lately, i’ve been reading geneen roth’s women, food, and god, a book i passed over the first four times it called out to me from the best-seller rack at target. the book is a spiritual approach to disordered relationships with food, exercise, and the body, disordered relationships that used to be landmarks in my own internal terrain. in light of new found and much appreciated health in these areas, i was hesitant to read about what women do to mask, override, indulge, project, and protect our hungers. it’s better just to celebrate that the real struggle is behind me, i thought. it’s better not ask too many questions.
roth describes addictions to food, thinness, exercise, et cetera as coping mechanisms for more existential struggles and longings. in order to avoid “trusting our less tangible hungers (for rest, contact, meaning),” which are often surprising “doorways into a blazing inner universe,” women often use food, rigid discipline, dieting, and the like to transform our existential angst into something more manageable (14, 15). and there are secondary gains that come when we buy into the widespread weight loss industry. this industry has given women a language to speak about our shortcomings. it has given us the illusion that we can control our fates. it has given us company in our loneliness. but as roth points out, it also traps us in the cycle of losing and gaining the same 18 pounds, 30 different times, over a lifespan of about 80 years.
in my reading of women, food, and god, i have recognized myself in what roth describes as “creating a secondary problem when the original problem becomes too uncomfortable” (52). it has occurred to me that a good bit of the energy i used to exert over body image issues is currently channelled into another common secondary problem: finding that ever-elusive balance between love and work. perhaps the real struggle is not behind me after all. perhaps it has merely changed forms.
though i swore off dieting many years ago, i am enjoying similar secondary gains in the quest for balance. once again, i have a language for articulating my grief, a notion that i can control my fate by making the right choices, and a community of other women who are trying along with me to restore equilibrium to our lives. and it strikes me that this quest might also trap me in a similar cycle of losing and gaining my balance 30 plus times for a lifespan of about 80 years (or at least until my children are launched).
i’m now asking myself what deeper hungers are masked by the ever-popular quest for balance. have i internalized systemic ills and personalized the great imbalances around me? are my feverish engagements with the working world merely escape attempts from a basic loneliness that could be a “doorway to a blazing universe?” is my decision to spend most of my time at home a way of taking myself out of a game i fear i’d lose?
i don’t know the answers to these questions but i think they are worth pondering. it seems entirely possible that fullness is achieved by embracing our hungers.
[source for this post is located on the bibliography page in the sidebar to your right.]