How to Eat Less and Enjoy More

A few years ago, I was working on my laptop, developing a new workshop program, when one of my favorite series of all time came on TV — Pride and Prejudice (the one starring Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy, although let’s be frank: Is there any other?). So I nestled into the couch, preparing to divide the next six hours between my work and Jane Austen’s most absorbing hero (the only man for whom I might consider giving up chocolate, if he asked me — but Darcy wouldn’t do that).Unfortunately, writing the outline turned out to be so hard, it grabbed all my attention. Instead of diving into the Regency saga that virtually invented sexual tension, I ended up slogging my way through reams of research. By the time Lizzy Bennet was riding off in her carriage as Mrs. Darcy, my workshop was as well planned as D-day, but I felt as if I’d been cheated. I’d had the world’s most romantic story right in front of me, and I’d missed it.

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This is the way most of us eat every day. The food is right there, but because we’re busy doing other things, we miss it. We chew, we swallow, but we don’t experience the taste of the food, the delight of it. And then, because we missed the best parts, we go back for more. And more.People tell me all the time that they love food. They love the taste, the smell, the feeling in their mouths. But the truth is, when you love something, you pay attention to it. When you love something, you take time with it. And most of us don’t pay attention to our food.

Think about all the ways you miss the pleasures of food because you’re multitasking or otherwise distracting yourself: eating while you’re cooking, reading, watching TV or standing at the refrigerator door deciding what you want to have; sampling the kids’ leftovers, the interesting tidbits on your partner’s plate, the broken cookies on the counter at work (no, it is not true that once cookies are broken, all the calories escape). And then there’s eating while pretending to do something else. You walk by a cake. You see that some thoughtless person has taken a crooked slice. Now it’s up to you to even things out. You edge one side and eat the thin, leftover shaving. Then you see that the other side is crooked too. Conscious of your responsibility to cake aesthetics, you edge that side and eat the shaving. Before long, half the cake is gone. But you never really decided to cut yourself a slice, so it doesn’t count as eating.This is no way to treat cake. If you dearly love food, why do you rob yourself of all the delight and satisfaction it brings you by not paying attention to how it tastes and feels? Why do you doom yourself to want more, more, more of something when you could have been pleased with less, if only you’d been present for it?

In my workshops, we do an exercise on paying real attention to food. Every­one gets a small cup containing two raisins, a corn chip, and a small piece of chocolate. Everyone looks at the cup. They look at me. They look back at the cup. “One corn chip? Are you kidding? I ate more than this when I was 2 days old,” said a woman at one workshop.

Giggles and snickers.

“OK,” I say, “I know this is a very small amount of food, but let me ask you: Do you remember the last time you actually tasted one raisin?”

One woman says, “I’ve never eaten just one raisin. Raisins are meant to be eaten in bulk.”

Everyone nods their heads. Then we proceed with the exercise.

First they pick up the corn chip. They smell it. They look at it closely. They take a small bite and notice what the chip feels like in their mouths. Then I ask them to comment on their experiences.

Most of them say things like: “Oh my God, I’ve been eating corn chips for 20 years and I never ever realized I didn’t like them.” Or “Wow! What I really want is the salt. The rest tastes like cardboard.” We move on to the raisins, but we eat only one.

People say that they usually eat a hundred of them. A box of them. Several handfuls of them. But if you are eating raisins by the handful, how do you know when you have had enough? How do you even know what a raisin tastes like if you are eating 90 of them at once? At this point, it’s the bulk you are enjoying, not the taste of the raisin.

And then, oh then, comes the moment everyone has been waiting for: eating the Hershey’s Kiss. They unwrap it. Suspense builds. I ask how many of them are certain they are going to like it. Duh, they say, this is chocolate we’re talking about.

So they smell the Hershey’s Kiss and then they pop it in their mouths and chew for a minute or two. This is a radical act, taking time with a piece of chocolate. Usually the one in our mouths is just a prelude to the next one and the next.

One woman says, “I can’t believe this, but it tastes waxy. I don’t like it, even though I’ve been eating these things for years.”

Another woman says, “I’ve eaten many bags of these over the years, but I’ve never tasted just one. And when I taste one, I like it, and one is actually enough.”

Then we talk about translating this exercise into real life, and all at once everyone stops liking me. No one really wants to abandon her old habits. You probably don’t either. Right now I’m sure you’re thinking, There’s no way I am going to give up watching Grey’s Anatomy with my friend, ice cream. But could you be persuaded to try if I told you that there’s something better waiting for you if you give up the comfort of distracted eating?

For one thing, you’ll rediscover the pleasure of food itself. You’ll learn whether you actually like the food you’ve been eating in quantity for years. You may find that whatever food is in front of you might actually make you happy. (And that’s the only reason to pay attention to what’s on your plate — that it might help make you happy. That’s all.)

When we take time with food, it has a chance to give something back — the flavor, the sensual feeling, a satisfaction we can savor. But if we are busy doing something else, we miss the whole experience. It is like being glued to your laptop while the sexiest story ever told is unfolding right before you on TV.

The truth is, you don’t have to choose between watching Pride and Prejudice and eating. You can have both. You can watch and then you can eat. That gives you two chances for pleasure, not just one.

Why not act on your own behalf? Why not live as if you deserve all the pleasure? Because — and of this I am certain — you do.

You can learn a whole new way to relate to food – and explore the foundation upon which you build your life and your relationships – at my next retreat, this coming November. Six days of immersion in constant support, endless kindness and ever present awareness. Such a blessing. Once you know those things are possible for you, you can never go back to believing that they're not. If this resonates with you, you can find out more here: http://retreats.geneenroth.com/fall/.

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6 responses to “How to Eat Less and Enjoy More

  1. I know it’s “wrong”, but food takes away or I should say “masks” the immense sadness and loneliness I feel. I hate the thought of not being able to eat while I watch TV because it just doesn’t “do it” for me. I need as much soul numbing “stuff” going on all at once to help me feel like I don’t want to kill myself. On the recliner, perusing a magazine ( I seemingly have lost all patience with reading ;( ), food in my lap, TV on, under the blanket. There, now maybe the voices will stop for a second or 2.

    Plus since my life is so lacking in joy, prosperity, and abundance, when I watch shows like “Friends” or “Modern Family”, or “The Big Bang Theory”, as sad as it sounds I can kinda sorta “live” vicariously for that 1/2 hour or 2 hour binge watch and my life doesn’t feel so hopeless.

    If you’d asked me if I would STILL be dealing with this sh*t at 53 years old…I would have told you, you were nuts 🙁

    1. At 49 and with many years of Geneen’s work and support of the Retreats, I finally know that there is a Me that is not my Trama and Sadness. By practicing staying present in that space, there is no feeling that can’t be felt and processed with support. You can find many support reasorces on her web site. What I want you to know is it is worth it to come out of the numbing and fog, to meet yourself from a clear.loving space. We get to give ourselves what we always wanted and may not have gotten from our caregivers, a chance to be seen, and unconditionally loved right now, where we are. No place to go, no role to be, just me right now. And the experience of that being enough. The practice of presence is my doorway and following Geneen’s eating Guidelines is my way of lifting the fog, and showing up for myself. If I can do it, anyone can.

  2. I’ve been listening to The Voice again and I’m just plain tired. No, . . . I’m exhausted. I’m feeling small and stupid and helpless and ashamed and embarrassed. My relationships with food, my husband, my children, my friends . . . everything is in a pile of shit on the floor in front of me. Because change is just so difficult. It’s SO much easier to just sit back and remain the slug I have been for years. BUT . . . I don’t want to go to my grave, knowing that my life was a “little life” when it could have been a “BIG LIFE” except that I was too tired to work on making the changes. When EVERYTHING is flying at me, screaming for resolution and The Voice is screaming at me, telling me what a piece of elephant dung I am, I just want comfort . . . NOT more hard work. So, today, I ate when I was hungry, sitting down, paying attention to what I was eating . . . until I just couldn’t STOP! And I ate until I knew I would burst. And it didn’t taste any better because I was cramming it into my face at record speeds. It tasted yucky, because I knew it wasn’t the food I wanted. It was the comfort I wanted. I’m NOT a bad person . . . I know that I’m a terrific person no matter what The Voice tells me. It’s just that I am a tired person. I didn’t think at 66 I would be working so hard to have a wonderful life. I thought, by 66, everything would be a slam-dunk. So I want to send out the dogs to find the person or people who did this to me when I was a kid! ‘Cos, they’re gonna pay!!!

    1. I have noticed that” being constantly tired” is a common denominator of people who overeat. I truly believe change is possible. The only way change can begin is by cleaning our minds first, of the constant noise or voice as you call it…… How? Meditation….training your mind to be empty and clean……it is like cleaning your computer of viruses…..we were meant to be better that this, we can change. I pray everyday to live my life clean of turmoil and craziness….I pray to remain centered. It is a battle to build discipline, but after you build it, it changes your life…….

  3. This post is a beautiful reminder of something I found to be true (and then proceeded to “forget” these last two years as I let my worry and anxiety about my job consume me again and I started eating without paying attention.) At the time, I happened upon the book, French Women Don’t Get Fat, which in its essence is a tale about how loving food, truly tasting the food and enjoying and owning your joy around eating is an intensely pleasurable experience, and oh by the way, when you do that, you will find that you probably will eat less. You will cultivate joy in food through the intense noticing and elevation of eating to a singular experience, not by generating excitement through quantity. I lost 60 pounds over the course of a year, literally without trying. I can still remember to this day a meal I had of a bowl of tomato soup and an egg sandwich, and how exquisite it tasted. What I’m realizing now, of course, is I don’t have to pretend to be French to make this happen. But I do want to start now, this very minute to find that joy again in the food, for the very sake of making me happy. Thank you Geneen Roth for posting this piece and for the work you do. I listened to your call this week and it was amazing.

  4. Your book inspired me to write a song.Dear Geneen Roth,

    Your book Women, Food and God inspired me to write this piece. I have many other songs and have a good voice and play the guitar. I could probably get a recording together if you are interested. I just moved and am just getting my life together in my new home in Olympia Wa. I am 66 have written and performed all my life. Here in Olympia I perform at a songwriters group once a month and have played for art openings for myself and my husband and art groups I have been involved with over the years. I used to perform these body image songs in Sacramento but here the group is mostly men and I don’t feel so sure about performing them. I perform other things. But these are what we artists call a body of work, several songs based on a theme and similar style.

    If there is some way you can think of that I might get these out for other woman to hear I would be grateful. I am trying now to market myself and I have thought they might be a way I could utilize one of my talents.

    Thanks so much for your writing and what you have given me in your work, a deeper understanding of the problem and some words of wisdom that I pass on the others, giving you credit of course.

    Best of luck in the coming year.

    Deborah Smith

    The chorus is meant to be sung (audience joins in) but the verses are spoken by one person or different people one at a time.

    Back to the Breath by Deborah Smith 2015

    Chorus
    Back to the rhythm of the breath
    Beyond all fear of life and death
    Back to places of the heart
    Before it got shattered and torn apart.

    Verse 1
    Living a few feet from the body
    Leaves us feeling dead and shoddy.
    Unaware of how we age
    Into this place of swallowed rage.

    V2
    We try to keep the lie alive
    That we need perfection to survive
    We scream, crying from were we hide
    From ugly voices that rule inside.

    V3
    From straight jackets of control we fall
    Into a thoughtless free for all
    Two sides of one small coin of chance
    That in the end can learn to dance.

    V4
    Take the path the pulls you in
    Where the mind dwells in bone and skin
    Acceptance of what grows somehow
    In re-emergence with the Now.

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