No matter how sophisticated or wealthy or broke or enlightened you are, how you eat tells all.
If you suffer about your relationship with food you eat too much or too little, think about what you will eat constantly or try not to think about it at all you can be free. Just look down at your plate. The answers are there. Don't run. Look. Because when we welcome what we most want to avoid, we contact the part of ourselves that is fresh and alive. We touch the life we truly want and evoke divinity itself.
Since adolescence, Geneen Roth has gained and lost more than a thousand pounds. She has been dangerously overweight and dangerously underweight. She has been plagued by feelings of shame and self-hatred and she has felt euphoric after losing a quick few pounds on a fad diet. Then one day, on the verge of suicide, she did something radical: She dropped the struggle, ended the war, stopped trying to fix, deprive and shame herself. She began trusting her body and questioning her beliefs.
It worked. And losing weight was only the beginning.
She wrote about her discoveries in When Food Is Love, her first New York Times bestseller. She gave huge numbers of women their first insights into compulsive eating and she changed huge numbers of lives for the better.
Now, after more than three decades of studying, teaching and writing about what drives our compul-sions with food, Geneen adds a profound new dimension to her work in Women, Food and God. She begins with her most basic concept: The way you eat is inseparable from your core beliefs about being alive. Your relationship with food is an exact mirror of your feelings aboutlove, fear, anger, meaning, transformation and, yes, even God. But it doesn't stop there. Geneen shows how going beyond both the food and feelings takes you deeper into realms of spirit and soul to the bright center of your own life.
With penetrating insight and irreverent humor, Roth traces food compulsions from subtle beginnings to unexpected ends. She teaches personal examination, showing readers how to use their relationship with food to discover the fulfillment they long for.
Your relationship with food, no matter how conflicted, is the doorway to freedom, says Roth. What you most want to get rid of is itself the doorway to what you want most: the demystification of weight loss and the luminous presence that so many of us call "God."
Packed with revelations on every page, this book is a knock-your-socks-off ride to a deeply fulfilling relationship with food, your body...and almost everything else. Women, Food and God is, quite simply, a guide for life.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Women Food and God
Eighty hungry women are sitting in a circle with bowls of cold tomato vegetable soup; they are glowering at me, furious. It is lunchtime on the third day of the retreat. During these daily eating meditations each woman approaches the buffet table, lines up to be served, takes her seat in the circle, and waits until we all sit down to eat. The process is agonizingly slow—fifteen minutes or so—especially if food is your drug of choice.
Although the retreat is going well and many people here have had life-changing insights, at this moment no one cares. They don’t care about stunning breakthroughs or having ninety pounds to lose or whether God exists. They want to be left alone with their food, period. They want me to take my fancy ideas about the link between spirituality and compulsive eating and go away. It is one thing to be conscious about food in the meditation hall, and another to be sitting in the dining room, refraining from taking even one bite until the entire group has been served. Also, I’ve asked that silence be observed, so there are no frissons of laughter or chatty how-are-yous to distract attention from hunger or lack of it, since not everyone is hungry.
The retreat is based on a philosophy I’ve developed over the past thirty years: that our relationship to food is an exact microcosm of our relationship to life itself. I believe we are walking, talking expressions of our deepest convictions; everything we believe about love, fear, transformation and God is revealed in how, when and what we eat. When we inhale Reese’s peanut butter cups when we are not hungry, we are acting out an entire world of hope or hopelessness, of faith or doubt, of love or fear. If we are interested in finding out what we actually believe—not what we think, not what we say, but what our souls are convinced is the bottom-line truth about life and afterlife—we need go no further than the food on our plates. God is not just in the details; God is also in the muffins, the fried sweet potatoes and the tomato vegetable soup. God—however we define him or her—is on our plates.
Which is why eighty women and I are sitting in a circle with cold vegetable soup. I look around the room. Photographs of flowers—intricate close-ups of a red dahlia, the golden edges of a white rose—are hung on the wall. A bouquet of peach gladiolas is splayed so extravagantly on a side table that it looks as if it is prancing at the prom in its finery. Then I begin noticing the faces of my students. Marjorie, a psychologist in her fifties, is playing with her spoon and doesn’t meet my eyes. A twenty-year-old gymnast named Patricia is wearing black tights and a lemon-colored tank top. Her tiny body sits like an origami bird on her cushion—delicate, perfectly erect. On her plate is a handful of sprouts and a fistful of salad, that’s all. I look to my right and see Anna, a surgeon from Mexico City, biting one of her lips and tapping her fork on the plate impatiently. There are three pieces of bread with thick slabs of butter on her plate, a bit of salad, no soup, no vegetables. Her food says, “Fuck you, Geneen, I don’t have to play this ridiculous game. Watch me binge the second I get the chance.” I nod at her as if to say, “Yup, I understand how hard it is to slow down.” I take a quick glance around the rest of the room, at faces, at plates. The air is thick with resistance to this eating meditation, and since I am the one who makes the rules, I am also the one at whom the fury is directed. Getting between people and their food is like standing in front of a speeding train; the act of being stopped in compulsive behavior is not exactly met with good cheer.
“Anyone want to say anything before we begin?” I ask.
“Then, blessings on our food and all that made it possible. The rain, the sun, the people who grew it, brought it here, served it here,” I say.
I can hear Amanda, who is sitting to my right, taking a deep breath at the sound of the prayer. Across the room Zoe nods her head, as if to say, “Oh, right. The earth, the sun, the rain. Glad they’re there.” But not everyone is grateful to take one more second to do anything but eat. Louisa in her bright red running suit sighs and grunts an almost indiscernible “Oh for God’s sakes. Can we puh-leese get on with this?!” She looks as if she is ready to kill me. Humanely, of course, and only with the slightest bit of suffering, but still.
“Now, take some time and notice what you put on your plate,” I say. “Notice if you were hungry when you chose the food. If you weren’t physically hungry, was there another kind of hunger present?
“And looking at your plates, decide what you want to eat first and take a few bites. Notice how the food feels in your mouth. If it tastes like you thought it would taste. If it does what you thought it would do.”
Three, four minutes pass amid the symphony of eating sounds: rustling, chewing, swallowing, clinking. I notice that Izzy, a six-foot-two willowy woman from France, is looking out the window and seems to have forgotten that we are eating. But most people are holding the plates up to their mouths so they can get the bites in faster.
Laurie, a thirty-five-year-old CEO of a Boston mortgage company, raises her hand. “I am not hungry, but I want to be. I want to eat anyway.”
“Why is that?” I ask.
“Because it looks good and it’s here, right now. It’s the best comfort in town. What’s wrong with wanting comfort from food?”
“Not a thing,” I say. “Food is good and comfort is good. Except that when you are not hungry and you want comfort, food is only a temporary palliative; why not address the discomfort directly?”
“It’s too hard to address things directly, too painful, and there isn’t any end to it. And if it’s going to be endlessly painful, then at least I have food,” she answers.
“So you figure that the best you can get out of life is cold vegetable soup?”
When she talks again, her voice is quivering. “It’s the only true comfort I have, and I am not going to deprive myself of it.” A tear jogs down her right cheek, hovers on her top lip. Heads nod in assent. A wave of murmurs passes around the circle.
Laurie says, “This thing we do here—waiting in silence until everyone gets their food—reminds me of what it was like to eat dinner in our family. My mother was drinking, my father was furious and no one was talking. It was horrible.”
“What were you feeling during those times?” I ask.
“Lonely, miserable, like I was born into the wrong family. I wanted to escape but there was no place to go; I felt trapped. And this feels the same way. Like all of you are crazy and I am trapped here, with a bunch of loonies.”
More head nods. More murmurs. A woman from Australia looks at me defiantly, her black waist-length hair brushing the edge of the soup bowl. I imagine she is thinking that Laurie is right and can she get a ride to the airport in fifteen minutes.
But right here, right now, in the center of this wound—I’ve been abandoned and betrayed by who and what really matters and what I’ve got left is food—is where the link between food and God exists. It marks the moment when we gave up on ourselves, on change, on life. It marks the place where we are afraid. It marks the feelings we won’t allow ourselves to feel, and in so doing, keeps our lives constricted and dry and stale. In that isolated place, it is a short step to the conclusion that God—where goodness and healing and love exist—abandoned us, betrayed us or is a supernatural version of our parents. Our practice at the retreats of working through this despair is not one of exerting will or conjuring up faith, but being curious, gentle and engaged with the cynicism, the hopelessness, the anger.
I ask Laurie if she can make room for the part of her that feels trapped and lonely.
She says no, she can’t. She says she just wants to eat.
I ask her if she is willing to consider the possibility that this has nothing to do with food.
She says no, she can’t. She is staring at me with a look of grim determination that says, “Keep out. Go away. Not interested.” Her eyes are narrow, her mouth is tight.
The room feels as if the air has been sucked out of it. People have stopped breathing; they are staring at me, at Laurie, waiting.
“I am wondering,” I say, “why you are so intent on keeping me out. It seems as if there is a part of you bent on isolation, maybe even destruction.”
She puts down her spoon, which she has been holding in midair, and stares at me.
“Have you given up?” I ask.
It’s a risky question because it plunges right into the despair, but I ask it, since she has been fighting with me for the past three days and I am concerned about her leaving the retreat in a state of stony withdrawal. “When did the determination not to believe in anything ever again set in?”
She inhales sharply. Sits without speaking for a few minutes.
I look around the room. Suzanne, a mother of three young children, is crying. Victoria, a psychiatrist from Michigan, is watching, waiting, absorbed in what is happening.
“I’ve wanted to die since I was about ten,” Laurie says quietly.
“Can you make room for the ten-year-old?” I ask. “The one who didn’t see any way out of the hopeless situation she found herself in? Very gently, see if you can sense the hurt itself.”
Laurie nods her head. “I think I can do that,” she says quietly.
I ask her to do this not so that she can comfort her “inner child.” I don’t believe in inner children. I do believe that there are frozen places in ourselves—undigested pockets of pain—that need to be recognized and welcomed, so that we can contact that which has never been hurt or wounded or hungry. Although the work we do at the retreat is often experienced as therapeutic, it is not therapy. Unlike therapy, it is not designed to bolster self-esteem, which was created in reaction to our past. The work at the retreat is designed to reveal that which is beyond self-esteem, unconditioned by our past. Our personality and its defenses, one of which is our emotionally charged relationship to food, are a direct link to our spirituality. They are the bread crumbs leading us home.
Laurie says, “I don’t know what just happened, but suddenly I have no desire to eat the soup.”
I say, “It seems as if there is something even better than food: touching what you considered untouchable and viscerally discovering that you are bigger than your pain.”
She nods her head and smiles for the first time in three days. “Life doesn’t seem so bad at this moment. Saying out loud how bad I thought it was when I was ten makes it seem not so bad now. I guess what happens is that I can feel the ten-year-old and how big her sadness was without totally becoming her—that’s a good thing.”
The simple fact that her pain can be touched and that it won’t destroy her means that all is not lost or hopeless or unredeemable. I nod my head and ask if she wants to keep talking to me. She says, “I think this is enough for now.”
I ask people to pick up their silverware and take a few more bites—noticing what they want to eat, how it tastes, how they feel.
A few minutes later, Nell, a student at the retreats for seven years, raises her hand. “I am not hungry anymore, but I suddenly realized that I am afraid to push the food away.”
“Why?” I ask.
“Because . . .”—and she starts to cry—“. . . because I realize I am not broken . . . and that you will be angry at me if you know.”
“Why would I be angry at you?” I ask.
“Because you’d see who I really am and you wouldn’t like it.”
“What would I see?”
“Vitality. A lot of energy. Determination. Strength.”
“Wow,” I say. “And what wouldn’t I like about that?”
“I wouldn’t need you then. And you would be threatened by that.”
“Who are you taking me to be? Anyone you know who was threatened by how gorgeous you are?”
Nell starts to laugh. “Hi, Mom,” she says.
The room erupts in a wave of laughter.
“She was so depressed,” Nell says. “And if I was just myself, that was too much for her. I needed to shut down the bigness—I needed to be as broken as she was—otherwise she’d reject me and that was unacceptable.”
“What’s happening in your body, Nell?” I ask.
“It feels like a fountain of color,” she says. “It’s as if I am streaming with vivid hues of red, green, gold, black streaking in my chest, my arms, my legs . . .”
“OK, let’s stop here for a minute. . . .”
I look around the room. Anna, who’d wanted to tell me to fuck off, is crying. Camille, who has looked bored since the retreat started, seems utterly absorbed in what is happening. The group attention is riveted by what Nell is saying about the need to be broken. They can relate to the belief that if they keep themselves wounded and damaged, they will be loved.
I look at Nell and say, “When you stop and let yourself feel what is being offered to you, it is never, ever what you thought it would be. You go from being afraid to being a fountain in three minutes. . . .”
Nell says, “It feels as if this quiet, calm space has been waiting for me to come back to it, like it’s been here all my life, like it’s more me than anything else.” And then Nell stands up and looks around the room. She pulls her chair aside and says, “Listen to this, girls! I AM NOT BROKEN!!!!”
More laughter. Then Nell continues, “This process amazes me. First I had to deal with the food thing. I really did have to stop using food to comfort myself—otherwise I felt too crazy—and there was no time for this spiritual stuff. Then, when my eating calmed down, I had to at least allow myself to feel the feelings of brokenness—that was tough. That was the part where I just had to believe what you were saying, Geneen—that my resistance to the pain was worse than the pain. But to actually feel that I am not broken—I can hardly explain what that is like. It’s like being a piece of holiness. It’s like saying that goodness is not just for everyone else, it’s also for me. It is me!”
Since it’s almost time for the next session to begin in the meditation hall, I ask people to check in with their hunger levels, to rate themselves on a scale of one to ten, with one being hungry and ten being full, and to eat accordingly. “We’ll meet down in the meditation hall in thirty minutes,” I say, standing up from my seat.
As I am about to walk out the door, a woman named Marie grabs my hand and says, “I just have to say one thing to the group. Is that OK?”
I nod my head, bracing myself for what is coming. Marie has been a skeptic since the retreat began. She has sat in the sessions glaring at me with her arms folded across her chest as if to say, “Prove it to me, honey. Prove that this food thing is anything more than just shutting my mouth.” After each talk I’ve given, she’s challenged me, confronted me; yesterday she told me she was sorry she ever came. “This is just AFGO,” she said. “And I’m tired of it. I just want to lose the damn weight and be done with it.”
“What’s AFGO?” I asked.
“Another Fucking Growth Opportunity,” Marie answered.
I laughed so hard I started snorting. “I’m sorry for laughing,” I said. “But it seems as if AFGOs have gotten a bad rap. Maybe you will find that this retreat opens you in ways you never imagined.”
“I doubt it,” she answered, and stomped away, her loose ponytail of curly red hair bobbing as her body receded in the distance.
Now, in the dining room, Marie says, “It just occurred to me that everything we believe about our lives is right here. The whole world is on these plates.”
“Amen, sister,” I say. Before stepping out the door, I bend down to Marie’s ear and quietly say, “Let’s hear it for AFGOs.”
On my way to the meditation hall, I am once again aware that the entire retreat could take place in the dining room, that 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 comes 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 is 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 to that which we find holy.
In 1978, I led my first group for compulsive eaters; at the initial meeting I was fifty pounds overweight and, due to a misunderstanding with a hairdresser friend who’d given me a permanent, was sporting a set of rollers in my hair.
Months earlier, a few hours away from killing myself after gaining eighty pounds in two months, I’d made the radical decision to stop dieting and eat what my body wanted. Since adolescence, I’d gained and lost over a thousand pounds. I’d been addicted to amphetamines for four years and to laxatives for two years. I’d thrown up, spit up, fasted and tried every diet possible, from the All-Grape-Nuts diet to the One-Hot-Fudge-Sundae-a-Day diet to Atkins, Stillman and Weight Watchers. I’d been anorexic—spending almost two years weighing eighty pounds—and I’d been quite overweight. Mostly overweight. My closet was stuffed with eight different sizes of pants, dresses and blouses. Crazed with self-loathing and shame, I vacillated between wanting to destroy myself and wanting to fix myself with the next best promise of losing thirty pounds in thirty days.
By that first dollar-a-session group, I’d been eating what my body wanted for a few months. I had lost a few pounds—a major accomplishment for someone who believed that she’d be living in diet hell until her last breath—and it was slowly dawning on me that my relationship with food had affected every other part of my life.
Those women who did not run screaming in the opposite direction when they realized that the overweight woman with rollers in her hair was—no kidding—the leader of the group met with me weekly for two years as we explored the role food was playing in our lives. Until my first book, Feeding the Hungry Heart, was published in 1982 and I began teaching all over the country—in Alaska, Minnesota, Florida, New York—I worked with hundreds more women in weekly groups. Women who swore that they’d always need to lock their food in their kitchen cabinets and hide the key were suddenly able to eat one of something—one bowl, one piece, one bite. Women who had never been able to lose weight were suddenly finding their clothes too baggy, their waistbands too loose.
Within a year after I stopped dieting, I’d reached my natural weight, where I’ve remained for three decades. But more than the new body size, it was the lightness of being that enthralled me; although I didn’t quite understand the connection between trusting myself around food and trusting less tangible hungers (for rest, contact, meaning), the relationship with food became the lens through which I began to see almost everything.
Zen master Shunryu Suzuki Roshi said that enlightenment was following one thing all the way to the end, and I soon suspected that if I tracked the impulse to eat when I wasn’t hungry to its core, I’d find every single thing I believed about loving, living, and dying right there, in that moment. Which—following the relationship with food to the end—pretty much describes how I’ve spent the last thirty-two years.
When I offered my first six-day retreat in May 1999, it was supposed to be a one-off event. I wanted to bring the twin passions of my life together: my work with eating and my years of meditation and spiritual inquiry. I’d meditated since 1974, lived in ashrams and monasteries, and was an ongoing student of the Diamond Approach, a nondenominational teaching that uses psychology as a bridge to spirituality. I still cringed when I heard the word God, and the word spiritual evoked a vision of piety and austerity that did not match—this would be an understatement—my vast collection of nubby sweaters and honey-colored boots. I still had about a dozen moments of neurosis per day, but I also had more moments of contentment and freedom than I ever imagined possible for a formerly fat girl from Queens. I wanted everyone to know what I knew, have what I had.
Still. I was stunned at what happened.
It wasn’t the stories about bingeing or dieting or fasting I’d heard; it wasn’t the tales of abuse or trauma. I’d heard most of them before. No, what shocked me was that after years of working with compulsive eating, I’d been treating it as a psychological and physical problem, and although it was both of those, I suddenly saw that it was also a doorway into a blazing inner universe.
After the first retreat, the students wanted to come back; they wanted to do it again. They reminded me of the afternoon I saw a full eclipse of the sun in Antigua. My husband and I were standing in the ocean with dozens of other people, wearing dark plastic glasses so that our eyes wouldn’t get burned by the sun. We watched as the moon completely covered the sun. And we stood speechless in enchanted darkness. As the light slowly returned, someone yelled to the moon, “Again. Do it again.”
Since we had an advantage over the moon—we could do it again—we did. And we still are.
As I’ve taught the retreats, I’ve learned that each of us has a basic view of reality and God that we act out every day in our relationship with our families, our friends, our food. It doesn’t matter whether we believe in one God, many gods or no god. Anyone who breathes and thinks and experiences has beliefs about God. And since mothering is our first preverbal template for an existence in which we feel welcomed or rejected, loved or abandoned, many of us have fused our relationship with our mothers with our concepts of God.
Whether we are aware of those early experiences or believe in preverbal templates does not alter the truth: our daily lives, from the mundane to the sublime, from our reactions to sitting in traffic to our responses to the death of someone we love, are expressions—outpicturings—of our deepest beliefs.
To discover what you really believe, pay attention to the way you act—and to what you do when things don’t go the way you think they should. Pay attention to what you value. Pay attention to how and on what you spend your time. Your money. And pay attention to the way you eat.
You will quickly discover if you believe the world is a hostile place and that you need to be in control of the immediate universe for things to go smoothly. You will discover if you believe there is not enough to go around and that taking more than you need is necessary for survival. You will find out if you believe that being quiet is unbearable, and that being alone means being lonely. If feeling your feelings means being destroyed. If being vulnerable is for sissies or if opening to love is a big mistake. And you will discover how you use food to express each one of these core beliefs.
The retreats now take place twice a year, and many of those first students, having worked through their painful eating and lost weight, are still coming as a way—as they call it—to come home to themselves.
Introductions (or, in this case, prologues) are supposed to tell you who the book is written for and why you should read it. I’m probably not the best person to address these questions because it seems to me that every single person has a shtick with food and therefore everyone should read this book. Everyone who eats, everyone who wants to know why they can’t stop eating, everyone who wants to use what they most want to get rid of (their addictions, their uncomfortable feelings, their unquestioned beliefs about their own limitations) as a path to what they most want more of (unruffled peace, everyday holiness and ease of being in body, mind and heart) should read this book. Also, anyone who has ever wondered about the meaning of life and/or questioned or felt abandoned by God.
Did I just include all living beings?
Probably, but as I said, I’m not objective in these matters, having spent two-thirds of my life astonished at the power and implications of the relationship with food.
Here, now, is almost every single thing I know about using eating as a doorway to freedom from suffering, the demystification of weight loss, and the luminous presence that so many call God.
Table of Contents
Prologue: The World on Our Plates 9
Part 1 Principles
Chapter 1 About God 33
Chapter 2 Ending the War 40
Chapter 3 Never Underestimate the Inclination to Bolt 50
Chapter 4 It's Not About the Weight but It's Not Not About the Weight 67
Chapter 5 Beyond What's Broken 85
Chapter 6 Reteaching Loveliness 100
Part 2 Practices
Chapter 7 Tigers in the Mind 113
Chapter 8 Married to Amazement 135
Chapter 9 Breath by Breath 149
Chapter 10 The GPS from the Twilight Zone 157
Part 3 Eating
Chapter 11 Those Who Have Fun and Those Who Don't 177
Chapter 12 If Love Could Speak 195
Chapter 13 Being Hot Fudge Sundaes 207
Chapter 14 The "Oh Shit" Mantra 220
Epilogue Last Words 234
Beginning Inquiry 249
The Eating Guidelines 255
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for Women Food and God includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
How you eat tells it all. Your relationship with food is an exact mirror of your feelings about love, fear, anger, meaning, transformation, and spirituality. In Women Food and God, Geneen Roth explains why it’s necessary to understand the underlying reasons behind a food compulsion—whether it’s eating too much or too little, constantly thinking about what you will eat or trying not to think about it at all—in order to overcome it. In this insightful book, she not only demystifies weight loss but offers a roadmap for letting go of negative emotions and living a more fulfilling life.
These questions are intended to be a guide for book clubs reading Women Food and God. They are meant to stimulate group discussion about the book. For a detailed, chapter-by-chapter Companion Guide to Women Food and God, please visit: http://www.oprah.com/spirit/The-Companion-Guide-to-Women-Food-and-God.
QUESTIONS AND TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
- Women Food and God opens with “eighty hungry women” eating lunch together. Although the book is about our personal relationships to food, author Geneen Roth believes the book can be even more powerful when it is read and discussed with others. Why did you choose this book for your group’s discussion? Make sure to discuss any questions or points in the book that you may have found confusing with your group.
- Factors that contribute to compulsive eating include stress, loneliness, heartbreak, and unresolved issues from the past. Do any of these apply to you? Geneen Roth believes that “the relationship with food is only a microcosm for your relationship to the rest of your life” (page 199). Has reading Women Food and God opened up any doors to your own emotional state? Did reading the book make you more aware of events in your past that may be affecting the way you relate to food today? How?
- According to researchers, 45% of American women are on a diet at any given time. How many diets have you tried? What does it mean to you when Roth writes, “Diets are the outpicturing of your belief that you have to atone for being yourself to be worthy of existing. They are not the source of this belief, they are only the expression of it.” (page 83)? Discuss with your group how you have tried dieting to “atone for being yourself.” What parts of yourself have you tried to deny or control by dieting? How has reading Women Food and God made you more aware of this behavior?
- “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” (page 161), says Roth. Why was this realization so life-altering for her? Have you put this idea into practice? If so, what has listening to your body revealed to you?
- Roth writes that “freedom from obsession is not about something you do; it’s about knowing who you are” (page 163). Discuss this definition of freedom with your group. Have you found it difficult to recognize who you are? Why?
- What is Roth’s definition of God, and how does it compare with your own? She writes that food and God “seem as unrelated as titanium computers and scarlet peonies” (pages 25-26). What is the link between the two? In what ways has Women Food and God given you insight into your spirituality?
- Why do so many people believe that weight loss and appearance is the key to a happy life? How does our society, including the media and the multi-billion dollar diet industry, perpetuate this idea?
- According to Roth, “The most difficult part of teaching people to respect and listen to their bodies is overcoming their conviction that there is nothing to respect” (page 64). Discuss this with your group—how and why do you think women criticize each other and themselves? How does this contribute to a conflicted relationship with food?
- What is the practice of inquiry? Why is it an essential part of overcoming food compulsions? Use this opportunity to practice inquiry with your group (see pages 207-210). What has the experience made you realize about yourself? What did you find challenging? Rewarding?
- “The biggest obstacle to any kind of transformation is the voice that tells you it’s impossible” (page 127), says Roth. How are we controlled by The Voice and, in turn, what can de done to silence it? For Roth, The Voice sounds like her mother. What guise does your own Voice take?
- Read over the Eating Guidelines on page 211. Why does Roth see them as a spiritual practice? Discuss the Guidelines with your group. Do you find them difficult to put into practice? Why? Have they been helpful to you? How?
- “People often tell me that my approach is too hard” (page 185), says Roth. It’s hard to be aware and feel feelings. What has practicing awareness made you feel? In what ways has this been difficult and rewarding for you?
- Roth introduces readers to women who have participated in her retreats, sharing some of the breakthrough moments they experienced. Discuss your own breakthrough moments with your group. How do these stories and scenarios help illustrate what Roth is conveying about food obsessions?
- “Rest assured that like the butterfly that flutters its wings in one part of the world and causes a hurricane in another, every time a woman aligns her eating with relaxation, every time she takes off her damn boots, the laces fly open for the rest of us” (page 170). Everyone has individual experiences and challenges, but how are women linked in the quest to overcome food obsessions and live fulfilling lives?
- Think about the practices Geneen Roth writes about in Women Food and God. How have you been incorporating them in your own life? What sort of internal shifts have you been experiencing? Discuss a plan for the future with your group—would you like to check in with one another on a regular basis to discuss how these practices are making you feel?
ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
- Visit www.GeneenRoth.com to find out more about the author and her work, read her blog, and see a clip of her on The Oprah Winfrey Show.
- Pair your reading of Women Food and God with one of Roth’s previous books such as Feeding the Hungry Heart or Breaking Free from Emotional Eating.
- Watch a video of Geneen Roth in conversation with the writer Anne Lamott, who is mentioned in Women Food and God, at www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HUl5eyljR0.
- Take the quiz “Are You a Restrictor or a Permitter?” at www.oprah.com/spirit/Are-You-a-Restrictor-or-a-Permitter_1.
- For the next month, keep a record of the practices you implement from Women Food and God and share the results with the group at your next gathering.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I really wanted to like and get what she was saying, but it never quite made sense. It seemed like she might have been trying to get across the same message as Byron Katie in Loving What is, but if so, she didn't succeed. She kept giving examples of breakthroughs people had at her seminar/workshop thing, but what led up to the breakthrough was never made clear. This was one of those books, that I kept reading because I hoped it would live up to its potential, but it was ultimately disappointing. I couldn't recommend it.
As a personal fitness trainer, I try to read as many books on the topic of diet, exercise, body-changing, and the like. This is such a good, easy read. The way it is written made me want to keep reading, and the messages are so applicable to so many people who seem to ride the dieting yo-yo. I will recommend this to my clients, friends, and family. I also recommend: "Build Your Mind, Your Body Will Follow" as THE MOST impactful book I have read on personal fitness/motivation/mindset. Check it out!!
Readers will flock to this book, because of its catchy title and the desire for a magic answer to the difficult problem of weight loss. But there are no new answers here. The author deals with the issues of emotional eating and self-esteem, and how they affect our weight loss efforts. That is interesting reading. But, it's not anything new. In fact, this author has covered the topic well in previous books. Eat mindfully, eat only when hungry, stop eating when you're full, don't eat to solve other problems. If you need reminding, you may enjoy this book. Don't expect any revelations about weight loss or healthy eating. It's all been said before.
Although I have read all of Geneen Roth's books, this book spoke directly to me. In her funny, thoughtful, and completely honest way, Geneen challenges everyone who has gained and lost the same 10 pounds for years to look into yourself and find out the real reason for it. By creating the facade of a "diet" we escape from our true feelings and spend our time, effort, money, etc. on food and/or diets. Geneen is an exceptional writer, and this book has motivated me to be present and alive and feel the feelings I otherwise would hide or avoid through food.
After having been of fan of Geneen's for decades, I think this book is a welcome addition. It is unfortunate that her title uses the word God -- it is so highly charged and means so many things to many people. For me the challenge is and has always been, how can I bring my understanding of spirit/God into my life in an immediate way to help me heal this food issue. Geneen's latest work bridges the gap between my sense of spirituality and the skin on my overweight body. Please don't jump to conclusions about this book. Sit with it. Work with it. It's like she says (paraphrased) "Either you want to wake up or you want to sleep. " There really is no middle ground. And the way to do that - - for me -- is to integrate my sense of spirit/god/God into my work.
I started reading 'Women Food and God' a few weeks ago because I was drawn by 'God' in the title. Several years ago, I battled binge eating and my weight increased up to 240 pounds. But I was healed of that issue and lost 85 pounds. I have kept it off for many years now. I give credit for my victory to my personal relationship with God. I learned that God is about restoration, not condemnation. He wanted to teach me and lead me in the way I should go every day. I came to know God as my Healer, Strength, Wisdom, and Truth. Once I learned about his character and knew I could trust him, then He became my source of comfort and I turned to him when I was emotionally upset rather than food. I was hoping to see the God who healed me in the book. Sadly, I did not. Early in the book, Ms. Roth says that it doesn't matter if you believe in one God, many gods, or no god. To me, that says a lot about how important she views God if she says it doesn't matter if you believe he exists. Then where is God is the process? Having God in the title is misleading if she views him as irrelevant. In my own recovery, it was critical for me to have a stable view of God - and trust in his strength, power, and ability to change my life. Not God as I chose to define him but as he defines himself in his word, the bible. So anyone looking for a Godly solution to healing binge eating will not find it in this book. If you want to read my weight loss success story and how I overcame binge eating, then please visit my Take Back Your Temple dot com website.
I was skeptical when one of my sisters told me to get this book. She mentioned that she had seen the author on Oprah and bought the book. I saw it at Costco, so I decided to give it a shot. The author proclaims to not believe in God, but this book has a lot of spiritual anecdotes and "instruction" in it. While I'm not opposed to doing yoga or meditating - and whether I believe in God or not is not a factor - I find the author's proclamation that what you have on your plate reveals all about you to be a little silly. There is some very sound advice in this book. A lot of it is common sense - eat when you're hungry, don't eat when you're not hungry. But the real gem in this book is how the author gets you to think. In a very simplified statement, her advice is to think before you eat. If you've had problems with emotional eating, boredome eating, or any other sort of eating disorder, if you stop to think before you eat and think while you're eating, you can solve your weight problem. Hence her claim that you can eat what you want and still lose weight. Geneen Roth's advice is good and I believe this book will help many people.
This is the first book I've read by Geneen Roth and it happened quite by accident (if you believe in 'accidents') and it feels like the only book I'll ever have to read again . . . about anything. Her principles and inspirations - with the steps included to that freedom we all ache for - are not just for those frustrated by weight obsession of any kind, but just simply daily life obstacles. Buy a bigger purse, so you can carry this with you wherever you go. Thanks for this 'delicious' contribution to humanity, Geneen!
I'm not generally into self-help books but I read this one because of my book club. I'm one of those people who watch Oprah (and others) when she insists that overweight people always have past issues that remain ignored and that is what causes the extra weight they carry, and I think, "well you might Oprah, but I just like the taste of food and personally I would rather eat milk chocolate than an apple. I know why I weigh 20 pounds more than I should!" ....I haven't read any other of Geneen Roth's books but this book made me realize and I hate to use the term but it really was an "aha" moment, and that maybe I DO have some unresolved issues that I have been brushing aside. I found the first chapter a little ho-hum and there was another chapter later on in the book that I really could have done without, but for the most part, I found this book extremely helpful to read. Geneen Roth educates the reader about how important it is to let our emotions spread through our bodies and that it's okay to feel stress, boredom, loneliness, etc. She stresses the importance of respecting ourselves BEFORE we lose the weight and not to think that all our problems will be over when we achieve that magic goal weight. If we don't love ourselves before we lose it....we won't love ourselves after we lose it. I'm sure it's all been said before, but it struck a chord with me.
When I saw a new book by Geneen Roth and read some of the review I knew I had to read the book Women, Food and God. How inspiring! I wanted to know everything that Geneen taught in her workshops and retreats. I've been looking for something or someone to help me with my constant struggle with my weight and why I eat, when I eat and what I eat. It took me 2 days to read Women, Food and God. I am now rereading the book to review what she had said. I am so grateful to have found this book. My goal is to see Geneen in person and hear her speak. Learning Geneen's techniques and listening to my own body, will help me in my lifelong struggle of believing I have a right to be here no matter who I am or what I look like or what I weigh. Many tears were shed while reading her book, as I was able to relate to the feelings she was talking about and how my feelings were pushed so deep inside of me. Iwant to pull those feelings up and get them out and Geneen is helping me do this. Thank you Geneen! You and your book have been a wonderful inspiration!
When I dispair of another new edition from W.W. in January, Ms. Roth whispers in my mind,"do not buy into anything that does not honour you".This is another essential Guide to Balance. What we know and what others say ruefully,"if I can do it,so can you".That new adage should never cross anyone's lips.Ms. Roth captivates with real Passion with out screaming at anyone. There is a very real tug of war with food and emotions.Here is my experience:if I eat sweets I will be a nicer person. Sounds silly, yet it answers questions that many relate and Ms. Roth would definitely understand.She once offered a gentleman at a Business meeting dinner a piece of dark chocolate. (She had been keeping them in her purse for that "one perfect bite").That sealed the Deal. He found it charming,unusual and unpredictable from someone who writes about Foods and their Impact.This is the anti-diet book. A relationship with one's self and discoveries that unleashes the true ties that bind our mind in torture over a Need for sustainable Life and a Want.
I love this book as it addresses the relationship we have with food and the psycholgical aspects of eating, but I found it falling short of talking about what to eat. Certain types of food also create craving by messing hormones and that we can't control. I have lost 20 pounds on this book together with a diet that gave me guidance and shut down my hunger hormones the Perfect 10 diet. I am now on track to value myself.
I have read all of her books through the last 10 years. I found this book to be even more insightful and informative. There is an attempt by the author to stoke the fires in seeking answers for oneself, not just to hope that she will tell you the proper answer for you. Her approach to God is far more encompassing of the material than I expected. I am far past wanting the same old "Christian" stories and am seeking a broader understanding. She gives the reader a full range of ideas to open them to be as broad in their search for the answers as God would be in giving them. I found it to be inspiring and at times, heart-stopping, where a passage spoke so plainly the truth that I had to put the book down and digest the passage. It really is not designed to be read cover-to-cover, there is so much of importance it takes time to comprehend the facets. Her writing is real, if a bit broken in it's use of the English language, but it does come off as though she is speaking to the reader directly, which once I got used to it, was fine. I find her energy and strength amazing and great wisdom in her words. Just the concept of "I am not Broken" was worth the whole read, though there are so many other treasures to be discovered.
I was so excited to read this book. When I started I did not want to put it down but did not read it all at once. I wanted to take it all in and give myself time to soak it in. I loved it. It make me realize that there really is a relationship with food and we need to truly understand this relationship. Food is for nourisment, not for selfishness to make us feel better because of our inadequcies. I will keep this book and keep refering back to it for motovation and to further help myself.
This book has some amazing advice and insights hidden amongst a lot of average writing. I did not like the author's writing style, I found myself having to read some rambling sentences over and over again to make sense of them. I also agree with many reviewers that the title is misleading and the suthor does not view God as many women who pick up this book might, but the main message of the book made up for it. Geneen Roth makes a lot of sense with what she says, especially if you are an emotional, compulsive eater. Every few pages I found one or two sentences that completely enlightened me and really made sense. I have read other books on similar theories of this way of eating and I liked this one for the fact that it had some really touching parts that will hit close to your heart. I would suggest reading other books on this topic along with this one...The Solution by Laurel Mellin is great and more straightforward. Overall, I was glad I read Roth's book and I know I will refer to the handful of inspriring points that made sense to me as I continue my weight loss journey.
I struggled with weight issues for 15 years. My friend gave me the book yesterday and I finished it by the end of the afternoon. Geneen Roth really understands the real source of these weight problems - poor self esteem and inability to deal with emotions in a constructive way. This book really drives home the issue of emotional eating and provides some nice useful strategies. I have to mention that the Optimal Thinking book and the Optimal Thinking Emotional Mastery Wallet Cards are what helped me the most. I would use all three for a fail-safe permanent solution.
Don't be misled by the title. Geneen Roth states several times early on that she does not believe in God, so if you are looking for a religion-based book, this is not for you. She leans more toward Buddhism. There are, however, some good aspects to this book and makes you think. I think the subject could have been covered in half the pages. The last two pages of the book were the most important.
I never made the connections to food and my life. This book is more than an eye opener, it is quite a surprise. I am glad somebody shed light on such a powerful topic. I also recommend "When God Stopped Keeping Score" that takes a revealing look at the power of forgiveness. If you have ever been bound by anger, guilt, hurt or pain, this book is for you.
I purchased this book because it had been recommended by a client. I have to say that it has FOREVER changed the way I eat, the way I now see food, and the choices I am now mindful of. This book is not for those who are not ready to change their perspective. I came from a history of comforting myself with food, food used as a weapon, and the clean plate society. Needless to say, my perspective needed to be readjusted. This book helps you find your own lens on your personal struggle with food. And, if you actually apply her methods, you might find that what you were hoping to fill up with food, has been there the whole time...
"To say that Geneen Roth explores the complex relationship that women have with food, themselves and their spirituality is accurate, but "Women Food And God" is so much more. Although there does not seem to be any revolutionary information presented here, Ms. Roth's compelling writing and insight will have the reader underlining phrases and turning down pages to remember and wondering why such basic and logical ideas have taken so long to be understood. The author shares her own struggle with weight loss and her ability to once and for all step off the diet merry-go-round. Her personal journey and the guidelines that she teaches in her seminars unfold chapter by chapter, giving the reader time to reflect. This book is thought-provoking and empowering, and is about much more than our relationship with food. I did feel that the spirituality/God connection received too little attention, but perhaps that's a subject for another book."
I have read numerous books dealing with overeating; and this is the first one that struck home with me. Roth captures the essence of many of my problems. While I don't agree with all she says, I am always amazed how she puts into words what affects me the most. Definitely read it! My therapist agrees that it is a wonderful book.
Very strange and totally not what I hoped this book would be. Nothing inspiring and almost an insult to the christian woman. Too bad, the title really reels you in. Don't waste your time and money on this one.
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I bought this book not expecting any miracles, as some were saying it was. Many times while reading, I came to many realizations of myself and my "relationship" with food. I think Geneen has great points and solid advice, however I'm not sure how I'll be able to put the advice into action for myself personally. The book is based on her retreats and how she teaches at them, along with many stories from her students. While I found the book very helpful, I do not agree with calling it a miracle. Perhaps time will tell and maybe I'll figure out why and how it is that I don't really like licorice, that it has something to do with something missing in my life... Hopefully
I have read the author's other books and I find much new information here. The book discusses the importance of mindfulness, presence, and feeling my feelings. Experiencing my life in ways that allow for presence and awareness I am able to listen to my body and choose nourishing food based on self-care. I enjoyed the spiritual references. Intuitive eating (listening to my body) is a new concept. I found it motivational, and worthwhile. Descriptions of practices that can be used such as meditation, inquiry, and eating guidelines are described in detail. Another book I highly recommend, in the same category is, "Little Gifts of Sustainable Contentment." by C.J. Good. 365 daily affirmations about contentment. There are references to eating disorders and compulsive overeating that helped me enormously. In this book, a specific message emerges, and the book becomes very moving in unexpected ways. There is a lot of pertinent spirituality which should not put off those who have no interest in spiritual concepts. The open-mindedness of the author gives a richness and depth to ideas about beliefs and practical issues of being human. I found it a very subtle book, and one that slowly enthralled me. It never becomes monotonous. It is like a meditation on the nature of life and relationships. I found it quite extraordinary, and definitely to be recommended to anyone looking for a more thoughtful read. If you haven't read it yet you are in for an absolute treat! If you have, you don't need me to tell you how glorious it is. Leslie Robin (New York) Life Coach, Motivational Speaker, Writer