Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Book Review: Women Food and God

A Fair Trade Book

Title: Women Food and God

Spin-off coloring book!

Author: Geneen Roth

Author’s web page:

Date: 2010

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publisher’s web page for books:

Publisher’s web page for author appearances:

ISBN: 978-1-4165-4307-7

Length: 201 pages of text plus 10-page appendix

Quote: “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?”

In this book Geneen Roth offers readers a glimpse of the experience of going on a spiritual retreat specifically  to explore the emotional and spiritual dimensions of eating disorders.

If you don’t have an eating disorder, this may strike you as a roundabout way some People Different From Us need to travel to reach the same point where People Like Us already are, but my interest in this book was (and remains) different from that. I read with a lot of questions about how people with food intolerances relate to Roth’s insights; the questions aren’t answered.

Why don’t Roth’s students voice my concerns about food allergy/addiction syndromes, or the food cravings associated with malnutrition in celiac disease, or the emotions that are directly caused by sugar sensitivity, alcohol intolerance, depression, learning disabilities, insulin resistance, hypoglycemia, obesity, diabetes, and stroke syndrome? Probably because, by 2010, most of the people who had primarily medical rather than emotional issues about food had achieved normal weight, health, and happiness. (Celiacs may be finding our hereditary problems harder to solve these days, though, due to glyphosate contamination and glyphosate-resistant GMO food flooding the markets.) By now even the lactose-intolerant minority of Caucasians are likely to get a valid diagnosis within a year or two of recognizing that they’re ill. Most of the people who still go to Roth’s retreats are probably people who can be helped by a spiritual/emotional approach.

The funny thing is that, although I’ve not consciously lost and regained as much as fifty pounds in my lifetime, the approach to food that’s worked for me over the past fifteen years has much in common with Roth’s approach: So don’t count calories, weigh portions, obsess about food. Say no to what actually makes you ill. Say yes to what gives you pleasure, but in a mindful, epicurean sort of way, observing that there’s more pleasure in eating one cookie than there is in eating two dozen cookies. Be aware of what else you’re feeling, thinking, possibly blocking out of conscious awareness.

When people who’ve explored a topic along completely different paths reach the same conclusion, there is probably much to be said for that conclusion. I think Women Food and God has the potential to help many people who suffer from obesity or other eating disorders. And it’s a good piece of literary craft—Roth cites both Anne Lamott and Jack Kornfeld as teachers, and Natalie Goldberg as a literary influence, so her book ought to be fun to read, and it is.

Such faults as this book has are probably explained by the observation that people who go to retreats are likely to be different from people who stay home and read books. Retreatants (a) have more spending money, and also (b) are, even if predominantly introverted by temperament, more comfortable spending time around recent acquaintances, than many book readers.

I’d consider even modifying the guidelines that serve Roth’s retreatants well, for book readers. Roth encourages people to minimize distractions while they eat, avoid reading or driving while they eat, but then encourages them to eat with other people. For retreatants, making small talk with acquaintances may be less distracting than reading a newspaper or writing a practice piece. For me, the reverse is true, and I suspect that some people who’ve known food bullies may feel more intensely about this than I do. If you live with a major food intolerance you know that visiting each other's relatives in the hospital is likely to be less of a Relationship Torture Test than eating dinner in a posh restaurant together...

Otherwise, who should read this book? Any woman who’s ever gone on a reducing diet. Any woman who’s concerned about her daughter’s, student’s, or patient’s weight and figure. Any man who lives or works with a woman who goes on reducing diets, or who is interested in helping his wife preserve a youthful healthy look as she matures. Anyone who enjoys personal, conversational, yet lucid and succinct writing as a pleasure in et per se. I’m not sure that that necessarily adds up to “Every person who can read English,” but neither am I sure which people who can read English should not read Women Food and God. So it's not hard to figure out why this book became a bestseller...which means the problem for booksellers, now, is identifying the customers who've not already read it.

If you buy it here, you get a used copy of the original book, which is widely available secondhand, as a Fair Trade Book: $5 per copy, $5 per package (at least four copies of this book would fit into one package), $1 per online payment. (If you send a real-world money order to our real-world P.O. Box, the post office will collect its own surcharge, so we don't have to add one.) From this we send $1 to Roth or a charity of her choice. The coloring book is new, and will be available only as a new book (whoever heard of buying used coloring books?!), but we can tuck it into the package if you pay for it.