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The Religion of Thinness: Satisfying the Spiritual Hungers Behind Women's Obsession with Food and Weight Paperback – 17 Dec 2009

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 14 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
The Solution to Spiritual Hunger and Body Image Issues. A Must Read. 31 Dec. 2009
By Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Thought-provoking book describes how seeking the endless pursuit of thinness fulfills a spiritual hunger in women, including dieting rituals, moral purity, and sacrifice. This book stands apart from the many other excellent books on eating and body issues, because it addresses the spiritual void in our culture. According to the author, the quest for a thinner body:

1. Serves as an "ultimate purpose".
2. Provides a set of myths to believe regarding the "rewards" of thinness.
3. Offers rituals to organize the daily lives of women.
4. Creates a moral code of which to live and eat by.
5. Creates a common bond and a community for women.

The solution offered by this Harvard-trained theologian scholar is to practice mindfulness and compassionate acceptance of your body. Notably, the author discloses her own history of suffering from an eating disorder. Many practical, here-and-now activities are laced through out the book. These exercises teach the reader how to practice being present to the feelings unwittingly masked, via the obsession with eating and body image issues.

As a practitioner specializing in eating disorders, and co-author of Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works I highly recommend this book.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
A comforting, encouraging read 11 Feb. 2010
By KL - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book is a good book, a solid book, and one that promises to provide comfort to those struggling with an unruly preoccupation with food and eating.

Lelwica draws on categories of religious studies to help her identify the forces that conspire to keep women and men focused on food as the answer to the needs of their "spirits." For each category (myth, icon, ritual, morality, community, and salvation), she relates why humans need it, how religion has historically provided it, and how the religion of thinness tries--and fails--to provide it. She discusses alternatives that various religious traditions offer, and guides readers in finding their own paths.

Using this approach, Lelwica is able to make several important points.

The first is: It's not (just) about you. Eating disorders, she writes, are "rational responses" to a "culture that demands we be thin" (xxiii). While other authors analyze the social context of eating disorders, Lelwica's categories allow her to map how images (of thin models) reinforce myths (about how thinness leads to happiness, health, goodness, and social acceptance), which individuals enact through specific rituals (like counting calories), in community with others (who are also dieting), that serve to reinforce the idea that the myth is true.

A second and related point is that you can't (just) think your way out of an eating disorder (278). As important to thinking critically about cultural beliefs, images, and practices is the process of developing beliefs, images, and practices that embody a different worldview--one, for example, that affirms human bodies in all their diversity.

A third point Lelwica makes is that practices of mindfulness in particular offer an excellent tool for helping to develop these alternatives. Exercises in each chapter encourage readers to cultivate an awareness of their bodily sensations, so that they will be able to discern how they have been captivated by a "religion of thinness," and find in their bodies a "source of wisdom" (187). (A point with which I very much agree! See "What a Body Knows: Finding Wisdom in Desire"). We can learn to find, trust, and move with the wisdom of our bodily selves.

In all these ways, Lelwica's excellent book enhances our understanding of eating disorders and opens new routes to overcoming them.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A valuable book for all! 8 Jan. 2010
By Doris Smeltzer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Michelle Lelwica's The Religion of Thinness is a valuable addition to a culture obsessed with thinness. Dr. Lelwica, with a Harvard Divinity School doctorate of theology, does a beautiful job at helping us change our paradigm "from "The Religion of Thinness" to practicing peace with our bodies." In her Introduction she states:

"The unfortunate truth is that by placing our hopes on the size of our bodies, we bury the deeper yearnings that are disguised by our anxieties about weight and eating, including a sense of purpose, inspiration, transformation, responsibility, unconditional love, and peace. The real problem is not our soft bellies or well-rounded buttocks. We crave much more than food, which is why some of us feel we can never get enough."

In this book we are given a different way of thinking about weight and eating while we are also instructed in how to regain our "sense of purpose, inspiration, ... and peace."

The spiritual aspects of our culture's focus on weight, looks, and body are discussed thoroughly with spot-on comparisons and contrasts with many of the major religions in the world. When the Religion of Thinness is juxtaposed next to these other faiths it becomes apparent how thoroughly "religious" is our reverence for thin. The good news is that "becoming conscious of the beliefs we have internalized loosens their grip on us." It is that consciousness this book endeavors to give its readers.

What I loved most about the book is how Lelwica interweaves lessons in how to practice mindfulness with clear, precise instructions on how to critically evaluate our culture's values and the mass media that bombards us daily. The author wisely asserts that, "Becoming mindful of what's going on in our bodies, feelings, thoughts, behaviors, and the world around us enables us to avoid doing further harm."

Lelwica proposes that

"The Religion of Thinness implicitly promises The Salvation of Thinness--health, happiness, and a life without problems--if we can achieve some imagined state of physical perfection. However, we know that "good health" entails much more than having a particular kind of body. It encompasses mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being, which are qualities that no amount of weight loss can provide. If we can let go of the assumption that health and thinness are somehow equated, we free ourselves to see salvation from a much broader perspective, namely, as the holistic pursuit of a life full of meaning, presence, and peace."

Since reading The Religion of Thinness I have added a number of its mindfulness activities to my meditations and now begin and end my days with "embodied prayer"--an exhilarating way to be completely present while praying.

All women (and the men who love them) need to read this book. I believe it can change lives--it has already changed mine.
Doris Smeltzer, Author of Andrea's Voice: Silenced by Bulimia: Her Story and Her Mother's Journey Through Grief Toward Understanding (Gurze Books, 2006)
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant! 21 Jun. 2010
By Book Guru - Published on
Format: Paperback
Reviewed by Jenni Schaefer, author of Life Without Ed and Goodbye Ed, Hello Me:

"Stop battling your body, and fill your life with connection, balance, and joy. With a focus on mindfulness and cultural criticism, including real advertisements to analyze the media's true message, Lelwica teaches the reader to question society's superficial ideals. Her concept of forming communities to discuss these topics is brilliant! It is a must-read for men and women of all ages!"
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A worthwhile read for anyone trying to overcome their own weight issues and depression 9 Jan. 2010
By Midwest Book Review - Published on
Format: Paperback
Think thin, be thin, thin is beautiful, thin is everything. "The Religion of Thinness: Satisfying Spiritual Hungers Behind Women's Obsession with Food and Weight" looks into the spirituality and drive behind obsessive weight loss. Michelle Lelwica, a professor of religion, shows links between this weight loss and spirituality, and states how coming to understand this weight loss can help individuals gain a better understanding of themselves and their faith. "The Religion of Thinness" is a worthwhile read for anyone trying to overcome their own weight issues and depression.
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