Deeply Delicious

When my friend Ed wanted to stop smoking, a Zen master told him that he needed to love smoking first. "Create a ritual each time you smoke," the teacher said. "Take a cigarette and wrap it in a beautiful cloth. Go to a quiet place where you can be alone for a few minutes. Take your time unwrapping the cloth, removing the cigarette, smoking it. Notice how every inhale feels in your mouth and your throat. Notice if you like it. If you love it. If you want more of it. Only when you give it to yourself completely can you completely give it up."

"That's one smart dude," I told Ed, thinking of the parallels between smokers and emotional eaters. Of course, we can't give up eating altogether (and I never advocate depriving yourself of your favorite foods or even your non-favorite foods). But it's true that we can't stop emotional eating until we really love food. And in my experience, emotional eaters — those of us who eat for reasons besides hunger — don't actually like food.

I know I've just uttered a near blasphemy. And I know you're probably thinking, Wait just a moment, missy. My problem is not that I don't like food, but that I like it too much. That I think about it every moment. That I am willing to drive 10 miles out of my way for my favorite snack. That I hide the cookies where my kids won't find them. My problem is that I'm over the moon about food. I need to start enjoying it less, not more!

But think about it for a moment.


When you love something, you spend time with it. You pay attention to it. You enjoy it. And although most of us emotional eaters think incessantly about food, we consume meals as if they are stolen pleasures. As if we are not really allowed to have them, let alone have rollicking times eating them.

Last week I watched a 2-year-old eat a cracker. She took one, stared at it, then nibbled a corner of it just to see what happened to corners of crackers that are wet and soggy. After that, she tackled the salt issue. Licked it off. Took a bite, sucked on it for a bit. Her next step was to mush up the rest in her fist because now, she got to see (and taste!) an entirely new creation: a mushed-up, balled-up, saltless, wet, soggy cracker. In the time that it would have taken most of us to eat an entire row of crackers, she had not finished eating one — and she was positively gleeful.

In the days before I realized I was chubby (er, fat), ice cream was of great interest to me. Not only because of how it tasted, but because of what happened to it as it melted. I remember taking my spoon and running it around the edge of the bowl for the softest liquidy parts. I remember my brother and I making ice cream lakes, melting chocolate into vanilla and pretending we were forming rivers in our bowls.

Then I remember being told that I wasn't supposed to eat ice cream because I was too fat. Suddenly, ice cream became forbidden. Suddenly I wanted, needed, to have it. All of it. I was no longer interested in any aspect of ice cream but getting as much into my mouth as I could, as fast as possible. The hiding and sneaking started. The feeling that I was bad every time I ate it.

But there is another way to live with food. It's called eating with gusto, joy, and pleasure.

A student of mine named Sunny tells this story: "Once a month I take myself out for a steak-and-mashed-potatoes dinner. I love steak — love, love, love it. But I don't think I am supposed to eat it. This doesn't stop me, of course, but it does stop me from enjoying it. So I eat my dinner in a hurry — as if someone I know is going to walk in the door, and I have to be quick before I am discovered. Then I pay for my meal, hurry home, and spend the rest of the night feeling ashamed of what I ate."

I ask Sunny what she thinks would happen if she allowed herself to eat with gusto. To taste every bite. To pay attention to what she finds pleasurable about it. I tell her the story about Ed and the Zen master. I ask her what she thinks her life would be like if she ate her once-a-month steak the way Ed was to smoke his cigarettes.

She laughs hard, and her eyes light up. "Eating is always a guilty pleasure," she says. "I feel as if I'm not supposed to enjoy food because I need to lose 10 pounds, and people who are supposed to lose 10 pounds should be ashamed of themselves. They should eat dry chicken without skin and salad without dressing — not steak and mashed potatoes."

Now we've gotten to the core belief: Emotional eaters and/or those of us who feel as if we are overweight are not supposed to enjoy food. We are supposed to skulk around, eating food that tastes like leather. Better yet, we should be eating astronaut food: freeze-dried pellets of desiccated vegetables.

Forget it.

After over 30 years of working with emotional eaters, I can confidently say that I've never met anyone who has ever lost weight — and kept it off — by deprivation. We are sensory, pleasure-loving beings. It is not just calories that fill us up, but the joy we take from eating them.

We don't overeat because we take too much pleasure from food, but because we don't take enough. When pleasure ends, overeating begins.

Imagine what your life would be like if you let yourself eat with passion. If you felt entitled, no matter what you weighed, to eat with gusto. You may discover that foods you loved — as well as those you didn't — truly do give you pleasure, and there's no price tag attached. And that's how it should be. Why not be astonished by the crisp taste of an apple? Why not revel in the smooth texture of an olive? Since you need to eat to live, why let one moment of joy — even one — pass you by?


If you loved reading this article, think about joining me for my next workshop, Women, Food, and God: A Transformational Path, together with a community of friends on October 7-9, 2016. Three days of in constant support, endless kindness and ever present awareness. Learn the tools of inquiry, body sensing, meditation, and my Eating Guidelines, which are the basis of the journey.

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43 responses to “Deeply Delicious

  1. Of all your philosophies, Geneen, this is the one I struggle with the most. I do NOT love food. I HATE the fact that I have to eat…it gets in the way of all the other stuff I’d rather be doing. I resent every stomach growl, every tremble from hunger, every moment I could be designing, reading, exercising, praying, sleeping, etc. instead. I know that’s nuts, but it’s how I feel…and THAT sentiment is one I wish I could address. Not only do I feel guilty for eating junk when I’m eating it emotionally, but I also feel angry when I have to eat it to fuel my body! I can’t win! How I’d love to solve this puzzle…and eat with the same joy I do other things because I actually enjoy eating and am thrilled I need to do it. At any rate, you always hit the nail on the head for me, I just wish this one thing was clearer. SIGH.

    1. I think everything changes when you understand that eating good food is an expression of love towards yourself. I am not saying it’s easy… But be willing to love yourself and give yourself the best you can give. The food is a gift for your body so it can be healthy and strong. Why you should hate it? You have to change the idea in your mind of what food is. Of course what I am saying is just what I believe and what I would like to remember… Most of the times it;s not that easy.

  2. I wish you’d address the issues those of us with health issues that require us to give up some of our favorite foods. I’m not depriving myself because I think it’s wrong for me to eat food. I’m depriving myself because if I don’t, I’ll not live that good long life I hope to live. People think that ought to be motivation enough, but it doesn’t help when the emotions or tragedy-level stress are screaming for this or that food. I don’t want to say what my particular health issue is because I don’t want to focus on my specific problem. I want to see you, if you can, help everyone who has emotional eating issues but who must restrict their diet. It’s very difficult to live that way and I’ve had so many friends and relatives who are dealing with this problem and who have discussed it with me. And I wish I could help them, but I don’t know what to do, either.

    1. Hi Linda, me too. I have chronic illness and my food choices directly affect my health and well-being. When I was first diagnosed I felt overwhelmed with “can’ts” and “shoulds.” I had to learn to practice presence even more than before. I had practiced the Eating Guidelines so how could I use them to see my situation in a new light? It helps me to remember that food is fuel. It nourishes me, not just in body, but enjoyment. I ask myself everyday, what fuels me? What fuels my body, my mind, my soul and spirit? I notice when The Voice throws out words like “require” and “deprive” in my head and I kick those thoughts out. I too had to deal with tragedy-level stress and staying with myself was still the best gift I could give myself. When I ate cake balls to avoid my grief I noticed that I felt exhausted later. When I eat foods that aggravate my condition I notice my pain comes back. When I eat things that make me feel good, I notice the energy. Nothing’s off limits. I just ask myself, will this fuel me? Will it help me be who I want to be? Feel the way I want to feel? It’s really about love. Learning to love me, to believe, truly believe I deserve to feel energetic, joyful, pain-free, because I deserve joy, energy, a happy, productive life. Nothing’s off limits because I deserve what gives me joy. If I crave something, I eat it, and I’m honest with myself about how it makes me feel. That took all the allure out of the foods that felt off-limits. I can have anything I want. And I want, I deserve to feel as wonderful as I possibly can. So I choose the foods, the sleep, the activities, the hobbies, the friends, the books, etc. that create that for me.

      1. I remember reading a chapter in Geneen’s: “When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair: 50 Ways to Feel Thin, Gorgeous, and Happy (When You Feel Anything But)” about her experience related to eating a particular way for her health. I hope this helps.

      2. Beth. Thank you. I absolutely loved your reply. The further I travel on this journey the more I’ve come to realize that what you’ve said is exactly true.

    2. Agreed. I have gut issues which keep me from eating many foods (so many I don’t know what to actually eat simetimes) and I feel deprived… I still end up binging on things I may not even like much or if I do like the good I am eating I rationalize I can eat a bunch of it since I get so little of other things. I am so limited as to what I can consume, but what I eat is more than enough as my weight has steadily risen by 5 lbs this year.

  3. Love this! Recently we went to breakfast with some friends prior to a long trip. After listening to their discussions about why they should not be eating this or that, must divide the scone in half because of calories, etc., etc. , I lost my appetite. I decided I was going to wait & get something to eat when I could enjoy eating it rather than eat something in such a negative atmosphere. It is as if people believe that if they feel guilty about eating certain foods, they will not absorb the calories or have anything bad happen to them.

    1. This reminds me so much of when I was a young girl. I would go out to eat with my younger sister, my best friend, and my best friend’s younger sister. The four of us would go to this Mexican restaurant and analyze how many calories they were eating (their mother was a pathological dieter). They often figured they couldn’t eat more, definitely not dessert. I would get so upset watching all of this I would order another meal, and consume it all in front of them. Then, I would have dessert. I was the thinnest of all of us for a long time, but now I realize, I was eating for all of us, and I’ve gained 60 pounds.

  4. Geneen you have the ability to help us mobilise away from pathology to a true appreciation and gratitude for life. Your wisdom alone is inspiring and beautiful before we even begin to feel your compassion.Fatness as armour….my daily war – but i do love my green vegies – promise!!!!

  5. This is true! Being an emotional eater I notice I loose weight and feel better when I actually eat my favorite cookies and chocolate sweets several times a day. I will eat 1/4 cookie in the morning with coffee and a spoon of cottage cheese, then a chocolate candy in 2 hours with half apple and so on…. My portions are tiny because when I enjoy, I do not need much! I am size 2 and I feel good! But once I read about a diet and decide to go cold turkey on any sugar, bad magic happens, I become size 6 in a month and I binge on snickers bars etc. I feel horrible. So my best way going forward is to eat sweets daily and enjoy my life! 🙂 thanks Geneen!

  6. Thank you, Geneen, for this wonderful, delicious to my brain, article on dealing with ones relationship with food! I appreciate receiving your weekly emails.


  7. Thanks Geneen!
    I’ve been following you snce long time ago, I have lost and gain weight, I’m more conscious know but I simply don’t understand what program is Under me that keeps me still with 10 pounds I want to loose, I have made lots of cardio, without success, I’m know doing weight lifting and although I feel good with my body, stronger, still can’t lose weight, sometimes I let myself eat what ever it wants but most of the time I control my food.
    someday, I know and this is a goal, I will go to one of your retreats, that’s one of my dreams, when I will be able to afford it!
    in the meantime, thank you so much for sharing all this with us!

  8. When pleasure ends, overeating begins.That little sentence just hit me. Since few months I realize how much I put energy in doing things for my business, my friends, my partner, my clients and even my dog, but rarely for me. All work and no fun. And when I give myself some time off, I feel guilt deep deep inside of me and it takes me all my strenght to not just jump into my car and drive by a McDonald and eat my life…

    Maybe 1 year ago, I was not able to stop me from bingeing, but slowly, I started to force fun activities in my schedule to stop thinking about food all the time. I start going at the pool…For a 300 pounds wowen, It was kind of a big deal, but I did it and I really enjoy it. I also started playing guitar and maked my first vegetable garden and I fell in love with life, MY life. Before, I was simply waiting to die. There was nothing in my life to let me see its value, no fun at all, just work and responsabilities.

    Now I see the light. I gave up my obsession of losing weight. I would like to, but I’m not sure that I really can. And if it never happens, I want to be happy anyway. My life is great, I’m a lucky woman who’s surrounded by love and slowly, this love is contaminating me. It’s really slow, but I can feel my darknight of the soul leaving me, finally. My biggest challenge is to allow myself having fun and never forget that my purpose in life is not to lose weight…. God, Geneen, where were you all my life? Thank you for your work, your books and your love.

  9. It was a good day when I discovered that the reason it was so difficult to eat without TV and the newspaper was because I didn’t deserve to eat at all, so I needed distract myself from what a terrible thing I was doing.

  10. Wow, just read your article and although it all makes sense, I think it will take some time for me to not be scared of food. I eat all the “bad stuff” when my boyfriend is not around so that he does not look at me with disgust when I am with him. 🙁 because he knows I want to lose the weight and then asking me well why are you eating like that then?

  11. <> What a radical idea. Enjoying ones food whilst eating. Or – truly shocking – eating with others. Someday I will do just that. And, NOT feel guilty afterwards. Someday.

  12. Wow! This is amazing and insightful. I was just thinking along similar lines, that I often don’t enjoy food, I just eat because I”m hungry, because I want a different taste in my mouth, because I’m frustrated, etc, etc. It’s not because I have a loving relationship with food. This gives me more fodder for journaling!

  13. Geneen, your work means so much to me and has for years and years. You always give me something to think about that can push me forward a bit, while giving me an opportunity to step out of my comfort zone. Thank you and keep up your amazing work. You are a hero.

  14. i am in the throes of an eating disorder that latched onto me 50 years ago and has tormented me all these years (I’m almost 69)…i work at Ann Wigmore Natural Health Institute and learned about Raw Food in 1981 (34 years ago) and i actually do believe that raw food has the only real nutrition….but, alas I am a junk food addict (opposite extreme) and I suffer knowing how bad compulsive overeating is especially of junk food. I say that I’m not a foodie and wish I could never eat again plus I don’t really enjoy more than the 1st bite and hardly pay attention to the eating. It feels like it’s the act of putting food in my mouth?
    Geneen – I heard you speak in San Diego early 80″s (one of your 1st lectures) and I read your 1st book….recently I read 2 more books cause one of the teachers here had them. You have such insight and it’s amazing how I can relate so intimately but it seems the harder I try to do something about my eating the worse I get – especially getting older, one has to deal with all the disappointments of life which I’m tempted to say were related to my “bad” eating. Now I have every reason “in the book” to eat but I truly want the life I’ve not had – to be with somebody and simply enjoy my body!!
    My eating problem came on because I was very uptight about my body (I was totally flat chested and I believed no man would ever love me or marry me let alone have children. I remember thinking I’d rather be fat than flat and the eating/weight problem gave me the escape I felt I needed…I wish I could have played it all different and enjoyed my body as it was…but now I accept my chest but can’t deal with the 25 pounds – the funny thing is I was very thin for years (though I still binged) but since I’ve been at the Institute I put on 35 pounds eating junk and kept it on several years whereas before I was a yo-yo champ!! I guess I would like you to address that woman are not able to have pleasure in their bodies and are afraid to look sexy (what’s wrong with looking good)…I have never felt sexy (due to my flat chest) and I have mostly had terrible discomfort in my body (except when very thin) but then I didn’t have a boyfriend …sorry for rambling..It’s not easy to describe 50 years…the problem now is I don’t seem able to change or benefit from anything – like I’ve given up which I never have before – every day I resolved to change (that was AFTER the eating of course)…I am interested in your take on Raw food and that cooked or processed food really doesn’t offer much in the way of nutrition…I thought I could heal my mind by detoxing & nourishing the same way people heal their bodies….but I don’t know why it’s not working??? thank you, Phyllis Mager

    1. Dear Phyllis
      I’m Leslie Ann. I’m 66. I have a chest that is size 42DDD and I think I look GROSS! I also have an eating disorder that latched itself onto me about 50 years ago. I am tormented and I judge myself more harshly than ANYONE else ever could. The only time I find any happiness or joy is when I forget about myself and get involved “doing” for someone else. My Ego is the bane of my existence. If I could live completely without my Ego’s interference, I would be a happy and joyous woman. What I have learned in my 66+ years of life is it’s all in how I choose to see myself.

      Today, I read this . . . somewhere: “The more you believe in appearances, in the story told by your physical senses and in the circumstances in which you now find yourself, the less control you have over them. What’s REAL is your Power to change them. All things are possible.

      I have great HOPE for myself . . . and for you.

      With love,

      Leslie Ann

  15. Sound advice my friend.

    Anytime I have ever gone on a deprivation diet it never ever worked! If for no other reason I hate being told what I can and cannot do. Oh yeah! I’ll show you.

    You are still my favorite writer!!!!

  16. Awesome. Eating with gusto, joy and pleasure, something i would never know existed. Wow! Thanks Geneen. I live in Kenya and i recently purchased your book, ‘ Women, Food and God’, today morning i was reading concerning ‘the Voice’ challenging, the status quo…absolutely amazing Geneen.. Thanks again

  17. Dear Geneen,

    I have read many of your books here in the UK and admire your honesty and integrity. I liked the above message and agree that we don’t generally take enough pleasure from our food. My concern though is that if we need to lose weight, or if (like me) we have reached our goal but are at an age where it is hard to maintain, we can so easily start jonesing for our favourite foods just because we need to limit them. It’s human nature to be obsessed with what’s scarce. I do take pleasure in my food when I don’t limit it, but without limiting it I can’t maintain my weight! It’s one of life’s puzzles, I guess.

    Best wishes,

  18. I hope to be able finally to follow your guidance. Your insight and knowledge is phenomenal. Thank you for passing it on. I need your strength and perseverance,that is I need to build my own.

  19. Thank you for this commentary….especially for the perspective of the Zen master: “Only when you give it to yourself completely can you completely give it up.” That statement and Sunny’s steak and potatoes story just spoke to me about how I can’t let myself truly enjoy certain foods I love because of how restrictive I am with myself, not just in my relationship with food, but in so many other areas of my life. Again–Thank you!

  20. Dear Geneen, I agree with you 100 %.!!!!!
    I have tried everything, and beyond for over 40 years… I never thought this would matter at all…to enjoy anything?!!!

    I am slowly understanding this new concept.It has everything to do with my core beliefs about me, who I am and etcs….

    I am glad to say that I am starting to change, with baby steps in this new path.

    Thanks, hugs and blessings!

  21. Love love love your way of speaking the truth. You are a great inspiration! I have been reading your books for years and believe you come closest to allowing people to find their own way to be successful.

    Thank you for not advocating counting calories, proteins, fats, etc. We all have a natural, working system within our own bodies; and by allowing ourselves to truly feel non-guilty and enjoy our dining experiences, we actually can slowly encompass all foods in our diets. Next we become healthier and thinner as we give ourselves permission to change our bodies by eating only as long as the food is still pleasurable.

  22. This is such a strange and puzzling affliction we have, isn’t it? Who takes a simple life-sustaining, God-given, joyful activity and turns it into all emotions negative…guilt, shame, anger, depression…? We do! In my ever advancing years (63), I am way beyond wondering how I got this way; it’s been clear to me for years. But knowing that has not been enough; I haven’t mastered any long-term management of the disorder. My life has been a series of temporary reprieves and remissions only to return time and time again to binging, weight gain and subsequent self-loathing.

    I love you Geneen. You’re the only person out there that can still give me something new to think about. Joyful eating? Who’d a thought?

  23. I love talking about food. I love sharing a good meal with others. Shopping for food is fun for me, as is reading labels to see what is really in that pretty package that catches my eye. I am always looking forward to the next meal. Every adult in my family has type II diabetes except me: probably because I learned from you, Geneen, in a workshop in Atlanta about 30 years ago, that food should make my body and my spirit feel better (lighter?). Not heavy, stuffed, or low energy. I tell everyone (who cares to know) that I am a compulsive eater who keeps an internal dialog going about balance and satiation and my own health. I want to live long and be able to walk and dance and bike and tote my own groceries up the stairs for a few more decades. Eating well allows all that to be possible. Thanks, Geneen. Your insight has helped me see food as one of the joyful and sustaining parts of life.

  24. Thank you Geneen, this article is great. You’re one of my favorite author! Yes, we should love the foods we eat and with pleasure. It’s simple, if you look it simply. Accept what is.

  25. I appreciate every thing I read from Geneen . But I have just put in a lot of weight bc life is so crappy & I can’t love myself.
    How do you explain Oprah doing WW btw? You were awesome on her show way back when.

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