts or your parents' failings. It's about sensing those emotions so you can see that you have attached them to food, and then move beyond them.
In practice however, I find myself deeply inclined to bolt. I have many tactics for this. My personal favorite is "This doesn't really affect me. My problem with food isn't this bad. I've never eaten an entire cake. I don't have fifty pounds to loose." Comparisons keeps me from meeting my issues at the place where I am, and therefore keep me from dealing with them.
Another favorite is to notice how those issues might be showing up in the life of someone close to me. As I re-read, I noticed the notes I had made in the margin the first time around. They were rife with connections between Mrs. Roth's words and other people in my life. Eek. Another way of avoiding my issues.
Then there are the thousand ways I "bolt" in my day to day. So much of it is habitual and totally unconscious. I wake up in the morning and often one of the first things I do is get sucked down the rabbit hole of the internet. Like Alice, I float there in a nether region, totally disembodied, while hours float by. It's far more compelling for me than television. I saw an article on Arianna Huffington in Vogue the other day that said "She has recognized that the entertainment of our times is self expression." That hit home for me. What else am I spending my time on the internet doing than crafting a facsimile of who I'd like to be? It's a way of adopting an identity without really inhabiting it. But it sure looks good. You can start to understand what seduces people into spending 20 hours a day gaming on World of Warcraft. It's a life within a life- but you can turn it into anything you like effortlessly. And yet, it comes at a great cost to your actual life. The one that is sacred.
I also love to bolt by shopping. There again is an element of fantasy for me. Just yesterday I was in Target checking out the after Christmas SALE (my biggest turn on!) and found myself staring longingly at a golden galvanized bin. The sort you would put drinks in at a party. As I size it up, I imagine the party I'd have- it is suddenly filled with ice and Vueve Clicquot. All my friends are gathered around in tuxedos and sequins, popping corks merrily, glasses brimming with foam. Everyone is laughing. Everyone loves me. We are all living to the fullest. Our life is uproariously good. How much is the tub that will bring me all of this? Six dollars? Why, that's my emotional price point!
I'm perfectly willing to pay six dollars to buy a piece of that fantasy. But it disappears immediately. Instead, I come home with a big clunky galvanized tub that I have to make room for- inciting a frenzy of organizing and de-junking (probably more bolting in that compulsion. I am Virtuous and Good when I fill a bag for the thrift shop. I am Not Attached to Earthly Stuff.) There it sits gathering dust. And even if I do someday have the Champagne Party of my Dreams, it can never match up to the fantasy and afterwards I am left feeling slightly empty and deflated.
Have you noticed that I've left food bolting for last? I suppose it's the most embarrassing and perhaps the one I bring the least awareness to. I'll be cleaning up after dinner, and rather than put the last spoonful of pasta or curry into a Tupperware (or the trash) I'll put it in my mouth. Or after I finish tidying the kitchen, I feel as though I deserve a treat, and I'll pop in a chocolate. Sometimes I feel a little twinge of guilt or disgust, but mostly, I feel nothing about it. Numbness.
I am capable of genuinely savoring food, a real gift from my parents to me. But another thing I've noticed is that I will allow myself to become so ravenously hungry that I am unwilling to take the time to prepare food for myself. I often rely on Eric to cook for me. Or, I will raid the cupboards and pull out something that can be ready Right. This. Second. Chips and Salsa. A sleeve or Oreos. Crackers and Cheese. A bowl of nuts. Cereal. Can of Soup. Instant. Instant. Instant.
So my job is to bring awareness to those moments. Instead of stuffing, I am learning to pause and think. Notice my body. Notice if I am hungry or not. Notice what my body actually wants to eat, not what my mind tells me I want. It may not be easy at first, but luckily the only tool I need is this body I am learning to live in.
Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Can you offer any ideas on how to inhabit and savor this one wild and precious life?