Saving Grace: A Feminist Memoir of Weight Loss
Book review by Eve Jones. Her essay "PYNK: Paradise Found" appears in Boshemia Magazine: Issue 03.
Our society’s obsession with weight is filled with dichotomy. We live in a culture that wafts fast food, junk food, cream-topped, just-one-more food under our noses with capitalist diligence, yet punishes us for being fat. There is no escaping the fact that obesity is a huge health issue facing the western world, but as Grace Kitto explores in her book, Saving Grace: A Memoir of Weight Loss, permanent weight loss requires an examination of the psychological as well as the physical.
At over 17 stone, with a familial history of Type 2 Diabetes and a serial history of dieting, Kitto had finally had enough of the ‘white noise’ anxieties that her weight added to her full and satisfying life. After leaving work one day, she was resolute about starting a new regime, only to find herself, hours later, eating an ice cream in her car with no recollection of making this self-sabotaging decision. Furious with herself and adamant that her unconscious was at work, she took matters into her own hands, and began researching the psychology, biochemistry and neurology of eating. In a series of diary entries from the following years, she documents her experience of slow dieting and her changing relationship with food.
This is a non-judgemental, honest memoir of the author’s undulating journey to a healthy BMI. Kitto ties her memories of an unconventional childhood and a career in television production to food, forming a narrative thread that pulls you through the book with ease. Sobering facts at the end of each chapter, reproduction of personal interactions with doctors and a shed-load of personal research make Saving Grace as informative as it is entertaining. However, at times her return to certain theories feels repetitive, due to the diary format and years of mulling over the same experiences.
Kitto accepts the unpredictability of human nature, the contradictions of our conscious and unconscious and produces a regime which leans into that. With her focus on slow success, she manages to disentangle guilt from eating. Instead, she treats herself at times and exercises restraint at others, all with a mindful awareness of what she is consuming.
Kitto outlines tactics that can be found in other dieting books, but crucially, she divulges the reality of their advice. It’s all very well being told to eat fat-free, fast two days a week, or swap chewing for a liquid diet, but Saving Grace discusses the mental challenges of trying to put this into practise. Kitto lets us in on her anxieties and painful memories with admirable honesty, so that unlike the celebrity diet book or the nutritionist’s matter-of-fact manifesto, Kitto and her weight loss feel accessible. This is not a quick fix or a one-size-fits-all solution, but one woman sharing how things worked for her, talking to the reader as she would to a friend.
One of Kitto’s tactics for long-term weight loss involves forming a relationship with her unconscious, whom she casts as a moorland-dwelling woman called Bridget. Informed by scientific theory of the psyche, throughout the book she visits this imaginary associate in search of comfort or collaboration on her health journey. Yet Bridget is the silent type, and Kitto’s frequent questioning of her becomes more a method of delving into herself to find the answers already awaiting. Kitto proves herself both humble and determined to make changes to her health.
In one of the early anecdotes of the book, she notes how after refusing some cake in the office, one of her colleagues coos ‘Oh, she’s being good.’ Kitto jumps to highlight the irony of such unhealthy affirmation that women are taught to give one another: ‘This is an easy response, kind and utterly female, based on the universally accepted formula: not eating equals ‘being good’.
Recognisable in Grace and those around her are these socialised ideas of female beauty, restraint and, in particular, women’s relationship with food. Throughout her memoir she shares encounters with sexism and obesity spanning nearly 60 years and highlights such feminist issues with intelligence. Saving Grace is relatable not just to those concerned about their weight, but to women of any size.