Summary by Katie Morton – Part 3: Eating Guideline #2 – Eat Sitting Down in a Calm Environment & Eating Guideline #3 Eat – Without Distractions

Summary by Katie Morton

This week, I wrote an article about the science behind Geneen’s session. The story is about how paying attention actually changes our brains to make us happy. It’s a short read, and it helps drive home how easy (and necessary!) it is to practice paying attention in our everyday lives: How Focusing on Mundane Household Tasks Can Make You Happy.


Attention is the clearest form of love we can give. To give ourselves attention is a way to love ourselves. If we don’t know how to be kind and love ourselves any other way, then listening to this Eating Guidelines Retreat is a way to love ourselves; it’s love in action.

Give yourself this, even if you don’t know what this is or how this is going to end up. Something called you here. Of all the ways you can spend time / energy / money, you have chosen this. You have chosen to be here. Honor that.

Orienting, grounding, centering. What is your intention? What do you want? What will you hear? Or is this my last ditch attempt to solve this thing with food. Look deeper. Frame it in a positive statement.

What do you want for yourself? When you’re clear about that, when you’re not just muddling through ... if you’re clear about what your intention is, that’s a guide for you. It helps you to listen with your heart. You can listen differently. You can pay attention differently because you know why you’re here. Because then you’re less likely to fight with yourself or to argue with Geneen (internally) as she speaks.

Pay attention to Geneen and pay attention to your intention.

What Are You Tending on Your Half Acre?

Geneen tells the story of trying to connect deeply with her father, who even at the end of his life, just wanted to watch the Financial News Network. She says we’re all given a proverbial half acre to tend that represents our lives. Some want to tend roses, some potatoes. It’s not right or wrong. It’s only important that you know what you want to grow on your half acre.

If we didn’t want to fix our obsession with food, we wouldn’t participate in this retreat. So know that a lifetime obsession with food is not part of your plan for your half acre. Weed your garden so you can grow what you want on your half acre.

Here Are The Eating Guidelines:

We are talking about 2 & 3 this week.

1. Eat when you are hungry.

2. Eat sitting down in a calm environment. This does not include the car.

3. Eat without distractions. Distractions include radio, telephone, newspapers, books, intense or anxiety-producing conversations or music.

4. Eat what your body wants.

5. Eat until you are satisfied.

6. Eat (with the intention of being) in full view of others.

7. Eat with enjoyment, gusto and pleasure.

What Is it Like to Pay Attention?

The Eating Guidelines are about coming into your body. Pick your head up and notice where your body actually is. Usually your mind roams and your body just schleps along with your mind. We’re so led and run by our minds, and we don’t allow ourselves to take in our environment and just be here.

Paying attention is a deep form of love. If we don’t pay attention when eating, we feel like we missed it and so we keep eating it over and over again.

What is it like to pay attention when there’s no big charge like there is with food? Pay attention to a chandelier, a photograph, a teacup or what an iPod really looks like.

We don’t want to get to end our lives and feel like we missed them because we didn’t pay attention. When we get a terminal medical diagnosis, it makes us finally appreciate what we have. And then we begin to appreciate how gorgeous a teacup is or the smile of someone we love, or the air or wind on your face.

That kind of diagnosis breaks the trance of not seeing. You start to actually see exactly what’s in front of you and take it in. What if you could do that right now, this very second, right now. All we’re talking about is paying attention. Notice sensations: warmth, coolness. Your hands. Your breath.

What if This Doesn’t Work?

One participant, Tricia, wrote in to Geneen to say that she’s sad and upset. The message she’s giving herself is that she’s not worth the effort. She finds herself at the 3rd week of this online retreat feeling like this attempt at dealing with her food issues won’t work, and here she is failing again. She’s facing a lot of internal resistance to the Eating Guidelines. She feels like she “should” practice the guidelines, but she doesn’t want to, and thinks she’s going to fail. What can she do to get beyond her deep-seeded beliefs and move on?

Geneen says if we feel not worth it, then it will affect our Eating Guidelines and whole retreat. If we think “why make the effort” that’s what Geneen calls cutting ourselves off at the knees before anyone else can do it. That’s The Voice talking.

The Voice

In the book Women, Food and God, there’s a chapter about The Voice, which is called The GPS From the Twilight Zone. Read it again. There is that part of ourselves called The Voice, the super ego, the internalized critic, the parent, the judge.

The Voice shouts at you, “Are you nuts? What makes you think that this is going to be any different? You’re not worth it, give me a break, look at you, nothing will work, you’re a failure.”The Voice talks to us with disgust, repulsion, and like it absolutely knows the truth: “Don’t even try. I can’t believe you wasted more of your time on this. Come on.”

I (this is Katie talking now) just realized as I’m editing these pages from the retreat, that The Voice had been running the show for me. I hadn’t really been practicing the Eating Guidelines. I had been feeling out of control ... like I am not running my own show, as if I have no control over my own actions or what I put in my mouth. The Voice had been telling me that I’ll never get my impulses under control. Just knowing this makes me feel like I am the boss of me. I can squash The Voice and choose to hijack myself and regain control. Okay, now back to Geneen...

The Voice happens anytime there’s a chance for transformation or change, because it internalized what got us into trouble in the past and wants to do everything in its power to keep us “safe” and small. The Voice tries to keep us in Survival Mode. It also controls our mores and morals, such as how to behave.

There are subtle things we learn about how to act in order to be loved. The Voice is the way that we keep our situation on lockdown, to keep the status quo and to keep ourselves from changing.

As a young kid, anytime we were about to do what could get us in trouble, or was not on the list of ways to be loved, we were able to internalize what our parents would have said to us if we’d done that. So instead of our parents yelling at us, we reprimand ourselves.

That Voice is part of humanity development. Everybody has one and has to deal with this part of themselves for real transformation to happen. What was once self protection is no longer our friend. The Voice is the biggest obstacle to any kind of change.

You take back your power by noticing The Voice and seeing that you’re identifying it.

In the question that Tricia asks, there’s no difference between her and The Voice. She actually thinks, “I’m not worth it, I’m going to fail.” We feel small, diminished, paralyzed, ashamed, bad. Like a failure. We don’t want to try any more. If that Voice is there, then why get up at all if we just get cut down. And most of us choose to stay down so we don’t get knocked over.

What Else Can We Do About The Voice?

Read the chapter about The Voice and listen to the Women, Food and God retreat module.

Pay attention to when you go from feeling okay about yourself to feeling negative and start attacking yourself. The only way to deal with that is to stop it. You can’t reason with it. You have to stop it. Say STOP. You are not my friend. You are not allowed to talk to me that way. Sorry. It’s imperative you stop The Voice, because it wants the status quo; it wants no change.

Stop The Voice and disengage. Parse out the “I” within the statement “I” am a failure. Don’t let The Voice say that. Separate out the “you” from the “it” and say “Stop, I’m sorry, you’re not allowed to talk to me like this.” And at that point you’ve got some distance.

I Love Food. What About Pleasure and Beauty in Life?

Another participant writes to tell Geneen how much she loves food. She is a foodie and she’s afraid she won’t have the love of food by following the Eating Guidelines.

Geneen says that pleasure and beauty are necessities in life. Our souls, hearts and eyes need beauty. Paying attention to food is a form of love and appreciation. When you look and pay attention to the food you’re eating – eat sitting down and without distractions – that Eating Guideline is absolutely about paying attention and a love of food.

When you follow the Eating Guideline of eat sitting down and without distractions, you can’t help but see what food is made of, the colors, textures, aromas ... you get to enjoy the ecstatic component in eating that most people miss because we’re not paying attention. Loving food dovetails into the guidelines we’re talking about this session, because when you love something, you pay attention and take time with it.

Think about someone you love, and what it takes to be with them. What if you’re with them while you’re on Facebook, Twitter, opening and closing the fridge, doing 5 things at once while you’re supposed to be with this person?

That’s what we do with food. We don’t pay attention to it. Most compulsive eaters don’t’ love food. We eat it to change the channel on what’s barreling across the screens of our mind. We eat to comfort and protect, not for the taste. If you eat when you’re not hungry, then you’re using food and it could be cardboard you are stuffing in your mouth.

The point of the Eating Guidelines is to love food and to eat it when your body is hungry, stop eating when you’ve had enough, and eat while paying attention. Eating sitting down in a calm environment and without distractions – that’s all about attention and appreciation as a form of love.

We don’t’ have that much attention that we can split it off into that many pieces to taste and appreciate what we’re eating if we’re doing anything else while eating. Why not give yourself the luxury of tasting what you eat? The only way you can do that is to pay attention when you eat.

What About When We’re Eating With Friends?

It’s hard to pay attention to our food when we’re conversing with friends over a meal. Geneen recommends we pay attention once a day, or whatever is on the far edge of what feels comfortable. Push yourself beyond what’s comfortable in order to make some progress without scaring yourself back to your comfort zone. Pick some time alone to practice the Eating Guidelines.

We usually dish about crap when eating with friends. If there’s some alternate way of immersing yourself in the joy and pleasure of eating, then focus on that. If you have small kids, lock yourself in the bathroom and give yourself 2 or 3 minutes. Take whatever amount of time you can give yourself to focus on eating and food.

Love What You Are Eating

The overarching intent of the Eating Guidelines is to allow you to love what you are eating by way of paying attention to what you’re eating.

We rationalize away calories by saying things like: it’s free calories if we’re standing up while we eat. It’s a free sample so it doesn’t count. I took it off someone else’s plate or I don’t like it, broken cookies don’t count, on vacation... etc. These are all moments of appreciation, of pleasure, joy, ecstasy that we have stolen from ourselves. Why? Why steal pleasure from yourself? Why steal joy from yourself?

It’s as if we become thieves of our own desires. That might be The Voice speaking when we say things to ourselves like: I’m going to eat at the stove because I don’t think it’s okay for me to sit down. I don’t deserve to eat sitting down at the table with a plate or silverware. I don’t deserve it. Who told you that and how old are you when you are paying attention to that old instruction?

Any Time You Don’t Pay Attention, You Are Missing Your Life

Some of us think, “What if I live alone and I’m lonely and I like watching TV or reading to cut the loneliness while I eat?” Geneen says you’re not taking care of the loneliness. What you’re doing is taking the pleasure from eating.

We think that eating while surfing the tubes will dissolve loneliness, like it’s the pill or cure for loneliness, but it won’t work. A physical thing can’t take away a feeling. It might distract you for 5 or 10 minutes, but then you missed out on what you ate and when it’s all over, you’re still lonely.

Eating sitting down might evoke stories for you about how “only losers eat alone” or “people who eat alone aren’t in relationships.” Eating sitting down might bring up these stories you might believe about eating or living alone. But stories need to be questioned, and they will never get questioned while you are distracted while eating.

Your Beliefs Need to Be Questioned

The real question is: “It is true that only losers eat alone?” If the loneliness is there and it’s pervasive, then let’s look at that. Let’s inquire into that and see what you’re calling loneliness. Is it really so scary?

“I’m afraid that if I actually feel my feelings then I won’t actually be okay. “ That is also a belief that needs to be questioned. You will never find out what’s true unless you stop using food to make it go away. You will be haunted by what you’re telling yourself because you’ll believe it’s true.

The unfelt universe comes into you when you stop using food to push your stuff down. Then you must break free from what’s driving your obsessions, and what’s driving those obsession is the unquestioned beliefs. We don’t know what your beliefs are until you eat sitting down without distractions.

There’ is resistance to the Eating Guidelines because we wonder, “What if what I think or feel is true?” But the only way we can find out is by following the Eating Guidelines.

Let’s Question Loneliness and Boredom

Let’s think about loneliness. Maybe what we think is loneliness is simply aloneness, with no value judgment there. Maybe it’s a feeling of autonomy overlaid with childhood impressions that are no longer relevant and aren’t true. Maybe loneliness feels like relief. Maybe aloneness feels like the whole night sky is in your chest.

What Geneen knows for certain is that it’s not what you’re telling yourself. We make things up all the time and then we believe what we made up. Because we don’t question our beliefs, we walk around frightened of our own feelings.

Notice that these two Eating Guidelines bring up a lot of beliefs that we have – about boredom – I’m bored with my own company, bored with my own mind so I have to distract myself. Boredom is a lack of attention. When you pay attention to food –colors, tastes – it’s enthralling (and we know when we’ve had enough.) When your mind wanders away from the food that’s in front of you, it gets boring.

Ask Yourself These Five Questions

1. What scares you about following these guidelines? Are you afraid of being overwhelmed by emotions? What would life be like? Raw? Powerful?

2. Who would be threatened in your life if you followed these guidelines?

3. How would your life have to change to follow these guidelines? In order to follow them once a day for a few minutes, what kind of re-orientation would need to happen?

4. What relationships would change, and how would they change?

5. What benefit do you get by not following the guidelines? How does that help you? I get to avoid tears. I’m distracted constantly. Food helps me allay anxiety. I get to avoid paying attention to a situation that could really use my attention.

The Eating Guidelines are like the North Star. Don’t expect to follow them perfectly, but they are there to guide you in your decision making. They’re not rules. If love could speak, it would say, “Pay attention sweetheart, pay attention to the food you’re eating. Love the food, the taste, colors, and textures. Let yourself have it by paying attention to it.” Let love say that.

A participant, Casey, wrote to Geneen about her tendency to do what somebody else wants to do, even if she doesn’t want to, because she thinks then she will be loved. Geneen says that a lot of us have a hunger for true contact and self valuing, and loving ourselves. Giving yourself up to get love is not how you end up feeling love. You’re not going to feel more loved if you compromise your own self.

These Eating Guidelines are all about attention, appreciation, and all about love. When you pay attention to when you’re hungry ... how do I tell the difference between gradations on the hunger scale? ... that takes paying attention. When you are distracting yourself, then you can’t pay attention. It takes time and practice and the willingness to pay attention.

What if I don’t love or value myself right now? Then you live as if you do. Walk as if you really, really like yourself. See if that changes how you walk, how you talk. Live as if. This week, pay attention.

This Week’s Practices:

Pay attention to paying attention. What’s it like to pay attention? What’s it like to eat without distraction?

These are the two guidelines we’re focused on:

  • Eat sitting down in a calm environment. This does not include the car.
  • Eat without distractions. Distractions include radio, telephone, newspapers, books, intense or anxiety-producing conversations or music.

Ask yourself the 5 questions:

  • What scares you about following these guidelines? Are you afraid of being overwhelmed by emotions? What would life be like? Raw? Powerful?
  • Who would be threatened in your life if you followed these guidelines?
  • How would your life have to change to follow these guidelines? In order to follow them once a day for a few minutes, what kind of re-orientation would need to happen?
  • What relationships would change, and how would they change?
  • What benefit do you get by not following the guidelines? What do you get to avoid?

Notice when you’re not paying attention and what you’re avoiding and telling yourself.

In terms of food, how many times per day or week can you follow these two Eating Guidelines? Pay attention to food and notice how that changes how you eat, what you eat, what you take in.


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