I’m an emotional eater. I’ve struggled with my weight for almost my entire life, and, I generally hate self-help books. Regarding the second, I’ve plowed through enough self-help books over the last two decades to know most of them are little more than dandelion fluff and unicorn farts. Paint me very, very skeptical of the latest secret, or seven secrets, or way of the magician, or 12 steps or 20 steps or one step- or Oprah, or Goop or whatever kool-ade is being sold. I’ve been around long enough to know that real change in a life course is very, very hard, and that it often only happens with deep personal pain and hard work. There is no formula or secret. Period.
As a woman in the western world, I’ve been fighting with my weight and body images since I was barely more than a girl. My weight has fluctuated, excluding pregnancies, through more than a 100 pound range during my adult life. I have been on every diet known, in every program imagined, and hated myself for what the distorted fun-house mirrors tried to sell me as my worth. No book, diet, self-help guru or aerobics class could kills the demons pulling my puppet strings.
Since last October, I’ve lost 55 pounds. It’s scary for me to even type that- it used to be when I would lose weight, I’d tell everyone, and feel like I had figured out some magic formula, and I wanted to share it- which is exactly what the people who write self-help books do. Which is exactly why I don’t trust those people- because I understand their fervor and zeal. Now, when I have again headed towards a much healthier weight, I want to keep a low profile. I wish I had told the YMCA people no when they asked to put us in a commercial- like I said, people recognize me at the gym now, and I hate it. I hate it because I don’t trust it.
I hate it. As you lose weight, people notice you, they start to see you, instead of see through you. But the compliments of weight-loss have a dark, scary flip-side: it is the silence and eyes that slide away when you put it back on, rendering you once-again invisible. As a woman losing weight, the more I lose, the more solid, legitimate, praiseworthy and real I seem to become- to friends, family, strangers, clerks, law enforcement- the less there is of me, the more worthy I am of being noticed. It is like a transporter beam on Start Trek: As I lose weight, a body begins to appear, forming gradually until people can see me. Gaining weight is exactly the same, in reverse. The larger I am, the less people see me, the less people are kind, helpful or ask my opinion, or seem to value my input- or even offer to help me in public. No wonder; the fun-house mirror is all f****d up.
This is not a woman with a little extra tummy bulge from having a baby saying this- this is coming from a woman who has lost and put-on the weight of a fifth-grader five times over in the last two decades. I know that of which I speak.
I also know my current weight loss is different than any before, for many reasons. I haven’t been trying to lose weight. Yes, you read that right. Back in October, when my entire life exploded in an Oppenheimer cloud, I made a decision to take care of myself. That meant being honest with myself in all things. It’s not as easy as it sounds. One thing I decided was to never, ever diet again. I never wanted to swing wildly or have my self-esteem connected to a number on the tag of my pants. EVER AGAIN. I do not diet, and I will never diet ever again. I started doing things to make myself feel good- things I would council a friend or someone I loved to do to take care of themselves… and lo, my body started to achieve its own balance. I was surprised at first when I noticed my clothes fitting better, and I didn’t entirely trust it was real. Tentatively, I began to make small steps towards valuing myself instead of warring with body.
So when I walked by this book at Costco a few weeks back, I glanced, scoffed, and carried on.
But the next time I was in Costco, there it was again, and I stopped to read the jacket. I again tossed it back on the pile went to get milk and eggs. But on the way back, kept thinking of it. I walked by, and to my own surprise, found myself setting it in my cart. What the heck? My internal dialog was crooked and stilted, but for some reason I couldn’t put it back. Here I was, buying into the kool-ade that there was something wrong with me- and I was ticked at myself. Again.
For weeks, I resented that stupid book. It sat on my night stand. I moved it to the bookshelf. I piled laundry on it. Eventually I read the first few chapters, then again discarded it and forgot about it again. Only I didn’t.
Finally, two school papers ahead of schedule, I decided I was just going to read the damn thing and get it over with.
The first few chapters are interesting, but not groundbreaking. Geneen Roth lives in my old California stomping grounds, this book is not absent some formulaic self-help book millstones. It’s not a book about weight. It’s not about weight-loss, though most women who pick it up will have struggled with their weight in their lives- that is certainly its target market. What Geneen Roth is trying to do with this book is hold up a mirror. A mirror that is not all f****d up and distorted from too long in the fun house. She is trying to hold up a clear, clean, straight, and focused mirror- to show us who we are in God’s eyes (and she’s not a deist)- in God’s eyes, we are perfect.
Intellectually, I appreciated what Roth was trying to do, and I understood her concepts. I even liked some of her ideas and imagery, and was appreciating the general lack of standard trope. Deep through the book, at chapter 11, the ground shifted under me. Around page 148, suddenly the mirror I had been contemplating from afar was in my face. Hard. No one works exactly the same way, and words that were burning coals to my carefully constructed paper-defenses may not even register to someone else- but my hands started to shake as I placed the book down on my bed and got up for some tissues. Hot tears were choking my throat and causing me to gasp for breath. I wept until I was exhausted. What the hell…?
It’s not that the ideas of love and value being tied to food are particularly new. It’s the spectacular clarity of the mirror Roth holds up, and the clean, simple lines she draws between pain and protection, faith and fear. I saw myself in her words with a clarity I had never beheld before. There I was, with layers of protections, isolations, defenses and folly from functioning in the false, distorted world of the fun-house mirrors. Like all carnivals and fun houses with their wicked dirty mirrors and tricks, once you know the way out, you can chose to leave. Geneen Roth is holding up a big sign in the fun-house, pointing the way to the EXIT.