Eat Pray Love Syndrome


The woman in your Yogalates class explaining that the switch from coffee to green tea has changed her life – really “centered” her – she might have it. Your coworker who returned from a two-week service trip to Southeast Asia and promptly bought everyone in the office a copy of Three Cups of Tea – he’s probably got it too. Your friend who just replaced her perfectly serviceable Honda with a brand-new Prius definitely has Eat Pray Love Syndrome. You might have it too.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2006 memoir has received equal parts adulation and derision over the past few years, only some of which is deserved. The fact that it’s being adapted into a Julia Roberts vehicle seems cosmically perfect somehow, if by “perfect” you mean “absurdly self-indulgent.” Now – for a memoirist at least – self-indulgence isn’t necessarily a problem; most of the time it’s sort of the point. The problem isn’t Eat Pray Love itself so much as the way its philosophy is filleted and half-digested into a self-help-based approach to healthy and sustainable living.

The next logical step is – of course – turning the movie into a guided tour run by a Vegas-based “spiritual travel company.” Eat Pray Love Bali is a week-long vacation created by Spirit Quest Tours to “enjoy Bali the way [Gilbert] did, like a native,” offering carbon-offset flights, authentic Balinese prayer costumes (available for purchase), and palm-reading by Ketut Liyer, a prominent character from the book. “Don’t forget to bring your copy of Eat Pray Love for him to autograph,” the website’s authors helpfully suggest.

This doesn’t mean there’s something inherently wrong with going on vacation. Western-style tourism has thousands of both positive and negative repercussions, none of which are the point here. What’s disturbing about EPLB is the wide-scale production and packaging of Eat Pray Love syndrome, the idea that sudden insights can be planned and purchased, quantified and reproduced with the developing world serving as background scenery. Rather than considering how the conservation of resources can benefit the planet as a whole, we Westerners all too often merely shift from one method of consumption to another.

My new Balinese sari sure makes me feel enlightened, though and it looks great with my skin tone.

Image: eoinfinnyoga + blissology

Mallory Ortberg

Mallory resides in San Francisco, California. You can catch her weekly Sex By Numbers column.