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Starving for Salvation: The Spiritual Dimensions of Eating Problems Among American Girls and Women [Paperback]

Michelle Mary Lelwica

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Book Description

1 May 2002
In recent years, eating disorders among American girls and women have become a subject of national concern. Conventional explanations of eating problems are usually framed in the language of psychology, medicine, feminism, or sociology. Although they differ in theory and approach, these interpretations are linked by one common assumption—that female preoccupation with food and body is an essentially secular phenomenon.
In Starving for Salvation, Michelle Lelwica challenges traditional theories by introducing and exploring the spiritual dimensions of anorexia, bulimia, and related problems. Drawing on a range of sources that include previously published interviews with sufferers of eating disorders, Lelwica claims that girls and women starve, binge, and purge their bodies as a means of coping with the pain and injustice of their daily lives. She provides an incisive analysis of contemporary American culture, arguing that our dominant social values and religious legacies produce feelings of emptiness and dissatisfaction in girls and women.
Trapped in a society that ignores and denies their spiritual needs, girls and women construct a network of symbols, beliefs, and rituals around food and their bodies. Lelwica draws a parallel between the patriarchal legacy of Christianity, which associates women with sin and bodily cravings, and the cultural preference for a thin female body. According to Lelwica, these complimentary forces form a popular salvation myth that encourages girls and women to fixate on their bodies and engage in disordered eating patterns. While this myth provides a sense of meaning and purpose in the face of uncertainty and injustice, Lelwica demonstrates that such rigid and unhealthy devotion to the body only deepens the spiritual void that women long to fill.
Although Lelwica presents many disturbing facts about the origins of eating disorders, she also suggests positive ways that our society can nourish the creative and spiritual needs of girls and women. The first step, however, is to acknowledge that female preoccupation with thinness and food signifies a strong desire for fulfillment. Until we recognize and contest the religious legacies and cultural values that perpetuate eating disorders, many women will continue to turn to the most accessible symbolic and ritual resources available to them—food and their bodies—in an attempt to satiate their profound spiritual hunger.

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A probing and intelligent explanation of dieting and weight obsession that points to religiosity, morality, and absolution from guilt as the primary agents motivating women's irrational quest for thinness. (Choice)

through and creative book ... Lewica engages critically with a number of different disciplines, and raises questions which reflect concerns in the wider field of mental health and social justice, in America, the UK and Australia ... a rich resource for a wide range of interested groups, not only those concerned with eating disorders ... a complex, challenging and rewarding book. (Religion and Theology)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful & Beneficial Book for Sophisticated Readers 2 Jun 2000
By Moira BradyRogers - Published on
This insightful analysis of the connection between unmet spiritual needs and eating problems has great potential benefit for clinicians, theorists, sociologists, spiritual leaders and any fairly sophisticated reader interested in issues related to spirituality, women's issues, American culture, and issues related to food and body image. The author does an exceptional job at synthesizing observations, statistics, and theory from a variety of fields in support of her thesis that "eating disorders both mask and reveal deep spiritual hungers." I have encountered the truth of her thesis in my own personal experience as well as in my work as a psychotherapist with girls and women.
I especially appreciate her articulation of eating "disorders" (bulimia & anorexia) as "extreme incidences" of socially sanctioned attitudes and behaviors regarding food and the female body. She proposes a view that "recognizes a continuum of eating problems, from the exteme incidences of anorexia and bulimia to the more common but related problems of compulsive eating, chronic dieting, and body-discontent" and sees the "differences as a matter of degree rather than kind."(p. 19). While not "normalizing" eating disorders, she demonstrates the "logic" of why a girl or woman without another source of meaning and purpose (a conscious spirituality) might develop eating disordered behaviors in an attempt to fulfill the culturally promoted "meaning and purpose" for women: that of a slender/fat-free body.
I think this book is written for a fairly sophisticated audience. I consider myself to be such a reader--especially in this field. Yet at times I found myself needing to go back and re-read sections. And much of the reading is fairly labor intensive. Definitely not a "lite" read, but well worth the effort for those invested in the theoretical and clinical issues around "the spiritual dimensions of eating problems among American girls and women."
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A new way of seeing the subject 22 Aug 2003
By Barbara Melosh - Published on
This book is a thoughtful and original analysis of eating problems. Lelwica provides a comprehensive discussion of other work and makes good use of the insights in this growing literature; at the same time, her attention to spiritual and theological issues enhances and deepens her analysis. The result is a provocative and compassionate book that gives us a new angle of vision on the subject.
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