Spiritually & Physically Hungry, Part 2

I was a little delayed in writing this, mostly because I didn’t know how aggressively I wanted to approach discussing someone else’s book. Ultimately, I’ve decided not to mention the name of the book, both because I think this a more widespread issue than any one individual or work, and because I’m not even sure the author is conscious of the tone of her work. To explain: Last year I read multiple yoga memoirs, many of which I’ve reviewed on this site. But there was one that I ultimately gave up on and never reviewed. I suppose I was lured in by the promise of yoga in the title, the cute cartoon yogini on the front, etc. It looked like a fun book. But I didn’t find it particularly fun reading. The narrator was very hard on her family, her body, and her initial diet, which she dismissed as bad, lazy, too commercial, etc.  In fact, the primary focus of the book seemed to be diet, not yoga. The author kept talking about restricting her diet and restricting and restricting, but didn’t seem any happier with her life.

I’m perfectly comfortable hearing about how people have revived their energy or reclaimed their self-esteem with diet and exercise–that can be inspiring and interesting–but there was just so much shame in this book. Shame is a terrible thing to do to your body. At some point in my reading, I realized that the narrator’s shaming was bringing me down, too. It was a little bit mysterious. I wasn’t like I thought, ‘oh, shaming!’ as much as I found myself slightly disconcerted and had to think about why parts of the book bothered me.  I realized that, despite the fact that I’m a healthy person, I was still prone to empathizing with an author when I’m following them for a whole book. I even wondered if I’d read the book in a bad mood that had clouded my judgment, but then stumbled across another reviewer’s take:

“I may not go as far as she does in her low-fat diet (I’m lucky not to have weight issues), but she makes me think twice about the ice cream in my freezer, or at least consider serving myself a much smaller scoop….Later in the same chapter, she writes, “If you eat healthy and low-fat most of the time, you can splurge on the occasional more-indulgent foods.” I perked up, wondering what would count as indulgent for someone who bemoans her previously unenlightened nightly snack of Cheerios and chocolate chips (please! My indulgent snack is a bowl of melted peanut butter, topped with vanilla ice cream, granola, and chocolate syrup.) So she continues, “On a weekend—not every weekend, but on the occasional Sunday—Neil and I will go out for whole wheat organic pizza made with hormone-free cheese (I know, I live on the edge).” If she’s living on the edge, even my decent diet puts me over the cliff, but that’s fine.

If an author can make readers without weight issues feel slightly bad about ice cream in the freezer, imagine how those struggling with their weight or eating disorders would respond to this book. That’s why I’d encourage anyone who feels themselves being brought low by a book just to stop reading. Especially when you could read Curvy Yoga’s “Curvy Voices personal essay collection instead.

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3 thoughts on “Spiritually & Physically Hungry, Part 2

  1. Hope, just finished reading both parts I and II after you left your comments on the IAYB FB page and what you’ve brought up is extremely important and a topic, to be perfectly frank, is not addressed nearly enough as it should be in yoga circles. I’m not talking about body acceptance and eating disorders of which there is plenty of discussion but rather the insidious “diet” culture which seems to have taken over the scene (and that includes the fasting the cleanses and colonics too) and the trendiness factor of some of these diets and how they may actually be doing more harm than good.

    • Irasna, thank you so much for your comments!
      I have to say, I feel pretty hesitant about all these fads, too. Especially the idea that your body is somehow “toxic” and needs detoxifying, which seems to be a particularly puritanical and shame-filled way of looking at your body–making it “bad” in the same way that diets have been making bodies the source of unhappiness and shame in Western culture for decades, if not centuries.

      And Gwyneth Paltrow’s new diet book! From what I read in the new reviews, there is very little (in terms of food groups) that it does espouse eating and it seems very much in the “detox” mindset. If you’ve read anything about her trainer Tracy Anderson’s Method, there is much online pushback from trainers regarding its health benefits & safety, as it calls for hours of exercise per day on a severely restricted calorie count; this article is a great summary & links to a Daily Mail article from a reporter who followed the diet part of the plan and was told by a nutritionist that it was too low in calories to be healthy: http://fitandfeminist.wordpress.com/2011/07/13/an-anti-love-letter-to-tracy-anderson/.

      All “food for thought” as it were, when we talk about food & diet in yoga. My next book for WIMG in May is Mandy Ingber’s Yogalosophy & I’m curious to see how she approaches food in her “mind-body makeover” program–hopefully, in a more sustainable, positive way.

      • I just watched that BBC video on Super Slim Me on the Fit and Feminist blogpost you mentioned and it infuriated me. I remember about 2 years ago in the yoga scene, it was all about eating raw. Before that, it was the paleo diet. Now it’s the liquid juice lifestyle that’s also vegan. For a discipline like yoga, which is, in theory, supposed to be something spiritual and about learning to live in the moment and find peace within yourself, many of the girls I’ve come across are anything BUT peaceful or happy with themselves.

        I couldn’t agree with you more that in some strange, ass-backwards way, they have taken yoga and the yoga “diet” as a means to promote further self-hatred and more body-unacceptance, all the while claiming that they are “taking better care of themselves” by watching what they eat . In reality, it’s about self-deprivation to fit into some unrealistic idealized version of beauty being promoted in the media and society at large. It’s just wrong.

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