Ending the War: Review of Women Food and God Online Retreat Week One

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:

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.

The Meditation
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.

Four Principles
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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Introducing the “Women Food and God” Online Retreat

For more information, read:

The Problem
A lot of people, I daresay most Americans and a growing number around the globe, have a problem with overeating. Personally, I have that very typical issue of being all-business during the workweek, followed by trashing all my hard work with dieting helter-skelter on the weekends and any time we eat out.

Most women (and more men than will admit it) battle over losing and gaining the same poundage year after year. Geneen Roth, author of Women, Food and God claims, and I don’t disagree, that this Sisyphean task is a distraction from feelings we don’t feel like feeling.

She says there are areas of our lives and corners of our brain that we want to be distracted from, and the cycle of dieting and overeating is a good escape. By the way, she says “dieting” could also be compulsive spending, alcoholism, or any number of behaviors and addictions that people take on to divert themselves.

The Solution?
Since I think the issue of overeating is a hugely important one for so many of us, I can’t quite let go of Geneen Roth and her highly-praised book. My main criticism of the book is that it’s all very floaty and pretty language, but once I put that book down and walk away, I’m going to keep behaving the way I’ve been behaving.

I watched Geneen on Oprah last week, hoping to catch another shred of information or a new concept that would help me grab onto her instruction in a more concrete way, but her appearance did nothing but make me even more curious about how her teachings work for people. I did some googling following the show, and I discovered that Geneen is holding a six-week online seminar to help us “end the war with food,” and to “eat when we’re hungry and to stop when we’re not.” From Geneen Roth’s web site:

In this “Women Food and God” Online-Retreat, you have a unique opportunity to study with and be inspired by Geneen Roth LIVE in the comfort of your home. And even if you can’t attend one or more of the live sessions, you’ll have unrestricted access to listen to the recordings of this transformational Online-Retreat whenever you want.

Since my complaint about the book was that it’s too hard to put into practice by myself, I think that this “online retreat” might address that issue and help put what I’ve learned from the book into existence in my every day eating habits. The retreat runs from May 25, 2010 until June 29th, and takes place for an hour each week followed by 30 minutes of Q&A.

So What Do You Get Out of This?
Each week, I will give a short summary of that week’s teaching, let you know what I’m learning and what challenges I experience. I would love for you to read along with my journey, and you might get a few tips or tricks from my weekly reviews.

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Do It With Me!
To take it one step further, I think it would be über-cool if you would come to the party and join her seminar and we can discuss here what you’ve learned as well. Since so many of us have goals and challenges related to fitness and eating, invite your friends, sisters and mothers that share the same goals and concerns. [There's a 2-for-1 registration discount, so you have a good reason to invite a buddy.] Maybe we can all put overeating behind us.

I will invite you to share what you learn on your own blogs or in the comments, which could help us develop more well-rounded coverage of the retreat by sharing our expertise and experiences. Or just lurk and read, it’s your choice.  :)

Read WEEK ONE, ENDING THE WAR: a review of the first installment of Geneen Roth’s 6-week Women, Food and God Online Retreat.

Dealing With Difficult People: 3 Steps to Resolve a Conflict

fightLet’s say you’re reading this because you’re fed up with a wiener-butt-poopy-head and you would like to tell that guy where to go. You might be hoping that my advice would be something like, “Punch that idiot in the face!” or “You’re right and he’s wrong so you should force your will upon him and make him do it your way!” or “Tell him he’s a complete jackass and an epic failure!” As fun and satisfying as it sounds to beat someone into submission, whether physically or verbally, it won’t help us to actually resolve the conflict. Unless you can punch really, really hard.

(I kid.)

First of all, let me start by saying that anyone, including yours truly (gasp!), can qualify as a difficult person when we don’t see eye to eye. Of course there are the chronically difficult, and those people are a real hoot. My husband may think I’m chronically difficult, because he chronically has to live with me and he can’t go home to his spouse and complain about this wacko broad because I am both his spouse and that wacko broad. So we’re using a loosey-goosey definition for the word difficult today.

As the cliché goes: we can’t change other people, we can only change ourselves. I hate that cliché because we can change the other guy, or at the very least we can change how we think about the other guy and how we react to him, which is almost as good as actually changing him.

Here are my ways to resolve a conflict with an irritating buffoon.

1. Accept People the Way They Are
Don’t roll your eyes and shut your browser. I’m not saying to let the moron trample you because you are just going to let it all happen. I’m talking about a subtle mind shift that will help you feel less annoyed. And you’ll learn a little bit about yourself in the process.

Zen Master Mary Jaksch at Goodlife Zen says that when you take issue with somebody and you find yourself wishing that this person were different, what you’re often actually wishing is that this frustrating individual was more like yourself.

Try it with me for a second. If there’s someone whose behavior is pissing you off, do you find yourself wishing that she would act the same way you would act?

If you give her the space to be herself and accept that she has different perspectives and agendas than you do, it helps you be more empathetic about what makes her tick. Different ideas make her feel good, and maybe her family raised her with different values and behaviors than your family raised you. She also has different experiences and different anecdotal evidence about the way the world works.

To get a better idea of how to grasp the other person’s perspective, here’s an example of how empathizing with my husband’s mindset helped me to untwist my knickers.

A Story About Relaxation and Conflict
For relaxation, my husband Steve prefers lounging in front of the TV for some escapism, while what works for me is entirely different. When I’m sitting still, I tend towards overthinking and brooding, which is definitely counter to relaxation. This often results in obsessive listmaking and checkboxes, which will cause my husband to smirk. What relaxes me? The opposite of what relaxes Steve. I want to move my body, preferably outside. Any form of physical activity helps clear my mind, makes me feel liberated, and the stress melts away. I’m happiest outside in the sunshine or at the gym if the weather doesn’t cooperate.

Of course everyone needs to veg out sometimes; we can’t physically run ourselves ragged forever, and I do enjoy my TV time to allow my body to rest in the evening. However, I get antsy when I sit in front of the TV for too long, especially during a nice weekend day. It makes me anxious, I wonder what I could be accomplishing and I often feel like I’m WASTING MY LIFE. Nothing gets me thinking about death and mortality more than thinking about the hours of my existence I’ve spent zoned out in front of the TV and what else I could have done with that time. Not very relaxing, no.

Our Conflict Over Leisure Time
I’m ashamed to admit that, because of my own notions about relaxation, sometimes I can make it hard for Steve to chill out. Part of it comes with, I think, a wholesome agenda: I’ll wish that he’ll come out and play with me so I can enjoy his company while I’m out getting physical. I love spending time with him, and what’s better than spending time with the man I love doing stuff I love doing. And if we’re active together, we’ll have a long, happy and healthy marriage and family life, right? Right?!

However, my asking can turn into cajoling, which then can escalate to frustration and aggravation when he proves to be immoveable. He says he doesn’t want to come out and play with me, because right now he’s relaxing! He says he will go exercise on his own time. Having lost the battle, I’ll stomp out of the house by myself. Then I’ll go relax and have a grand old time, albeit bittersweet without my husband, while he decompresses alone in the equivalent of a man cave – on the couch without me.

2. Get to the Source of the Conflict (Hint: It’s in Your Head)
So what’s the true conflict here? Is it simply the difference between Steve’s way of relaxing and mine? Not really. The conflict is that I have a particular perspective about the best way to spend free time. I think, “I’m improving my physical health by being less sedentary, so there.”

Nine times out of ten when you have a conflict on your hands, it’s because you feel that your perspective is superior. Just take a minute to get into the other person’s head and determine why their perspective is also valuable.

Looking at the issue from the other guy’s perspective is hard to do, especially when we want to be right and, by extension, have things our way. In my case, we’re talking about relaxation here. Steve uses a couch. That’s a perfectly valid method of relaxation. Understanding that Steve actually is relaxing and not thinking about death and feeling guilty helps me get why he needs to do it his way. He doesn’t collapse the acts of exercise and relaxation into the same activity like I do. And I admire his ability to relax. Let’s face it, he’s better at it than I am.

Putting yourself in the other guy’s shoes could help you get to the root of your concern. Maybe my true anxiety is that I don’t want to be my husband’s caretaker some day. I want us both to be able-bodied individuals in our old age for max enjoyment of this one, short life we get. That’s a very different issue than my wanting to enjoy Steve’s company while I take a hike, and it’s a concern that’s resolved by Steve’s exercise routine.

3. Don’t Get Defensive, Communicate
Tina Su over at Think Simple has some great ideas for dealing with difficult people. She says our natural instinct when dealing difficult people is to attack back in order to defend ourselves, but reacting harshly can escalate the scenario into nasty territory, and rarely solves the issue.

Sometimes we think we’re in conflict with someone and they don’t even know it! How many times do we think in our heads about how that person is wronging us, or we think that they disagree with us or that they are wrong about something based on some comment they made. We stew and we fester and we build up a case in our minds as to why they are wrong and we are right.

The Dirty Kitchen Story
My husband and I share the household chores, and one of my jobs is to keep the kitchen neat and clean. Alas, I’m not the neatest person in the universe. In fact, if you look at where I fall on the neat-to-slob continuum, I fall squarely in the slob camp. That said, I work hard to fight my natural tendencies. Sometimes (like when I’m tired and pregnant) I fail more than I succeed, but my efforts keep me far away from any TV show with the word “hoarder” in the title.

There was a time when I was neither pregnant nor tired and just plain didn’t keep the kitchen as well as I could have. I never had a good rhythm of keeping the dishwasher empty and ready for dirty dishes. So dishes would pile up in the sink.

When the dishwasher actually was empty and Steve would throw his dirties in the sink anyway, I would feel frustrated that he was making my job harder. Because I sometimes start emptying a clean dishwasher and then get distracted partway through the job, from his perspective, how the heck is he supposed to know that a dishwasher that’s half-full is clean or dirty? So he just stopped checking the dishwasher altogether and began using the sink entirely.

So the conflict in this case would be Steve wondering why in the heck his wife can’t do something as simple as keep a kitchen neat in a two-person household. (I don’t know, babe, I don’t know. I blame it on our freakishly tiny dishwasher.) The other minor conflict was when I would wonder why the heck my husband couldn’t manage to take 10 seconds to put his dishes in the dishwasher.

Communicate Your Frustration
Steve is an infinitely patient person, but after a while, even he had to say something. He began to show hints of annoyance and I got the hint. When I realized how much this issue was bugging him, I made more of an effort to correct myself.

I discovered that half the battle of a clean kitchen is keeping the dishwasher empty so it’s always ready for dirty dishes. My rules were:
1. Leave the sink spotless so no one is tempted to put dishes in it.
2. Run the dishwasher every morning so that I can empty it and have it ready for dinner dishes and pans every night.
3. Clean up immediately after dinner; load and run the dishwasher and clean out the sink so that the kitchen would be fresh for breakfast in the morning.

Steve noticed and appreciated that I was trying to make it better, and his praise reinforced my good behaviors. Plus the more I kept the kitchen clean, the more he pitched in to help. No more dirty dishes in the sink! It was easy to put dishes in the dishwasher, because it was usually empty. No surprises or wondering why the dishwasher was half full and whether it was clean or dirty.

Appreciate What Communication Can Do
This dishwasher story could have had an entirely different end. If Steve never let on how annoyed he was, I could never have bothered to figure out that our dishwasher needs to be run morning and night to keep our kitchen out of the weeds. He could have spent the next 70 years wondering what in the hell is wrong with his wife.

Of course the saga continues, as what is currently wrong with his wife is that her back and legs start aching within two hours of getting out of bed in the morning. But at least we know this is a temporary setback in our efforts towards a clean kitchen and I will once again return to good wife status when I regain use of myself as something other than home to our beautiful, parasitic baby. (Baby, if you’re reading this, you’ve been born and I’m only referring to the part when you were in utero, okay? We’re cool now.)

The point is, unless we open up a dialogue with the person who is bothering us, it’s impossible to know how they really feel about the issue, and especially how they feel about it in relation to your opinion. Before he said something, Steve might have thought that I didn’t give a flying crap about a clean kitchen. I did care; I just wasn’t giving the issue the attention it deserved until he said something about it.

If you offer your thoughts, you will often be surprised that you’re on the same page and that a solution is within reach. So to sum up, 1) Change your mindset: accept your opponent by practicing empathy, and 2) Get to the source of the conflict. Given the other guy’s perspective and your own quirks and opinions, what’s the real issue? 3. Communicate: express your own perspective to make some progress.

Problem solved, no punching necessary. Unless you’re into that kind of thing.

What’s your favorite way to resolve a conflict? What has worked well for you in the past? I’ll meet you in the comments!