Book review: When you Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair by Geneen Roth

Based on what I’ve been writing about body image and dieting you might think that before my epiphany round about a year ago, I was some diet and exercise fanatic. It couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, I thought that I’d given up on dieting and feeling bad about binge eating around 10 years previously. Except that I hadn’t really. Let me explain.

Around about my 17th year I went from lithe, photogenic teenager to round, squishy woman thanks to a combination of hormones, lifestyle changes and stress. I also found myself surrounded by diet-obsessed 17-year old girls: one hadn’t eaten bread for a year, the other was alternating carrot days with pasta days, the third wouldn’t look at an avocado due to its fat content. It was a minefield of disordered eating and weight obsession and I coped by spooning my way through jar after jar of nutella and peanut butter. I’d beat myself up about it, make a promise to eat normally the next day and then find myself with a spoon in hand around 5 pm. In hindsight, I really might just have been hungry but at the time hunger, eating and food = bad, whereas deprivation = good so I continued the eat and feel guilty cycle for a good few years.

One day, I had enough. I decided that I was sick of obsessing about food. So what if I binge ate every day around 4 pm? My weight stayed around the same anyway. From then on my super duper trigger foods would just never make it through the front door and if they did, I would binge without guilt. The system wasn’t perfect but it worked right up until June 2013.

I went off the pill and suddenly my jeans didn’t fit. I stepped onto the scales and nearly fainted. How had my body piled on those pounds?! I decided it was time to take action – it was time to make my dream goal weight come true before pregnancy (and before turning 30). I went low-carb and fed my afternoon binge craving with pork cracklings. It worked like a charm, the pounds dropped off and then I got pregnant.

Fast forward 10 months or so. 90% of my pregnancy weight has dropped off but a few pesky pounds remain. I’m miles away from my goal weight and starting to obsess about it. My low carb/paleo diet goes into overdrive. I start cutting out any food that makes me want to binge eat and contains the slightest amount of carbs. As a result the mere sight of a fruit and nuts mix has me salivating. I am desperately craving everything that I have put on the “forbidden list”. I try having a feast day each week but the attempt to cram every treat into my mouth within a 24 period feels less “gourmet enjoyment” and more “sausage eating competition”. The scales rule supreme over my mood as I anxiously chart my “progress”. The stricter my diet, the weirder my afternoon binges get.

Finally I reach breaking point. The first book I read on intuitive eating releases me from the deprivation/craving cycle I created by dieting in the first place. I learn that I’m actually really HUNGRY every day at 4 pm. But there’s still something a bit off. I know, deep down, that I often eat because I’m upset, not because I’m hungry. I want to dig a bit deeper into the emotional side of eating.

And that’s how I find Geneen Roth and her many many books on women, food and their bodies. My favourite (and not only because of its title) is When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair, featuring 50 essays on food, dieting and self-acceptance. This is the book I’m more wary of suggesting to my cynical, realistic, world-weary friends because yes, she talks about meditation, about soul-searching and the connection between our bodies, food and spirituality. Even for me it sometimes gets a bit much, I just want food to be food, I want to forget about “being present” or “listening to my body”. But when I feel ready to dig a little deeper, to understand more about my relationship with food, this is the book I still turn to.

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