Summary by Katie Morton
Mediation: Get Comfortable. Relax.
Geneen begins with a meditation so that we can be still, experience living in our bodies and get centered. As frustrating as this exercise can be for us, it’s a very necessary and key part of the process of overcoming any compulsions or obsessions around food. If you never notice how you feel, you’ll never be able to know where you are, whether that’s in life, or in regards to hunger or satiety.
Geneen recommends we practice being still and noticing how we feel every day, even if just for two minutes right before a meal. The practice of mindfully returning to yourself again and again is vital to giving up compulsions around food. If you are aware of yourself, you can’t be compulsive, or at the very least, the tendency is hugely diminished.
Geneen says that eating isn’t the only way to feed yourself. Getting “full” via your eyes and your heart affects what you eat. If we take the time to enjoy our environment and listen to our bodies and our heart’s desires, we won’t be so driven towards food. Our lives and hearts become fuller.
If you’re bored or annoyed by having to sit still and be present during the meditation, if you wish Geneen would get on with it, question your thought and ask if it’s true: Is Geneen really wasting time by teaching us to be present? Welcome your thought without having to react to it.
When you are struck by thoughts like, “I need this now! I need this treat, period,” whether that’s a new pair of boots or a gadget or a cupcake, questioning the thought allows you to quiet down. The more you question these impatient thoughts, the more comfortable you become in your own skin.
We have the privilege and the luxury to have this time together. The healing of one of us affects us all.
After years of restricting her eating and then giving up and binging, Geneen never thought about listening to herself, her body and seeing what she really needed. She never ate when she was hungry or stopped when she had enough, because she thought food and hunger was the problem. She feared paying attention to her feelings of hunger would give food and her appetite too much power.
Geneen thought if she listened to her hunger and her needs for things under the umbrella of need – like love and attention –– she would completely lose control and surrender authority of herself to a litany of insatiable needs.
When nothing else was working and she desperately wanted to stop dieting and binging, when there was nothing left to try, Geneen finally decided to listen to her body and eat when she was hungry and stop when she had enough. Suddenly her relationship with food was the simplest thing in the world. It was like she discovered what was missing in the equation with food. That’s when she began following The Eating Guidelines.
Rules Make People Rebel
People think rules are made to be broken. They think of rules as a way to curb their freedom, and being told what to do — even if we like it at first — will eventually make us rebel. In an effort to keep all that rebelling to a minimum, Geneen has tried different names for her set of instructions around eating.
Aside from calling them The Eating Guidelines, she has also called these instructions “If Love Could Speak.” Because what else does Love want, but for you to love yourself? So if Love could speak, Love would tell you to eat this way. The Guidelines are loving; they are “love-speaking” to you about food.
What We Stand to Gain by Following (or Not Following) The Eating Guidelines
The extent you follow The Guidelines, or don’t follow them, is a barometer for your inner life. If you are not following The Guidelines, then ask yourself what you need that isn’t food. If you’re eating when you’re not hungry, then you’re hungry for something that isn’t food, and you don’t know how to get it.
To follow The Guidelines requires you — not to be aware just of food — but also to become aware of what else you need in your life to feel satisfied.
Be in the present moment with yourself to know when you’re hungry: whether your body is actually hungry for food, or if you are hungry for something else in life. This requires awareness, self reflection and kindness towards yourself. Be present, be aware, on your own behalf. Exercise awareness combined with kindness towards yourself in order to know what you want and translate that into action.
Say to yourself, “I am hungry, but not for food right now. What else do I need? What else do I want?” Sometimes the answers don’t simply present themselves to us neatly. There is courage in not knowing or seeing what your feelings of need are about at first but staying aware of those feelings anyway. It might be confusing and scary and uncomfortable, but give yourself some time and patience to figure it out and acknowledge your own wants and needs. Be kind and have patience with yourself.
Comparison of the Women, Food and God Retreat With The Eating Guidelines Retreat
In the retreat, many high-level concepts were explored around our compulsion to turn to food rather than being with ourselves. Geneen taught us how to investigate and apply many of the ideas outlined in her book, Women, Food and God.
The concepts covered included: It’s not about the weight, but it’s not not about the weight. When we can’t’ move with ease, then it becomes about the weight. But how we got into that state of being so overweight that we are physically uncomfortable living in our bodies, and how we continue to overeat to keep ourselves that way, has nothing to do with the weight.
People read Women, Food and God and get excited about the insights they have and the “aha moments.” While those are certainly valuable and inspiring, insight can’t carry us through and provide us with lasting change.
This retreat, The Eating Guidelines Retreat, is going to help us take action. It’s the practical, logical answer to, “What do I do when I want to eat when I’m not hungry?”
So what do you do the next time you want to eat and you’re not hungry or you want to keep eating when you’re not hungry anymore? We have choices to make every moment. The world is on your plate, and this retreat is where the rubber meets the road.
What Is The Eating Guidelines Retreat About?
We will find out what to do with our thoughts – what we’ve never been aware of before – when we don’t know how to deal with them. We will discover what it is we can do when confronted by this hunger of heart but don’t know what do about it. When we think, “I don’t know how to get my heart satisfied, so I might as well eat!” we will learn what choices we have instead. We will begin make positive and life-affirming decisions by being present and being kind to ourselves.
Every time we eat instead of listening to our heart’s desires, we confirm that we’re bad, alone and doomed. Geneen spoke of a woman who was engaged and active in her community, yet she was always seeing limitations. She was seeing what was available to her, and she was overeating to forbid herself from having it.
Despite the reality that there is so much available to us, – contact and love, we can get around in our bodies – at this moment we can touch and can take in and enjoy life … Yet we still sometimes miss out on what we already have and all the great things that are right in front of us for the taking. Regardless, we ignore The Guidelines and instead we comfort ourselves with food. We perpetuate our negative beliefs by eating.
Our struggle with food and The Eating Guidelines is a story about loving and wanting and having. It’s about what we have, and what we are allowed to have. We think, “I was not loved enough by my mother, and therefore, I’m not loveable.” We bring that into our present moment and express that via how and what we eat. The Eating Guidelines approach all of that thinking via our relationship with food directly.
Our main approach for learning about The Eating Guidelines, and therefore ourselves, will be learning via hunger, satisfaction, enough and what all of that feels like. When you practice The Eating Guidelines, you will finally know what it actually feels like when you are actually hungry. Even when you only do that a few times a week, you will realize how often you eat when you aren’t hungry and how much you’re abusing food.
The Eating Guidelines Are Our North Star
When you follow The Eating Guidelines, you are listening to your body and being kind to yourself. Be aware that whatever that means will change from day to day based on what’s going on with you. It doesn’t matter how many times you forget to follow The Guidelines; it only matters that you remember.
The Eating Guidelines are like the North Star. You will never land on the North Star, but you use it as a guide, a compass or a reference point. The Guidelines are what eating naturally and intuitively is like. If food weren’t a problem, if we ate with presence and with kindness for ourselves, then The Eating Guidelines would be second nature. That’s how we are going to learn to eat.
This retreat isn’t about looking at all your monsters coming out at once. It’s about looking at it all slowly, bit by bit.
See that your relationship with food is a doorway. It’s a blessing to get to do this over the next few weeks, going through The Guidelines one by one in progression.
How to Approach the Weekly Practices
You can work on any Guideline in any order, but Geneen recommends you practice one per week. When we focus on one Guideline per week, it enables us to check in with ourselves, see what food is answering for you and what you’re deprived of and any spiritual hungers you may have. We’ll see what we have and what we’re missing by following one guideline per week.
Sometimes we get impatient with the slow approach. Impatience equals suffering and anguish. Our impatience might look like, “If only I could lose weight, then I would be happy. If only I could remove this from myself – that needling need – I would be happy.” We want to remove the anguish; but the anguish is NOT CAUSED by being fat and wanting to lose weight. The anguish is already there and we piled the weight on top of it.
If you took away the whole food thing, then the discomfort would still be there and it would express itself another way. Food is just the tip of the iceberg, and it’s through working with the relationship with food that we address, softly and kindly via The Guidelines, what comes up. Eat when you’re hungry, and feel what you feel when you’re not. Since food is how we mediate all those feelings, we will follow The Eating Guidelines to learn how to feel, what we need, and what to do.
When we feel like we’re in a rush to just get this done, to lose the weight and be done with it, we’re missing the point. Diets are based on fear and deprivation and not being with ourselves.
When we start to eat when we’re hungry, it often takes just three bites for hunger to go away, and then we feel an “uh oh.” That’s when we want to bolt to avoid seeing what’s going on with us. We know what we need to be fixed, but we aren’t interested in where we are right now and learning what we need.
One retreat-goer never wanted to know why she wasn’t following guidelines, she just wanted to lose the weight and get on with the rest of her life. But if you aren’t interested in what you do with food, then you’re not interested in who you are and all that comes out when you start following The Eating Guidelines. We think we can’t feel our feelings or they will destroy us. There is nothing in our lives that is unworkable if we’re kind to ourselves, curious about ourselves, and we get the support we need.
This Week’s Eating Guideline Practice: Eat When You’re Hungry
If there are times that you decide to eat even though you’re not hungry, be curious and notice what happens, but Geneen warns that insight alone won’t lead to change; it’s our actions that make a difference. You need to start somewhere.
Decide on a number of times you can practice The Guideline “Eat When You’re Hungry” in a day. It might only be once a day. Bring it to the outer edge of your comfort level, but don’t go beyond that. You can’t decide you’re suddenly going to begin eating only when you’re hungry and nail it perfectly every time, or you’re setting yourself up to fail. However, you need to go beyond your comfort zone or there’s no change.
So promise yourself that you’re going to take it up a level. Try the practice once every day, twice a day or three times a day.
Choose a time or a meal that you can practice this. It might be breakfast or a snack at work. Choose a time when you can pay attention to what you’re eating.
This Week’s Other Practice: Explore Your Hungers
Find out what hunger is to you. What does hunger feel like? Wait until you get hungry to find out how you experience hunger. For now, just explore what it means for you. Notice what scares you, what you need to change in your life, and what’s easy.
You might even keep a log or journal, but don’t make it hard or cumbersome. Just take a few notes. You might be surprised about the physical sensation of hunger. When you eat when you’re hungry, notice when the hunger stops. Notice when another hunger comes up, and ask what you’re hungry for.
: moments alone outside, to hold a child’s hand or smell his neck, to touch a plant, to take in something beautiful, to listen to music, to sing or paint, to read a juicy novel, to pet an animal, to hear the birds sing, to watch a breeze move through a tree, to feel grass beneath your feet, to feel sunshine on your shoulders, to rub lotion on your legs, to get your feet wet … What is it that you want to take in that’s not food?
Once a day, indulge a hunger that you have for something that’s not food related.
1. Translate insight into action. If you don’t do something differently, then no change will happen.
2. Start slowly. Make sure to practice “Eat When You’re Hungry” at least once per day.
3. Notice when you’re hungry for non-food pleasures – allow yourself to have a non-food indulgence you are craving at least once a day.
4. Read The Eating Guidelines.