Wednesday, January 6, 2016

From the December readings: Women Food and God

Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything by Geneen Roth
As I mentioned in the December reads post, I decided to give this one its own post because in addition to discussing the book, I want to address some issues - both good and bad - that I have with self-help and self-improvement books, and the promises they make.

I'm going to start by saying that when it comes it comes to the kinds of issues that self-help/improvement books address - breaking out of unhealthy and/or self-destructive behaviors, whether they involve food, abuse, drugs, alcohol, depression, grief or whatever else - I understand that there is no magic pill to cure any of these. And that includes these books.

My personal experience with these kinds of books is that they impart a lot of common sense advice, and let's face it, we all need those friendly reminders from time to time. But no amount of advice changes your reality; you have to actually make the changes you can, and live with the things you can't. If you're in an unhappy or bad situation, no daily positive thoughts or affirmations are really going to change that unless you force yourself to take action. So one of the issues I take with these kinds of books is that I feel like they need to be careful of the promises they make. If you subtitle your book An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything, in my opinion you're writing a huge check you probably can't cover.

I became interested in checking out this book after seeing a rave about it (and Roth's work in general) on Andie Mitchell's website. Roth has written a number of books on the subject and runs corresponding retreats that start in the low $2,000s. And from the sound of it, she's helped a lot of people. Which is why I had high expectations for this book.

People who read these books are looking for answers, not anecdotes. Okay, I get it that we need to love and forgive ourselves and not let past hurts cripple us in the present. I get sometimes we need to stop and live in the present and focus on what is good about my life now so that I can magically be cured of whatever it is that caused me to check this book out in the first place. But by page 70 of this 211 page book, I'd already been told that multiple times, just with different phrasing. I had become tired of waiting the answers I'd been promised by the book's concept and the raves I'd heard about it. I slogged it out to page 105 with increasing impatience before skipping to the end to find out what the big secret was.

You promised a life-changing answer. Get to it.

I think self-help/improvement books should be written like the typical true crime book, which start with a big bang, not the lead-up. The murder happens and is discovered right off the bat. Only then does the author go back to the beginning, unveiling the journeys that everyone involved went through to reach the conclusion. Self-improvement books should be like that. Give us this revelation that changed your life, then tell us how you got to that point.

This book is particularly egregious in revealing its "answers". The pages with this information are literally the last pages in the book, in an addendum after the acknowledgements. When I got to the acknowledgements page I was shocked because I thought the whole book was a ploy to get me to take one of the author's seminars if I wanted the answers. Only because, in my disbelief, I turned the last physical pages of the book did I find what I was looking for. Four pages devoted to "Beginning Inquiry" (sort of a combination self-evaluation, meditation and mindfulness) and all of one page for "The Eating Guidelines" (all seven of them, none of which are anything I haven't seen before).

While I don't question Roth's good intentions or the positive results she seems to have had with many readers and retreat clients, I don't really see how her methods or advice are any different than any you could get anywhere else, whether it be therapy, meditation or Weight Watchers.

If this book changes your life, that's great. But to me it was just a glorified pep talk.

"It doesn't matter whether we believe in one God, many gods or no god."

"When you no longer believe that eating will save your life when you feel exhausted or overwhelmed or lonely, you will stop."

"Compulsive eating is a way we distance ourselves from the way things are when they are not how we want them to be."

"Eat when you are hungry." (One of the Eating Guidelines)

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