Today, I’m thrilled to share with you a guest post by Kate Thieda that explores Geneen Roth’s book, Women, Food and God. You might remember Kate shared her story about recovering from an eating disorder (part 1 and part 2), and wrote a guest post about seeking treatment at 28 years old. She’s also written about her experiences as a student therapist for our World of Psychology blog (you can see all the posts here). I’m incredibly grateful for the below beautifully written post. I seriously got teary-eyed toward the end. I hope you enjoy! Have a wonderful weekend!
Geneen Roth’s latest book, Women, Food and God, was on the bestseller list the day it hit the shelves, and for good reason. It’s a rare woman in this country who doesn’t struggle with issues around food and eating, and her book connects those struggles to our beliefs about ourselves, the world around us, and aspects of existence that are bigger than us, namely our spirits and beliefs about God, whatever those may be.
I’ve read the book twice now, and Post-It noted passages throughout that resonated with me, not only as a person who has recovered from anorexia, but as a student therapist and as a woman. Although Roth’s writing in this book is directed at people who are compulsive eaters, the message is just as salient for those who binge on occasion or who restrict. Her message is relevant to anyone who uses food in some way to mask intolerable feelings, whether we realize that’s what we’re doing or not.
One of the ideas that really caught my attention was the reality that women often use food to deny themselves of pleasure, telling themselves (and others) that they can’t have that piece of birthday cake at the family party or the ice cream on a 100+ degree-day because they’ve “been bad this week” (or month or year or lifetime). Roth rejects that kind of thinking and asks that when healing from misuse of food, we look for those parts of ourselves that are complete, whole and beautiful, just as they are. This may involve reaching back into the past.
In Roth’s words:
The most difficult part of teaching people to respect and listen to their bodies is overcoming their conviction that there is nothing to respect. They can’t find any place in them that is whole or intact. And so when they hear me say, “Relax,” when they hear me say, “Trust yourself,” they feel as if I am asking them to throw themselves to the wolves. Banishing them to wild and ferocious brokenness. The possibility that there is a place in them, in everyone, that is unbroken, that has never gained a pound, never been hungry, never been wounded, seems like a myth as far-fetched as the Sumerian goddess Inanna ascending to earth after hanging on a meat hook in hell. But then I ask them about babies. I ask them to remember their own children and how they came into the world already gorgeous and utterly deserving of love. They nod their heads. They realize that brokenness is learned, not innate, and that their work is to find their way back to what is already whole. (from Women, Food and God, p. 64-65)
During my struggles with anorexia, I had both voices in my head and actual voices from people in my life that told me I wasn’t good enough, was doing things wrong, didn’t measure up, and should deny all that I was in order to fit the mold of someone else’s expectations. By starving myself, I could shut off those voices in my head, and redirect the external voices from speaking words that were putting me down into voices that showed concern for my well being. It wasn’t until I ended the most destructive relationship in my life at the time and began to rediscover aspects of myself that I had forgotten about, or needed to reclaim, that recovery became possible.
I had reached the point where I would not listen to one more put-down. I refused to believe I was a broken person. This was a message given to me, but not one I had to listen to any longer. I knew at my core that I was still the good person I had always been and deserved better.
If you are someone who needs to reconnect with the absolute truth that you are “already gorgeous and utterly deserving of love,” a suggestion I came across early in my recovery was to find a favorite picture of yourself as a baby or young child, and to keep it somewhere where you would see it on a regular basis. When you are tempted to engage in ED behaviors or abuse food, look at that picture and ask yourself, does that little child deserve to be treated that way? If we wouldn’t do it to a young child, why treat ourselves poorly as adults? What on earth could we possibly have done so wrong that we don’t deserve the same care and love that we deserved back then?
The little child in the picture is still you.
We may be adults now, with adult responsibilities and worries and stresses, but we are also still worthy of all the good things we give to kids, whether we are parents ourselves now or not.
Reclaim your childlike goodness.
Here’s one way to do it (quote from a woman at one of Roth’s retreats):
Until now, I had only been able to access a certain kind of love by thinking about my children. My four-year-old daughter says: “I love you six hundred cats, to the moon and back, and ten pancake breakfasts.” And what I am saying is that I am learning to love myself five billion universes, nine hundred and ten strawberries, and three million elephant kisses. It’s a completely different life when I direct that kindness toward myself. (from Women, Food and God, p. 198)
I love myself 932 million sunrises and sunsets, 256 mangoes, 1,493 tropical islands, 3 million downward-facing dogs, a billion library books and 350 colors of the rainbow.
How about you?