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  • Writer's picturekatelyn russell

One Of The Books That Changed My Life

Updated: Sep 19

There are a few periods in my life where I can look back and see that on the spectrum of “normal” eating and disordered eating, I was closer to the disordered side. There’s no substitute for professional treatment and I worked with my share of therapists. Yet I can credit one book, Women, Food, and God by Geneen Roth, for doing more for my relationship with food than therapy or degrees in nutrition ever did. When I first read it in 2010, I read it, and then I read it again, and then I bought the audiobook and listened to it over and over and over on my 2-mile walk to work and back. It’s not hyperbole to say that it changed the trajectory of my life.

There’s one quote I remember taking my breath away:

“It's never been true, not anywhere at any time, that the value of a soul, of a human spirit, is dependent on a number on a scale. We are unrepeatable beings of light and space and water who need these physical vehicles to get around. When we start defining ourselves by that which can be measured or weighed, something deep within us rebels.” Geneen Roth

My entire college career centered around the number on the scale. Not just from an aesthetic standpoint, but from a scholarly one as well. In nutrition, our professors taught us how to calculate ideal body weight. If the calculation revealed someone to be out of the ideal range, they gave us another set of calculations for how to prescribe a diet that might get their body to that range. As far as I can remember, there were no public discussions of what that might do to a person. Of what it was doing to us. We were a room of mostly thin white women and it seemed fine to tell someone else that their body was unhealthy and they needed to lose weight. We were thin, therefore we were healthy and our eating habits were fine. Someone who needed to lose weight was unruly and had to be tamed. We were there to help.

I realize I’m recounting my experience 15 or so years ago as an undergraduate. My memory is tainted by time. Nutrition education has evolved. But the message I got from my undergraduate education was that the number on the scale matters a lot. It's a proxy for your health. Women, Food, and God put a human between the number and the nutrition recommendations. I can revisit this topic further but it was time to put it out there, to come back to my roots as a writer, and to share the book that the academic in me is ashamed of (my inner critic cringes at the use of God in the title).

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