iamom: (flying)
Chapter 7 of Roth's Women Food and God begins to deal with the practical application of her approach. She begins by outlining how the way we eat reveals what we truly believe about ourselves here on earth.
In the moment that you reach for potato chips to avoid what you feel, you are effectively saying, "I have no choice but to numb myself. Some things can't be felt, understood or worked through." You are saying, "There is no possibility of change so I might as well eat." You are saying, "Goodness exists for everyone but me so I might as well eat." You are saying, "I am fundamentally flawed so I might as well eat." Or, "Food is the only true pleasure in life so I might as well eat."
She goes on to describe how many of us are so deeply caught up in the stories of trauma and hurt from our childhood or our past that we're essentially unable to live cogently in the present moment. I've expressed that insight like this: Perhaps at one time we used food as a necessary coping strategy to deal with truly negative events that were occurring in real-time, but even though those events are no longer at play in our lives today, we haven't shed those eating habits or those mind-numbing coping mechanisms.
Most of us are so enthralled with the scary tigers in our minds -- our stories of loneliness, rejection, grief -- that we don't realize they are in the past. They can't hurt us anymore. When we realize that the stories we are haunted by are simply that -- stories -- we can be with what we actually feel directly, now, in our bodies. Tingling, pulsing, pressure, weightiness, heaviness, big black ball of concrete in the chest. And by being in immediate contact with what we feel, we see the link between feelings and what is beyond them. We see that we are so much more than any particular feeling, that, for example, when sadness is explored it may turn into a lush meadow of peace. Or that when we allow ourselves to feel the full heat of anger without expressing it, a mountain of strength and courage is revealed.
iamom: (looking out)
After a bit of digging in my LJ archives, I found that I last wrote about Geneen Roth nearly 4 years ago, probably after I'd been referred to her early book called Breaking Free From Emotional Eating by my psychotherapist. In that entry, I outlined Roth's so-called "eating guidelines" and also discussed an audio lecture series I'd been listening to called When Food is Food and Love is Love. At that particular time, I recall feeling personally incapable of following her advice. I do, however, remember feeling that what she was saying was critically and categorically correct.

Her most recent book is called Women Food and God (google | amazon.ca | amazon.com | oprah.com), and despite being obviously directed mostly towards women, I've found her advice and insight to be nearly equally applicable towards men like myself. I've marked up several passages during my read of the first 90 pages, but I wanted to make a special note of the following excerpt:
Our work is not to change what you do, but to witness what you do with enough awareness, enough curiosity, enough tenderness that the lies and old decisions upon which the compulsion is based become apparent and fall away. When you no longer believe that eating will save your life, when you feel exhausted or overwhelmed or lonely, you will stop. When you believe in yourself more than you believe in food, you will stop using food as if it were your only chance at not falling apart. When the shape of your body no longer matches the shape of your beliefs, the weight disappears, And yes, it really is that simple.
Read more... )
Preceding this excellent passage from pages 80-81 are some more insights which I've already reached regarding how valid our reasons for overeating are. In essence, we have needed to overeat in order to cope with whatever we perceive our weaknesses or traumatic life situations to be. Whatever our reasons, they have been necessary and valid. However, they are no longer necessary for us to survive, and we no longer need to identify ourselves as psychologically, emotionally, or psychically damaged individuals who require something massive to be fixed before we can take off this weight.

In fact, we are totally perfect just as we are, and once we recognize that and then learn how to trust our own instincts about how to eat for the sake of our body's health and nutrition instead of how to eat mindlessly and to numb ourselves from the pain or frustration we might feel each day, then the weight will come off naturally and relatively easily. And as she says, it will stay off.

What's perhaps most difficult about this kind of approach is that so many of us have tied up a major part of our self-identification as flawed individuals who must be on a restricted diet in order to become healthy. If we have been dieting for a significant number of years (or have felt that we must go on a diet in order to lose weight), then this form of self-identification can become deeply entrenched and tremendously difficult to overcome. But it is absolutely possible to do it. We just need to trust in ourselves, which admittedly is not always easy to do.
iamom: (iam)
1. Eat when you're hungry. Or more specifically, eat when your body is hungry.

2. Eat what your body (as opposed to your mind) wants.

3. Stop eating when your body has had enough. (My addition: if you're bingeing, stop eating when your mind has had enough, a.k.a. when you become consciously aware that you're bingeing.)

4. Eat sitting down, in a calm environment. This most emphatically does not include the car (my personal favourite eating place).

5. Eat without distractions. Distractions include reading material of any kind, radio, TV, anxiety-producing conversations, or loud music.

6. Eat with the intention of being in full view of other people. To illustrate this guideline, if you're eating and someone walks into the room while you're eating, you don't hide the food.

7. Eat with enjoyment, gusto, and pleasure.
I'm currently listening to the fantastic audio lecture series When Food Is Food And Love Is Love by Geneen Roth, which is in part based on her book Breaking Free From Emotional Eating (for more info, please see Roth's search results on amazon.ca or amazon.com). One of the most important things she discusses in this audio series is that these guidelines are an end in themselves; that there is no 'program' you can follow aside from these guidelines that won't end at some point and then leave you back where you started, eating-wise.

Having been a yo-yo dieter for the past 15 years or so, I recognize the validity of what she's saying. Having gained more weight in the past 2 years has also reminded me painfully of that fact: no matter what diet I go on -- presuming I'm successful at following it -- once the diet is over, I eventually migrate back to my regular eating habits and begin to put on more weight. It's a classic vicious circle.

What I like about Geneen's eating guidelines is that, provided you're prepared to do some objective and accurate witnessing of your own eating habits, they represent a way to slowly but surely break apart the incestuous and non-nutritive relationship I have always had with food. And her last guideline is the one that makes it all worthwhile, because it doesn't take away the pleasure of eating, which has also always been a big part of my life.

Accompanying these guidelines is a fair bit of coverage on the emotional reasons for why we eat when we're not hungry, and she does a good job of helping you try to figure out what those are and move past them. Now let's face it, the most people are overweight or obese is precisely because we're eating when we're not hungry, and it's not easy to look within to identify why we're doing that. But there's a huge benefit to doing it: as soon as you start to shed light on the very fact that you're eating when you're not hungry, you start to make progress. And each and every meal or bite that you take while seated, while quiet, and while calm is one which moves you directly towards attaining your natural, healthy body weight.

Another really positive thing about these guidelines is that they don't require you to follow any sort of eating plan. The content of your meals is totally up to you. So long as you follow the guidelines, you cannot help but restore your natural weight. But despite the simplicity of the guidelines, I recognize that they're also difficult. And you kind of need to be following most of them most of the time to see any results. But I believe that if I'm mindful of the guidelines each day (I have them memorized now and try to think of them before each meal) then I'll slowly start getting better at making them a regular part of my lifestyle. It will happen, if I stay focused and don't get too judgmental.
iamom: (pink)
These are my reading notes from Chapter 2 of Geneen Roth's Breaking Free From Compulsive Eating. My notes from Chapter 1 are here.

To recap, Chapter 1 advised us to eat when we're hungry. But that wasn't instruction to gorge ourselves on crazy food all the time; instead, it was instruction to learn how to recognize our body's authentic signs of hunger, and to learn how to eat with the intent of satisfying that bodily hunger (as opposed to all the emotional and other motivations we have for eating).

Chapter 2 deals with deciding what you actually want to eat, the underlying logic being that if we eat what we truly want to eat, then we're more apt to be satisfied and less inspired to overeat. Just like Chapter 1, this chapter is full of deep insight.

Roth begins by acknowledging that for compulsive eaters, it's scary to think about giving ourselves license to eat what we want because we think we want so much. We think that if we eat what we want, we'll never stop eating and become even more obese. She tells us that in the beginning of this exercise, we likely will eat too much. But once we start to figure out exactly what it is that we want to eat (and also how to eat when we're hungry and how to stop eating when we're full), then we'll naturally start wanting to eat healthier foods in healthier quantities. I'm convinced that this is true.

She also discusses the emotional reasons why we eat, and how the effects of lifelong dieting and depriving ourselves in order to lose weight have skewed our food outlook on the world. She confesses that she has really never felt like a normal person who could walk up to the counter and ask for an ice cream cone without feeling horribly guilty that she was falling off the wagon again. And she notes the effect this has on us emotionally. From page 20:
I could eat from morning till night for the next six months and I would have still dieted and binged for seventeen years of my life. There isn't enough food in the world to heal the isolation of those years. There isn't enough food to fill the space created by the deprivation and the ensuing feelings of craziness. We can't go back. We can't eat for all the times we didn't eat. We can use that pain as an indicator of what doesn't work. We don't have to deprive ourselves any longer. Beginning today.
Read more... )
The gist of what she's saying is that if we learn to trust our own true inner voice about our hunger and what we want to eat, then we'll naturally start choosing normal foods to eat in normal quantities. But compulsive eaters (and frequent dieters) are so out of touch with what they want to eat at any given time that they're usually eating too much, too often. Learning to listen to that true inner voice will fix that tendency. But we have to learn how to trust it.
As long as there are foods you feel you shouldn't eat, you create struggle and conflict. As long as there is struggle, there is bingeing. And as long as there is bingeing, there is fear about eating what you want.

When you let go of the struggle by allowing yourself choice about what you eat, you let go of one end of the rope on which you have been tugging and straining. When you let go of your side, the rope immediately falls to the ground. When you decide that you will listen to yourself and not to your calorie-counter or your fears, there is nothing to rebel against. There is nothing you can't have tomorrow so there is no reason to eat it all today.

When you eat what you want, when you drop the rope and end the struggle between right foods and wrong foods, you will eventually (after your first tendency to eat more than you truly want) consume fewer calories than you did when you were guided by caloric content.
Roth goes on from here to discuss various logistical concerns with eating out and such, as well as more of the emotional underpinnings of the issue -- especially those related to your own expectations and personal outlook on life.
Whenever you notice yourself planning meals around what you should or shouldn't eat, or even around what you might want to eat, you are creating a set of expectations for yourself, which, if you don't meet them, will evoke the familiar feeling of weight-related failure.

As compulsive eaters, we spend our lives forsaking all the moments of satisfaction for a future moment when we will be thin and the deprivation will have paid off. And if and when that moment does come, we are so worried about gaining weight that we focus our attention once more on the future and do not take pleasure in the present.

Breaking free from compulsive eating is also breaking free from preoccupation with the future.
When one women in her workshop asked, "Isn't eating sugar all the time terrible for you?" Roth responds,
Yes. And no. Eating salads and vegetables under restraint and bingeing on sugar whenever you have the chance is not particularly healthy. Sneaking, hiding, or lying about food is not healthy. Punishing yourself is not healthy.
Hear hear, sista. The next chapter is called Distracted Eating: It Doesn't Count If You're Not Sitting Down. Can't wait to read it.
iamom: (lookingup)
On the advice of a trusted advisor, I'm reading Geneen Roth's book Breaking Free from Compulsive Eating (author on google | book on amazon.com | amazon.ca). Unlike many non-fiction books I've read lately, I find it difficult to read this one quickly. It's because there's so much insight on every page it warrants a slower read.

Admittedly, the book's not for everybody. For example, anyone who makes it a scarce habit to eat for any other reason than being hungry wouldn't get much from it. But anyone who has observed in themselves the propensity to eat too much or too often and always for some other reason than being hungry (or for no reason at all) would find wisdom in these pages. I know that I have.

My reading notes from Chapter 1, which deals mainly with the concept of hunger, are below. Material quoted directly is italicized with page number references or else set apart in a citation blockquote (w/blue sideline).
The first step in breaking free from compulsive eating is to eat when you are hungry (page 6). In recent memory, I recall eating mainly without any regard for my actual level of physical hunger at the time. The mere evaluation of how hungry I might be at any given meal time is practically an alien concept to me.

The fear of hunger, like the fear of loneliness, seems to be connected with emptiness, echoes, endless wanting (page 7). I don't think I have a fear of my own hunger per se; more to the point, I'm not even aware of what my own level of hunger is at any given time.

Beginner's exercises.
Keep a log of what you ate, when you ate it, and if you were hungry when you ate (page 8).Log your feelings about eating as you go. Watch for: forgetting to log meals you ate when you weren't hungry; forgetting to log 'bad' meals, random snacks, or binges; excessive self-judgment or congratulation for 'bad' or 'good' eating. Ask yourself: how often do you eat when you are hungry? Can you recognize your own signs of physical hunger?

Don't eat at your regular meal times for a day or two (or longer) to help get in touch with your hunger (page 9). Observe if you anticipate your hunger or if you want to be hungry before you actually become hungry. Note: This exercise may require some advance planning so that you're sure to have food on hand when you are actually hungry (i.e. you may not feel like eating at your regular meal times).

Pay attention to the bodily sensations that you recognize as hunger (page 9). When you feel hunger coming on, stop what you're doing and observe it fully. Where do you feel it in your body? What does it feel like? What happens to you when you feel yourself getting hungry? What do you do, and what do you want to do, when you feel hunger?

When you've decided that you are hungry, rate your hunger objectively on a scale from 1 to 10 (page 10). This will give you an objective way to assess your current level of hunger, and over time, to compare it with past levels of hunger. Until now, we have probably been overlaying a lot of subjective criteria on our perceived hunger levels; using the 10-point scale helps us to unravel that a little.

When you are not hungry and decide to eat, choose a food that you ate that day when you were hungry (page 10). Whoa, this one is heavy. Deserves its own chapter: when you are not hungry and decide to eat? Isn't that like most of the time? In this situation, she goes on to ask us to be aware of:
   -- how the food tastes
   -- how the taste was different when you were hungry
   -- if you enjoy it as much as when you were hungry
   -- what, since it's not hunger, you are feeling
   -- how you know when to stop eating

Common themes, questions and fears.
   If I eat when I'm hungry, I'll eat all the time.
   If I eat when I'm hungry, I'll gain 50 pounds and nobody will love me.
   Your body gets hungry. When you feed it, it gets satisfied. There is no magic about it. It might take a while to sift through the various sensations you feel and distringuish hunger from sadness or loneliness, but that's because you're not used to recognizing hunger -- and not because your body doesn't feel it or because your hunger, if you let yourself recognize it, would be insatiable. No on has to tell you when to eat; your body will tell you. No on can tell you when to eat; they aren't in touch with your stomach. And if you are listening to your body to tell you when to eat, you can also hear it saying "enough."
   If I only eat when I'm hungry, I won't be able to eat as much as I want or when I want it. That's true. But the amount that you want is often not as much as your body wants.
   Ask yourself: What is it that you want from food beyond its nourishing your body?
   Ask yourself: Do you want to eat as much as you want more than you want to change how you deal with food and feel about your body?
   When I'm not hungry and good food is around, I feel that I'm missing something very special if I don't eat. When you are not hungry and good food is around, what you do miss by eating is the chance to take care of yourself, to see that the world won't end if you don't eat the cheesecake. You miss the chance not to get sick, to be so full you can't sleep, and to wake up in the morning wishing the night had never happened. When you are not hungry enough to begin eating or too full to continue, you miss the taste of food anyway.
   I'm afraid to let myself get hungry; I feel so empty. The sensation of hunger is sometimes accompanied by a corresponding physical sensation of emptiness and hollowness; as such, it can sometimes evoke the emotion of hunger too. When physical hunger activates our yearning or aching, we feel frightened and want to push it away. Often we push it away and repress that feeling by eating.
Closing words from Chapter 1.
Physical hunger is of the body. Physical hunger asks for food. Nonphysical hunger is of the mind, the heart. When you see that your physical hunger is capable of being fulfilled, you can begin to allow that same possibility for your emotional hunger.

When you don't allow yourself hunger, you don't allow yourself satisfaction.

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Dustin LindenSmith

January 2013

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