Cover image for The eating instinct : food culture, body image, and guilt in America / by Virginia Sole-Smith.
The eating instinct : food culture, body image, and guilt in America / by Virginia Sole-Smith.
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Henry Holt and Company, 2018.
Physical Description:
xv, 282 pages ; 25 cm
Nothing by mouth -- Chasing clean -- Comfort, food -- Fear of food -- Eating while black -- Bypassing hunger -- Learning to eat.
Visiting kitchen tables around America, this timely volume explores today's toxic food culture, telling the stories of those who are struggling with food issues and providing insight into how to feel good about food.


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
394.12 SOL Book Adult General Collection

On Order



An exploration, both personal and deeply reported, of how we learn to eat in today's toxic food culture.

Food is supposed to sustain and nourish us. Eating well, any doctor will tell you, is the best way to take care of yourself. Feeding well, any human will tell you, is the most important job a mother has. But for too many of us, food now feels dangerous. We parse every bite we eat as good or bad, and judge our own worth accordingly. When her newborn daughter stopped eating after a medical crisis, Virginia Sole-Smith spent two years teaching her how to feel safe around food again -- and in the process, realized just how many of us are struggling to do the same thing.

The Eating Instinct visits kitchen tables around America to tell Sole-Smith's own story, as well as the stories of women recovering from weight loss surgery, of people who eat only nine foods, of families with unlimited grocery budgets and those on food stamps. Every struggle is unique. But Sole-Smith shows how they're also all products of our modern food culture. And they're all asking the same questions: How did we learn to eat this way? Why is it so hard to feel good about food? And how can we make itbetter?

Author Notes

Virginia Sole-Smith is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Harper's, Slate, and Elle . She is also a contributing editor with Parents Magazine. She lives with her husband and two daughters in the Hudson Valley.

Virginia is the author of The Eating Instinct: Food Culture, Body Image, and Guilt in America .

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this deeply personal and well-researched indictment of American diet culture, parenting and food writer Sole-Smith explores hunger, satiation, and the myriad other reasons humans eat, or don't. After a medical trauma left her month-old daughter Violet unable to eat and reliant on a feeding tube, the author realized that the primal instinct to self-nourish is "also surprisingly fragile," easily influenced by vegetable-pushing parents or the sugar-fearing wellness industry ("These twin anxieties about obesity and about the eco-health implications of our modern food system have transformed American food and diet culture"). In retraining her child to obey hunger cues, Sole-Smith found that most adults also need "a set of rules to follow, a literal recipe for how to develop this basic life skill." She profiles self-styled health gurus who have secretly suffered from eating disorders (such as Christy Harrison, host of the Food Psych podcast), and tracks how patients who have undergone bariatric surgery learn to love and listen to their bodies even "after having a part cut out of it because a doctor told them it couldn't be trusted." Sole-Smith argues that "nutrition has become a permanently unsolvable Rubik's Cube," but by looking beyond willpower and nutrition fads she helps readers examine their own relationships with food. (Nov.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Library Journal Review

The story of freelance writer Sole-Smith's (New York Times Magazine, Harper's, Slate) daughter is harrowing and will quickly draw readers into this survey of American eating culture. Unable to eat properly in her first few weeks of life, the author's daughter had a feeding tube inserted. Their journey to remove the tube and learn to eat "normally" again leads to question, what is "normal" eating anyway? Modern Americans, particularly women and children, are bombarded with conflicting messages of what they should eat and when. Sole-Smith covers many topics from picky eating to gastric bypass surgery and particularly focuses on societal messages around what children and pregnant women should eat but also address other adults and different socioeconomic classes. VERDICT As noted early on, this book discusses topics that might be uncomfortable for some readers, and as such is not for everyone, particularly those with a difficult history with food. That said, readers wishing to learn more about disordered eating as well as those looking to be more mindful about food and the social messaging around it, will find this work useful.-Cate Schneiderman, Emerson Coll., Boston © Copyright 2018. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

Prefacep. xi
1 Nothing by Mouthp. 1
2 Chasing Cleanp. 35
3 Comfort, Foodp. 67
4 Fear of Foodp. 99
5 Eating While Blackp. 135
6 Bypassing Hungerp. 169
7 Learning to Eatp. 205
Notes and Sourcesp. 241
Acknowledgmentsp. 271
Indexp. 275