ONE – What do we hunger for? The words and wisdom of Geneen Roth

101 Ways to Wellness

ONE – What do we hunger for? The words and wisdom of Geneen Roth

Happy St. Patrick’s Day and welcome to the first stop along our 101 Ways to Wellness! Today we will be looking at the work of Geneen Roth, bestselling author*, speaker and pioneer in the field of emotional eating and perpetual dieting.  Geneen explores the relationship with food and weight at a level far deeper than just personal appearance and the numbers on your scale, and helps us to understand the deep-seated emotional, environmental, and habitual drivers that contribute to what can be a lifelong obsession and struggle with these issues.

Last week, I introduced Geneen’s core philosophies as described by her, and this week we will explore them in more detail:

Geneen believes that we eat the way we live, and that our relationship to food, money, love is an exact reflection of our deepest held beliefs about ourselves and the amount of joy, abundance, pain, scarcity, we believe we have (or are allowed) to have in our lives. Rather than pushing away the “crazy” things we do, Geneen’s work proceeds with the conviction that our actions and beliefs make exquisite sense, and that the way to transform our relationship with food is to be open, curious and kind with ourselves-instead of punishing, impatient and harsh. She has worked with hundreds of thousands of people using meditation, inquiry, and a set of seven eating guidelines that are the foundation of natural eating.

Geneen uses two categories to classify our approaches to the struggle with food and weight: restrictors and permitters.  The former lives by rules and structures and views their diet as the sum total of calories, carbs, and fats in each nutrition label they have memorized. The latter rejects these types of rules, especially diets, and often end up being too permissive in their food choices.  I know for myself, I transitioned from one extreme to the other, fed up with micro-analyzing everything I ate, to a total lack of mindfulness about food and its proper role in a healthy life. Geneen suggests one strategy to free yourself from these categories is to follow what she calls a “natural approach” (also described as “intuitive eating”) where you learn to listen to and trust your body, and honor your true hungers and needs. These include:
1) Eat when you are hungry. This means not depriving yourself if you are truly hungry, as well as not eating just based on a cue of a clock, a smell, or for social reasons
2) Eat sitting down in a calm environment. This does not include the car. Enough said.
3) Eat without distractions. Distractions include: radio, television, newspapers, books, intense or anxiety-producing conversations, and music.
4) Eat only what your body wants. This may be different that what your mind wants – take the time to explore the difference.
5) Eat until you are satisfied. Note that this is different than full. How would you feel if someone said you could go your whole life without feeling “full” again – relieved or terrified?
6) Eat with the intention of being in full view of others.
7) Eat with enjoyment, gusto, and pleasure.

For me, I’d like to alter the wording of rules six and seven from “eat” to “live”.  As someone who struggled with an eating disorder for seven years, the sixth rule is one that really transformed my life. So much of the unhealthy behaviors around food are performed in secrecy and cloaked by shame. While most people will not experience the depths of a clinical eating disorder, many can relate to the moments of extra helpings while cleaning up the kitchen or after the kids have gone to bed, or the few minutes alone in the car when you can indulge in that special treat. When I began to change my eating behaviors to follow this guideline of being transparent and in full view of others, it also helped me recognize other areas of my life where I was not living “as if I was in full view of others”. Being mindful of my words, actions, and thoughts and the effect they could have on others was a huge paradigm shift in the way I now try to live my life.

**To put this into practice, you can start small with an hour or day at a time, and imagine there was a camera following your every move and a microphone linked to your inner dialogue. How would your friends, family, co-workers, and strangers view your behaviors and thought processes? Does it match your image of living your best life and achieving your highest good?

The root of all of this is getting to the underlying forces that drive any of our behaviors, positive or negative.  Geneen makes the point that it is actually “really easy to lose weight”, but if you don’t address the reason you are overeating in the first place you’ll surely end up right back where you started, or often worse. For those of us who have struggled with weight, a question to ask is whether your weight is truly the problem, or whether it is time to discover the problem(s) that are causing the excess weight. In Geneen’s words:

“If the goal of human life really is just to lose weight or be thinner, and this is why we live our lives, we would not get to the end of our lives and leave our bodies behind.”

Food for thought: With this in mind, take some time to think about why you live your life, and what you’d like your legacy to be. Spend time this week focusing on those things and try to let go of any compulsions or rebellion you feel around food and weight while following some of Geneen’s guidelines. Keep a journal and track what messages you get from your body, mind, and spirit.

Next week, we will explore one of my favorite Life Coaches, Martha Beck.  Martha is a bestselling author of Finding your Own North Star, and Steering by Starlight, where she describes “Your own North Star” as the highest expression of your potential to do good in the world and experience joy. Until next time, my wish is for you to eat and live with Enjoyment, Gusto, and Pleasure!

*Books of Interest by Geneen Roth:

  • Feeding the Hungry Heart
  • When Food is Love
  • When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull up a Chair
  • Women, Food, and God

From wellness coach Julie Marks, Phd.

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