Dr. Michelle Lelwica is currently Associate Professor in the Religion Department at Concordia College—Moorhead, MN where she teaches classes that deal with embodiment, mindfulness, religion, gender, and cultural critique. She studied religion at Harvard Divinity School, where she received her Doctorate of Theology (Th.D.) in the area of Religion, Gender, and Culture in 1996.

In addition to The Religion of Thinness, she is also the author of Starving for Salvation: The Spiritual Dimensions of Eating Problems among American Girls and Women (Oxford, 1999), which is an academic analysis of the religious and cultural underpinnings of eating disorders and related problems. She has also published a number of scholarly articles, delivered papers, and lectured widely on the role of religion and spirituality in women's conflicted relationship to food and their bodies.

Michelle lives with her husband and two children in northern Minnesota. She is motivated by the dream of creating a world in which the bodies and spirits of all people—and all beings—are loved, nurtured, and respected not in spite of but because of their marvelous diversity.

Buy Now:

Paperback, 320 pg, '09
Product Code: ROT
ISBN: 978-0-936077-55-0
MSRP: $18.95

eBook - epub format
Product Code: EBPROT
ISBN: 978-0-936077-14-7
MSRP: $9.99


Religion of Thinness

Satisfying the Spiritual Hungers behind Women's Obsession with Food and Weight

Author:  Michelle Mary Lelwica


In a society that worships thinness, it's little wonder that so many women devote an enormous amount of time, energy, and expense in the pursuit of a slender body. This pursuit has come to function like a religion, with it's own set of beliefs, myths, rituals, images, and moral codes that encourage followers to seek "salvation" through weight loss.

At the heart of this secular "Religion of Thinness" is the belief that in order to be happy, healthy, and beautiful, one must be noticeably slim. Idealized images of this ideal inspire devotees to define themselves through their physical appearance, while daily rituals like counting fat grams and burning calories give them a sense of control.

The Religion of Thinness has its own moral guidelines: "good" and "bad" foods, as well as guilt and the possibility of penance for those who transgress. Before and after advertisements invite us to be "born again" by transfiguring our flesh, while weight-loss programs tap into our desire for community by promoting solidarity in the crusade against fat. Fanatics, like Pro-Ana websites provide thinspiration, and the most orthodox adherents develop eating disorders.

Ultimately, The Religion of Thinness offers false promises of freedom and fulfillment that leave followers feeling unsatisfied and incomplete. Learning to identify and more adequately address unmet spiritual needs is a crucial step toward resolving conflicts with food and weight.

The Religion of Thinness offers two practical tools to help readers on this journey: cultural criticism and mindfulness practice. Through the use of practical techniques, readers become more conscious of widespread societal messages that fuel the $40 billion weight loss industry and become deeply aware of internal responses, which can free to live more peacefully in their own flesh. With its combined emphasis on cultural critique and spiritual growth, The Religion of Thinness charts new territory in the movement to create a culture in which the bodies of all people are unconditionally accepted, respected, cared for, and loved.

Written both as an indictment of sociocultural standards and as a self-help book, The Religion of Thinness contains more than 20 images ranging from weight-loss advertising and magazine covers like GQ with a bare-breasted Jennifer Aniston in oversized jeans to religious iconography from many faiths and traditions. This groundbreaking title will become a household phrase.

Listen to Ellen Shuman's recent interview with Michelle Lelwica


1 – Changing the Paradigm
From "The Religion of Thinness" to Practicing Peace with Our Bodies

2 – From Illusion to Insight
Dispelling "The Myth of Thinness" and Creating a New Sense of Purpose

3 – From Idolatry to Inspiration
Seeing Through "The Icons of Thinness" and Finding New Sources for Self-Definition

4 – From Control to Connection
"The Rituals of Thinness" and Our Need for Transformation

5 – From Judgment to Responsibility
"The Morality of Thinness" and Our Need for Virtue

6 – From Conformity to Self-Acceptance
"The Community of Thinness" and Our Need for Unconditional Love

7 – From Escape to Presence
"The Salvation of Thinness" and Our Need for Peace


In The Religion of Thinness Lelwica describes how the culture of "more" can be replaced by a culture of gratitude and care for one's body. The book examines and criticizes media messages but it also provides practical instructions for exercises that can reorient mind and body from self-disparaging and destructive attitudes and practices to healthful and life giving ideas and practices. This is a wonderful book, well researched and accessible. The Religion of Thinness will be a godsend to anyone who wants to exchange a "religion" constructed by American media for more life-enhancing values.
— Margaret R. Miles was Bussey Professor of Theology at the Harvard University Divinity School until 1996. Her latest book is A Complex Delight: The Secularization of the Breast, 1350-1750

"This is an accessible and important book that offers both theory and practice for women who want to free themselves from the pervasive obsession with body projects. The author's voice is mature and acutely critical of the ways in which American culture embraces thinness and its pursuit as a form of religion."
— Joan Jacobs Brumberg, Ph.D., author of Fasting Girls: The History of Anorexia Nervosa and The Body Project: An Intimate History of American Girls

 "With the publication of this outstanding new book, Dr. Michelle Lelwica has created a wise, practical, and dynamic  resouce for all patients on their journey to recovery from eating and body image problems.  Lelwica's grasp of the spiritual issues that perplex human beings in the 21st Century but are essential to living a full life are matched only by her ability to communicate her depth of understanding in a stimulating, clear, and effective manner.  I will recommend this remarkable book to patients and family members whose lives have been impacted by an eating disorder and urge other clinicians to do the same."
— Kathryn Zerbe, MD, author of The Body Betrayed: A Deeper Understanding of Women, Eating Disorders, and Treatment and Integrated Treatment of Eating Disorders: Beyond the Body Betrayed

"This book should be required reading. It gives critical insight into the way women and men in our culture are sucked into a desperate battle with their bodies and themselves, and offers important alternatives to the assumption that this battle is necessary. We have believed for so long that there is only one kind of beauty, only one "perfect" body, and have similarly come to believe that our disordered attitudes toward food are actually normal. They are not. Lelwica overturns these assumptions, asking us to examine our long-held faith in the tragic Religion of Thinness, and opens the door to a new way of being in our bodies and in the world."
— Marya Hornbacher, author of Wasted