Sunday, April 11, 2010

'Women Food And God' ...

When I was little, younger, a person who was wee, my mom would tuck me in at night and I'd ask her, "What's for brefkiss, mommy?"

I have always been very interested in food.

I grew up in a food family. My mom cooked. From a young age, she cooked. Out of necessity. And so, with that ingrained, she cooked for us. Growing up, I did not eat things that came out of boxes. Brownies were made from scratch, not a mix. Potatoes were peeled and sliced and boiled and mashed, not reconstituted from a box of glittery flakes.

We had store-bought cookies and Pop-Tarts and sugared cereals. She bought sliced bread. But we ate well, meals that mattered, not TV dinners or Swanson pot pies.

Well, no, sometimes we had Swanson pot pies, but because we wanted them, because for some reason she could not fathom, we liked the gummy crust and the gloppy gravy that burned our mouths and coated perfect cubes of questionable carrots and shrouded bits of chicken as elusive as Easter eggs.

Plenty of friends ate Kraft macaroni and cheese. Not me. That was something mom would not enable. If I wanted that crap – and let's face it, it's crap – I had to buy it myself.

I can't remember precisely when food became a problem in my life. In my memory, I was still a "normal"-sized kid in third grade but started getting chubby in grade four.

I just pulled out a series of class pictures and while I'm right to a degree, it wasn't as though I was a skinny kid and then I was a fat kid. My face was always varying degrees of full, but in fourth grade, it's a little bit fuller.

I do remember being on a diet in third grade. I hated it. No child that age wants to eat melba toast.

But my parents could see that I was starting to gain weight and they wanted to nip it in the bud. If I lost x number of pounds – I don't remember what was required – I'd get a 10-speed bike.

I didn't lose the weight. I got the bike anyway.

(I was tall for my age. A 10-speed wasn't such a crazy idea.)

I don't remember why I had started gaining weight. I don't have any recollection of a huge trauma in my life. My grandmother died when I was 8, my mom's mom, and I loved her a lot. But that wasn't a trigger, looking back.

And triggers aren't really the point, anyway. My issues with food today have been built over the last few decades, and identifying one moment from my childhood won't wipe them all away. It's not about assigning blame. I blame no one but myself. I've made the choices. I'm the reason I've been up and down my entire life.

At the moment, I'm up again. Not as up as I've ever been, but definitely heavier than I was a couple of years ago when I was working with a trainer, and definitely heavier than I was four years ago when I was dating G, which was about the same size as I was when I worked at the Tribune and then Thomson, which was also the one time in my life when I didn't recognize myself.


I've written about it before but the short version is that I had lost a lot of weight (thanks to stress, mostly) and was walking past a mirror and glanced over, the way we all do, and stopped dead in my tracks. Turned and stared. And could not comprehend that I was looking at my own body, tried to reconcile the intellectual sense that of course it was me, standing there, seeing that reflection with the disbelief that that could possibly be me.

When I gained the weight again that time, I was sure it was simply my psyche's way of forcing me to recognize myself again.

But of the other times, I've come to understand that the weight loss never lasted because it was never about the weight.

And that's why the diet industry persists.

We're all sold on the commercials, of the thin, smiling women (typically) who tell us "When I was fat, I didn't feel comfortable in my own skin," cue the B-roll of a smiling, thin woman strolling by the pool in a fuchsia bikini.

And in that moment, we believe that that's all it will take. Being thin = being happy. Period.

Never mind the reason that we're not already there.

But there's always a reason we're not already there. Or that we've been there before but aren't there now. There's a reason that we've gained the weight and lost the weight and gained the weight and lost.

We all want the magic pill, the magic powder, the hypnosis, the cure.

We want to be told it's genetic, that it's not our fault, that we should blame McDonald's and Wendy's and Oreos and cheese.

It's our super-size culture! It's our sedentary lives!

No, it's not.

And that's the point of Geneen Roth's book, Women Food and God, though you don't need to be a woman for it to apply to you.

It's about our attitudes toward food, gender aside.

But women are more prone than men to fall prey to the endless messages that to be happy, we have to be thin, and to be thin, we have to call Jenny. Or buy into any one of a million other diets.

Well, one look at Kirstie Alley tells you that Jenny doesn't work.

Kirstie ate the food. She talked with her consultant. And then she gained it all right back.

So now she's come out with her own diet plan, which you can buy, of course, and which you will need to buy from now until forever if you want to stay thin.

It never ends.

And it won't. Until Kirstie and the rest of us understand that our weight is not beholden to a powder or a pill.

Yes, some foods are better for us than others. Yes, generally speaking, there is more goodness in a salad than a 40-ounce steak, but that's not because beef is evil or because salad is salvation.

Our bodies need what our bodies need to function. But we fill them to excess.

Roth's book contains the word "God" in the title, which has already led a few of my friends to question whether they want to read it.

Let me assure you that "God" here is not Christian God or any other religious form of God. It can be, if that's how you identify, but for those who don't subscribe to a religion or for whom the notion of "God" chafes, insert "Oneness" or "Spirit" or "Universe" or "Existence" or "Whatever Lies Beyond What Is."

I won't quote from the book extensively because it is not my intent to sway anyone or pretend to know what's most important. Each reader will find what most applies to them. But I will cite this:

We want to be thin because thinness is the purported currency of happiness and peace and contentment in our time. And although the currency is a lie—the tabloids are filled with miserable skinny celebrities—most systems of weight loss fail because they don't live up to their promise: weight loss does not make people happy. Or peaceful. Or content. Being thin does not address the emptiness that has no shape or weight or name. Even a wildly successful diet is a colossal failure because inside the new body is the same sinking heart. Spiritual hunger can never be solved on a physical level.

There's an excerpt from the book here.

And Oprah will feature Geneen on a future show, May 12th is the date, I believe. At which point, it will either be much harder or much easier to find the book in your local store.

But now or then, I encourage you to read it if you've ever struggled with your weight. It is only 200 pages, a slimmer book than I expected it to be, but in some ways longer than it needs to be.

Her message is simple, really: that we need to live in the present moment, that we need to be aware of ourselves and what we need and we need to feel what we truly feel.

A bag of cookies will not eradicate pain, it will compound it. The original pain is not healed by a bag of cookies. It is burdened with layers of cookie-eating guilt and anger and shame.

Roth's is a simple solution that is not simple. To live in the moment, to shed our addiction to food, requires introspection and effort and a willingness to undo a lifetime of what has been done.

But there is no other lasting way. Diets will always fail. Food is not a demon. Food is food. How we use it determines how we feel, physically and psychically.

So when we use it in ways that make us feel ill, the food is not to blame. We need to understand why it is we chose to feel that way.

That is the key.

Once we understand what is behind the choices we make, the beliefs we have, where they come from, why we have them, then we can move beyond them, to eat when we're hungry, to stop when we're full. To choose foods that nourish us, not numb us.

That enable us to truly live.


Blogger Natalie Mikolajczak said...

Holy smokes Beth...I was on the phone with my mom, not 30 seconds ago, with her saying "being skinny isn't the end all" or something to that effect. And, I told her, being skinny certainly was the secret to happiness. ;) Oh boy. Time to read that book.

1:36 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

It's crazy, ain't it, Nat?

We're all so barraged with the message – "Be thin! Be thin! All will be well if only you're thin!" – but just changing the shape of the shell doesn't automatically reshape what's inside.

Indeed, read the book. It's already started to shape the way I think about and approach food. I'm sure it'll take plenty of time to shed all my peccadilloes, but even small changes matter.

10:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You'll probably want to delete this since it has nothing to do with your topic. But I enjoy reading your posts here and on Twitter and I have to get a word of advice to you somehow. I just want to say to you to run the other way regarding your facebook pop up friend from tonight. I believe he is the same man who did the same thing that he did to you, to someone else last year until she had reached her limit of his games. He doesn't want any one woman, he wants all women and he does that by making you feel like you're in a relationship when that's the last thing he wants. But when one woman is no longer an option, he returns to the familiar. He's done this many times. A wolf in sheep's clothing he is. You don't know me so my unsolicited advice probably carries little weight. There should be an "I dislike the way _______ treats women" on facebook. I know several women who would join.

12:21 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

Thanks for the advice, Anon. If indeed we're talking about the same person, no worries. I'm very clear on where he and I stand, and I have no desire to return to anything.

6:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please allow me to wipe my brow and say, "Whew."

9:16 PM  

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