Review of Geneen Roth’s Women, Food and God

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Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything explores how our relationship with food reveals our relationship with ourselves, life, and god (or spirituality, the universe, the tao, etc: please feel free use which ever word resonates best with you). Roth’s message is that when we “want something”, or eat when we are not hungry, or eat things that only offer temporary distraction from our ‘wanting” but leave us feeling low afterwards, we are escaping from our true self, our true nature. Whether our drug of choice is food, alcohol, or an illegal substance, many of us have a habit of self-medicating each time we feel a void of any sort. And that feeling of emptiness, of “wanting something”, is seldom true hunger.

Women, Food, and God contains valuable insights for just about anyone, but chances are you won’t make it through to the heart of the material unless you are a woman with a conflicted relationship with food. Laden with stories relating to eating disorders and body image, the book’s ideas will not be accessible to every reader. Yet the ideas themselves are powerful and compelling.

If we are using food to fill a void of a different sort, what happens if we don’t escape the next time we “want something”? What happens if we stay present and allow the feeling of emptiness to fully manifest? What happens if we stay with the feeling, fall into the void and allow ourselves to fully explore and experience it?

By allowing ourselves to face the discomfort we so often mask, we give ourselves the gift of exploring what that emptiness really is–because it is not hunger or thirst. Is it Loneliness? Fear? Where in our body do we feel it, and what does it look like? Roth emphasizes the value of such inquiry over escape. She also advocates a daily meditation practice as a means to help us distinguish our true (observer/awareness) selves from our harsher, judgmental, ego-based identity.

Overall, the underlying theme is about staying present. Present in our bodies, present with the feelings that come and go in our lives without judging them or escaping from them. Can we learn to embrace disappointment as much as joy?

Bringing the ideas back around to food, Roth offers simple guidelines for creating a new relationship with eating where the goal is actually nourishing ourselves. It may take time, practice, and the willingness to bring ourselves back to the present moment a thousand times a day, but the freedom is worth it. The ideas in her book glow with the kind of truth we can all recognize because somewhere, deep down, we know it to be true.

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