Monday, March 10, 2014

Books and Culture With Laura

A Review: Women Food and God
by Laura Scanlon

I’ll start with the ending of Women Food and God, by Geneen Roth. Once a woman finds peace with food, the author proposes, a woman realizes that “God has been here. She is you.”

No . . . no. She’s not. That is to say, I’m not. Thanks all the same.

That being said: I found a lot of value in what Ms. Roth writes about women and food, even if I find the parts on God a bit lacking.

The author asks rhetorically, “What has hunger got to do with food?” For women who struggle with food obsessions (the author posits that over fifty percent of American women do), eating has everything to do with spiritual hunger but is unhealthily disconnected from physical hunger.

Ms. Roth explains that women overeat to distance themselves from their feelings and to seek happiness that eludes them elsewhere. “Women turn to food when they are not hungry because they are hungry for something they can’t name: a connection to what is beyond the concerns of daily life.” On the other extreme, some women diet compulsively seeking a sense of control and validation. “Diets are the outpicturing of your belief that you have to atone for being yourself to be worthy of existing.”

Both behavior patterns, the author explains, are forms of food obsessions and allow us to check out of life. “Obsession . . . creates a parallel world, a hologram of emotions . . . . There is madness in obsession, yes, but its value is that it drowns out the madness of life.”

Ending the obsession, according to Ms. Roth, comes through awareness: awareness of one’s feelings, of one’s true nature and, at the simplest level, one’s own body and sensations of hunger. In this regard, Women Food and God reminds me of French Women Don’t Get Fat, by Mireille Guiliano, and its motto of “pay attention.” The answer, according to Ms. Roth is to be aware and live fully the present moment you are in, no matter how mundane or unpleasant.

One of Ms. Roth’s illustrations on this point struck me: “If you focus on getting the dishes done so that your kitchen will be clean, you miss everything that happens between dirty and clean. . . . And when you miss those moments because you’d rather be doing something else, you are missing your own life.” There are plenty of kitchen- cleaning (and laundry folding and child-corralling) moments when I inhale a handful or three of M&Ms, or gobble the kids’ leftovers, even though I’m not the least bit hungry. Instead I eat to distract my senses from the drudgery, to avoid giving the task any more attention than absolutely necessary.

Moreover, the passage reminds me of a similar scene in One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp. One Thousand Gifts does not address food compulsion at all and is explicitly Christian, as opposed to the Buddhist perspective of Women Food and God. Both books, however, address the authors’ grappling with emptiness and finding fulfillment through awareness and gratitude.
I wash dishes. . . . A soap bubble bursts next to my skin. A soap bubble, skin of light and water and space suspended in sphere. Who has time for that? . . . When I fully enter time’s swift current, enter into the current moment with the weight of all my attention, I slow the torrent with the weight of me all here. . . . I only live the full life when I live fully in the moment. . . . This is where God is.
Reading Women Food and God has challenged me to be more aware of each and every moment of my day, to practice gratitute for each moment, to discern true physical hunger and not abuse food as an anesthetic. I find these challenges especially suitable now, as Lent begins. While Women Food and God is not exactly Lenten spiritual reading (please understand I’m really not reviewing it to recommend it as spiritual reading) . . . I am grateful for the challenge.

Laura is a Catholic Christian, a mother, a part-time lawyer, and a recovering overthinker. She writes monthly here at Atelier on books and culture, and blogs regularly at This Felicitous Life


  1. Thanks for this review, Laura! Now I'm really interested to read One Thousand Gifts!

    1. That one is more Lent appropriate. :-) I can't decide whether I really like it or not. Ann Voskamp's writing style is definitely unique. But it's a book that has stuck with me.

  2. This sounds like an interesting book. Being aware of what I'm putting in my mouth and why is exactly what I strive NOT to do. I'm an avoider, hence I struggle with tracking my food intake! Thanks for the great review, Laura.

    1. I hear you re: struggling to track food intake. . . . Thanks Ellen! :-)

  3. There's an entire Christian weight loss program based around this idea. It's called Weigh Down. My mom did it back in the late 90's. Some of it was tacky but the premise by and large was sensible.

    1. There's a similar sounding Catholic program called "light weigh" that's held at my parish periodically. I've been meaning to look into it.


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