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Is food obsession linked to spirituality?

By Stephanie Chen, CNN
Author Geneen Roth's best-selling "Women Food and God" looks at how to stop the obsession with dieting.
Author Geneen Roth's best-selling "Women Food and God" looks at how to stop the obsession with dieting.
  • "Women Food and God" explores obsession with food and how to stop it
  • Author Geneen Roth spent decades struggling with dieting and body image
  • Roth encourages women to use relationship with food as way to study how they live
  • "Eating guidelines" tell people to eat when they are hungry, among other simple tips

(CNN) -- Her obsession with food arrived early, at the tender age of 11. Then came laxatives and anorexia, weight loss and weight gain, and of course, unfounded diets like consuming only Grape Nuts or downing a hot fudge sundae every day.

She even attempted suicide.

Since that young age, author Geneen Roth has struggled with her weight, gaining and losing more than 1,000 pounds in her lifetime. Her latest book, "Women Food and God," explores the lifelong struggle women have with body image and the connection between food and spirituality.

The book has climbed to the top of the New York Times best-seller list and will be featured on "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

As models get thinner and diets become wilder, the pressure to be thin can be overwhelming, Roth says. No matter how many times you've tried bingeing and dieting, she wants people to know, it is possible to stop your obsession with food.

CNN spoke to Roth about her latest book and how food can be a pathway for people to understand themselves.

CNN: You've written several books on dieting and body image for women. What's new about "Women Food and God"?

Roth: I connect the spiritual dimensions with the physical and psychological dimension. By spiritual, I mean there is a part of ourselves that longs for something we can't name, and everyone has the experience of it at different times in their lives. This book connects and uses the obsession with food as a doorway to that.

CNN: What do you hope this book can help women do?

Roth: Instead of trying to drive ourselves crazy to lose weight, we can actually see the obsession. Understand what the roots are of the obsession. I say in the book, "The shape of your body obeys the shape of your belief." When you understand what is shaping your body, you actually have a chance to change it. It's like a hieroglyphic language: Once you understand the code, then you can understand the meaning.

CNN: Why do you think there is this pervasive obsession with food in our society?

Roth: We all have our issues, and if it wasn't the obsession with food and the objectification of our bodies, it would be something else. Everybody whether they are obsessed with food or not have pain and suffering in their lives. They have conflicts and personal struggles they need to deal with. Many of us who have weight issues or conflicts with our body deal with those through food.

CNN: Why do you think we turn to food?

Roth: If somebody wants to be a painter or somebody wants to run a marathon or somebody wants to do whatever their dreams are, they believe they aren't worthy or that they aren't good enough, smart enough or musical enough. What many people will do is give up and turn to food because food is instant, available, doesn't talk back, doesn't go away, doesn't say no. You can tell where you've given up or how you've given up when food becomes your hugs, your kisses, your best fiends and your biggest relationship.

CNN: Is it getting harder to deal with body image?

Roth: Yes. We've become externally oriented, achievement-oriented, success-oriented and the-answer-is-out-there-oriented. What you do or look like or weigh is more valued than who we actually are. It's a terrible pressure.

CNN: What did you learn from your dieting experiences?

Roth: I learned diets leads to binges, that diets don't really work in the long run and that people eat for very good reasons. We need to discover what those reasons are in order to really unwind the obsession with food.

CNN: When were you able to reach that understanding for yourself?

Roth: For me, it's been a work in progress. I started this a while ago and really have been at a natural weight for me over 25 years. The issue with food is not so much present in my life anymore, though I work with people all the time about it.

CNN: You set some simple eating guidelines in the book. Can you talk about them?

Roth: I give a set of seven eating guidelines in the book. They are very easy. Kids intuitively follow them: Eat when you're hungry. Eat what your body really wants. Pay attention to your food. Stop when you've had enough. Kids follow those automatically. As soon as we start using food for reasons besides hunger, we stop listening to our bodies.

CNN: What impact has your book had on women?

Roth: People start really getting in touch with what they are using food to do and realize there are other ways they can be using their energy. They are freeing up their energy and are now available to do other things. We can put our minds to global warming or whatever particular passion. It's hard to find that passion when your binding up your energy in the obsession with food.

CNN: And what about for men struggling with weight?

Roth: I think this book definitely does apply to men. It's just that the vast majority of people who have shown up to my retreats and workshops it the last few decades have been women, and I'm a woman myself. But yes, I get a lot of letters from men, and this can help them, too.