WEEK ONE, ENDING THE WAR: This is a review of Geneen Roth’s Women, Food and God Online Retreat, which takes place over a 6-week period.
Fore more information, read:
- Introducing the Women, Food and God Online Retreat
- Beyond What’s Broken: Review of Women Food and God Online Retreat Week Two
Week One Course Overview
Geneen defines overeating as: Eating without regard for the body’s need for food. Eating when you’re not hungry.
That’s obviously something we all do. How many times have you had dessert when you aren’t hungry? Or filled up on appetizers, and then ate dinner anyway?
Geneen’s main point for this week is that intuitive eating is the way to go. Eat when you’re hungry. Don’t eat when you’re not. Sounds simple, right? Wait, there’s more.
Geneen had us do a meditation where we were to pay attention to the sensations of our bodies. She instructed us to “Feel your body, the support, what’s your body touching.” I immediately felt annoyed and anxious. I half listed to the meditation while I surfed the internet.
Then, within the meditation, Geneen explained that we’re prone to overeating because we’re unaware of our bodies. Geneen said that even though our bodies are the place we experience everything, we spend most of our time in our heads. Ironically, much of this above-the-neck time is spent judging ourselves from the neck down!
I realized the point of the meditation was because Geneen knows most people are out of touch with their bodies and don’t want to feel them, which is why so many people are overweight. When people pay attention to how they feel, they don’t consistently overeat unhealthy food. Point taken.
These principles all battle common misunderstandings and false beliefs. We tend to think that dieting will be our salvation, that we need to punish ourselves to get results, that we’re wrong and bad for overeating, and that we shouldn’t have to feel pain. These are incorrect ways of thinking. Geneen says:
Diets don’t work.
Geneen says that diets don’t work because they’re based on fear, deprivation, judgment and self-loathing, among other bad feelings. You may think you need to diet because you have the false belief that if you trust your appetite, then you’d “devour the universe.” The diet might work for a while, but you’ll eventually rebel from the constraint and blow the diet.
We don’t change from self-hatred or shame.
You don’t change because you hate yourself into it. “We think if we loathe ourselves enough, hate, shame, and punish enough, that we’ll become happy, loving people.” We can get the ball rolling on change by being curious about ourselves, but we need to drop the hate shtick.
We turn to food for good reasons.
This one is hard to get my head around. Geneen says that we turn to food because we believe, in the moment, that it’s somehow helping. We believe that based on the choices we have, overeating is something to do. And then the self-loathing kicks in. I’m on board with the self-loathing part, because I know I have other choices besides overeating.
Pain is part of life.
The most beautiful, rich and successful Hollywood movie star has pain in her life. It’s part of the human condition, and it’s okay to feel it. A lot of people are afraid to feel pain and turn to food to avoid it. But we’re going to feel pain anyway, whether we overeat or not. So ditch the sandwich and be with your pain, and then it will go away.
Use Your Relationship With Food to Discover How You Live
Now, I have to admit that when I read the book, I felt kind of, “eh” about this concept. What the heck does my relationship with food have to do with the rest of my life? I could see some parallels (I guess) but I didn’t really take the time to think it through and notice.
Last night when Geneen went on to say, and I’m half-quoting, half para-phrasing her here: The way we do anything is the way we do everything. The way you eat reflects the way you live.
A light bulb blazed in my head. I suddenly realized that my main beliefs about life – how I work, how I play, and how I eat – goes something like this:
There’s so much to do and so little time. There’s not enough time to do everything I want. I will find a way to make everything I do “productive” and useful and purposeful to use the short time I have well.
Even the way I eat (when I’m being “good”) – via planning and charts and shopping lists – is meant to maximize my nutrition intake, my convenience, my sense of frugality. And when I’m being “bad” I might think that I need to experience the bounty of the planet before I kick the bucket. I’m in Italy? I better eat gelato every single day for breakfast, because I’ll never be able to do that again! It amazed me to realize that this “productive” rule, this seize-the-day thinking permeates my life. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, and I had an inkling that I live that way, but had never applied it to my relationship with food or realized how all-encompassing that feeling is.
Geneen says that once we have these realizations about how we approach life, we should question these beliefs. Oftentimes when we’re younger, we’re given instructions or we incorrectly infer commands on how we should behave. To dig deeper, what often gets jammed into those directives is the sense of, “Who I am isn’t good enough.” Or, “If I show myself, I’ll get punished.” These beliefs show up in our relationship with food. So it’s up to us now to realize that only we know what’s best for us, and as adults, it’s time to rearrange our thinking.
For those of you playing at home, take a minute for yourself. Draw a connection between how you eat and how you live. Do you see any parallels? How do these concepts work for you, and how might they hurt?
Ending the War: A Doorway
When Geneen talks about “ending the war,” she’s referring to the way we struggle with food and our bodies, the way we obsess and punish, that cycle of deprivation followed by overeating, followed by self-loathing and back to deprivation. She says that to break that cycle, we need to drop the struggle and stop trying to fix it.
To end the war, she says we should be curious about our relationship with food and ask what our relationship with food can teach us. When we’re interested in understanding our relationship with food, then food becomes the doorway to getting to know ourselves. She said when we look at how we eat, the amount, when we eat and what we eat, we can use it as a guide to learn more about ourselves and the center of our own life.
Right about here, I had another “Aha” moment:
Both in life & food, I am a planner. I am mercilessly ambitious. My goals are forceful and unyielding. Then in the moments that I veer from my plans, I sometimes scold myself for it. The end result is that I’m often overpromising to myself, over committing and setting myself up to miss my goals. I meet them part way – which is admirable since the bar is set so high – but there are times when I’m unreasonably disappointed in myself when I don’t conquer the world. I’m afraid if I set reasonable goals, I won’t be as successful.
[Maybe what would happen if I set reasonable goals is that I won’t be so hard on myself, and I won’t be as stressed out. Maybe. Just a thought.]
We Overeat When We Don’t Want to Feel
Geneen says that we gain weight because we don’t listen to ourselves. We binge when we don’t want to feel. We turn to food to medicate, because it’s a way to change the channel when you don’t want to listen to what’s happening.
Here I had another realization:
I tend to overeat at night, when I’m tired after a long day at work. At that point, I want to shrug off the yoke of responsibility and tune out after pressuring myself all day. I rarely plan ahead what I’m going to have for dinner.
But in life in general, I often spend time planning so far ahead for everything except what actually matters: the next step in my day. I will often plan out projects by the hour weeks in advance, not accounting for the unexpected. And I ignore the time that’s immediately in front of me, the very next thing I will do. Instead, my head is all the way down the road to the result that would come from all this future planning. The Next Step seems so middling even though it’s actually what matters the most.
Holy crap. Get out of my head, Geneen!
Kids at home: what are you avoiding when you overeat?
How Do You Want to Live?
Geneen asks, “How do we want to live, what do we want our lives to be marked by? Do we want, ‘She was thin,’ marked on our graves?’” (Um, maybe?) “We lose weight knowing it’s not going to do what we want it to do.”
Essentially, we can’t take our bodies with us. You’d think we can, with all the obsessive energy we spend on them. And of course, we need them now to feel good and to function, but once we’re dead, all that time spent hating our guts was just a waste of time.
So Geneen asks, “HOW DO YOU WANT TO LIVE? It knocks at the door of our hearts – the longing for change, for the life we know is possible that we’re not quite living. To have that life, to be fully yourself, we have to ask ourselves, ‘What do I want my life to be? How do I want my days to be defined?’ … I want that life I know is possible.”
Discomfort: My Favorite Part
I’m not a masochist, but this part of the lecture was refreshing to me. Geneen basically said that living the life you want isn’t magic. It’s hard work. It’s uncomfortable. I find that comforting, because I know she’s not blowing smoke up our butts.
Geneen goes on to say that living the life we want, “requires a degree of willingness to tolerate discomfort…. Learning how to do anything new requires discomfort. You gotta to be willing to be uncomfortable. That’s a prerequisite.”
She makes it clear though that we’re not exchanging a life of comfort for discomfort, because – wait for it — YOU ARE ALREADY UNCOMFORTABLE! Gee, how’s that for a revelation. So she’s basically saying we can be uncomfortable with the status quo, or we can be uncomfortable pursuing the life we want, so we might as well go for it. Learning what our body wants and stopping once we’ve had enough are new skills that require effort, and yes, being uncomfortable, until we get the hang of them.
Next, Geneen states my motto: “It takes effort to be effortless.” Sounds like the whole concept of Swell Easy Living. For life to be easy and swell, there are things we need to do. So let’s get crackin’.
This Week’s Practices
Geneen gave us two practices for the week.
1) Follow the first of her eating guidelines: Eat When You’re Hungry
That’s it. Don’t eat when you aren’t hungry, eat when you are hungry and stop eating when you’ve had enough. Do just that much, and follow through on it.
Easier said then done, because sometimes we eat to fill emptiness or loneliness or boredom (or whatever.) Geneen wants us to ask ourselves, “What’s so bad or scary about the emptiness? What does it feel like?” Sometimes we feel the beginning of a feeling and we think, “RUH ROH!” We want to avoid that discomfort. Be willing to be uncomfortable and know there are times you won’t feel like refraining from eating. Do it anyway.
If there are times that you decide to eat even though you’re not hungry, Geneen says to be curious and notice what happens, but she warns that insight alone won’t lead to change; it’s our actions that make a difference. Change happens in baby steps so to take on a practice like, “Eat when you’re hungry,” start out doing it once a day. If it feels like too much, then do it every other day. But you need to start somewhere.
Geneen instructs to check into your body when you wake up, and again before you eat. Since the aim of this guideline is to eat only when hungry, you need to learn what hunger feels like to you and rate it on scale of 1 – 10. A one means you’re hungry, 10 is stuffed and 5 is comfortable; 4 or below you’re hungry, 5 or above you’re not.
Geneen cautions that mouth hunger does NOT mean body hunger. Your mouth can salivate and still want food when we’re full. She says to focus on the belly and abdomen area and notice if it’s growling, feels empty or spacey. Really determine what it feels like (not what your head wants it to feel like) and rate your hunger on the scale of 1 – 10.
2) Be Astonished
Each day, notice what you already have — not what’s wrong or what needs to be changed. Think about the abundance that’s in your world already.
Geneen says that the retreat is a two-part process. We have to address the part that’s keeping us from being ourselves and having the life we want. We also have to notice what we already have and ways we already are who we want to be. We can’t only focus on the obstacles. We also need to appreciate where we already are and what we’ve got. For every day you wake up, notice what you already have.
I’m going to mark my “to do” items in my calendar right now, although I am refraining from making myself a Hunger Scale Chart. Baby steps.
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