Why can’t I just stop eating and lose weight? That’s a question millions of women ask themselves every day, and yet, it’s an ongoing struggle that causes 98% of dieters to fail. According to Geneen Roth, bestselling author of Women, Food and God and Lost and Found, compulsive eating and perpetual dieting goes far beyond food, weight and body image. She believes that we eat the way we live, and that our relationship to food is a reflection of our deepest held beliefs about ourselves. To find out more about how women can finally make peace with food–and ditch those extra pounds–we sat down with Roth, who said, among other things, that before we diet, we need to change the way we view ourselves.
You talk a lot about our relationships with food. What do you mean by that?
We are always acting out in some way or another what we truly believe about ourselves and what’s possible for us. We do this with our relationships, our work colleagues, our children. And one of the ways we express what we believe about emotions, contentment, and what we are and aren’t allowed to have is through food.
What are some of these beliefs?
Our beliefs are in many cases ones that we’ve had since kids. Many of them are unconscious in terms of who we believe we are: I’m ugly, I’m a failure, I’m not good enough, etc. We learn most of these beliefs as kids and then take them as gospels. So, for example, if I’m taking more mashed potatoes than I need (people usually binge on high carb foods), I could be saying in that moment, I don’t believe I’ll ever have what I really want, but right now I can have more mashed potatoes, so I’ll take them.
Or, I don’t believe I can express my feelings or feel my feelings, so I’ll just use food to push them down. We use food to say things that we don’t feel we can say directly, and that’s what I call the relationship with food. What a lot of women do is eat when we’re not we’re not hungry, put food in our bodies that doesn’t feel good, and not stop when we should. We do that when we’re bored, angry, frustrated, when we don’t believe we’re enough and even when we don’t know how to make the transition from work to home. There are a lot of reasons. Food is always there. It doesn’t turn away, it doesn’t talk back. It’s an easy relationship.
How are women’s relationships with food different than men’s?
If a man is a compulsive eater, I wouldn’t say there’s a big difference. But for the most part, women define themselves and their value in the world by what they weigh. It’s: I am what I weigh. Whereas a man has other ways to define himself. If you look at Hollywood, there aren’t that many women who are really successful actresses who are not very thin. With men though, there are bunches of them because a man is still perceived to be successful and even good-looking, but his weight is not an issue. Defining yourself by what you weigh is a default trap that many women fall into.
Can we ever work out of this thinking or is it something that will always stick with us?
Oh, absolutely. The things that control your behavior are unconscious. Compulsion and awareness cannot co-exist, so when you become aware that you are expressing or acting out beliefs that you no longer think are true (like I am not enough and therefore I can never be thin enough, rich enough), you can change that. Most of us don’t even realize we have these beliefs, but yes, they can be changed as soon as we do realize that.
Why do we even have the belief that we’re not good enough?