Summary by Katie Morton – Part 3: What Are You REALLY Hungry For?

The following Summary of Geneen's third live call was written by Katie Morton, an Online Course participant, who graciously granted us the rights to reprint it here for the rest of you. It is Copyright Katie Morton 2010, and appears originally at Katies's "Swell Easy Living" blog. Please note that while you may read it here on your private Student blog, you may not copy it or share it with others
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Course Overview

• You have to work the practices to “get” the lessons. A whole world of insight opens when you practice Eat When You’re Hungry.

• How do I know what to eat when I’m hungry?

• How do I eat when I’m hungry within the constraints of my schedule?

• How do I eat when I’m hungry when I have food restrictions?

• The definition of inquiry and what inquiry is not. How to begin inquiry.

• Drop Your Agenda; Question Your Assumptions

• More Ways to Deal With The Voice


When Geneen begins the meditation this week, I again find myself looking for something else to do. This week, I really fool myself because I’m convinced it’s highly necessary work that needs to be done immediately. Yeah, at 9PM.

When Geneen says, “Notice how much pull there is to not be right here. How aggravated you get to be asked to be present, to be with yourself.” Those words bring me back into the moment.

Within the meditation as Geneen asks us to notice the sensations in our bodies, she mentions two body parts that people are usually unhappy with – thighs and belly.

She asks us to place one palm on the navel, the other palm on top. “Feel movement, your breath, just notice the preciousness of this breath, this life. Allowing yourself to arrive right here right now.”

It’s a gentle reminder that we can notice and feel our body parts for what they are - living, feeling parts of ourselves - without judging them.

Participant Questions About the Guideline “Eat When You’re Hungry”

Geneen kicks things off by telling us that we have to do the practices to learn this work. She says that if you did last week’s practice of actually eating when you’re hungry, you would have gotten a glimpse of what you’re actually hungry for that isn’t food.

Jump right in at any time to begin only eating when you’re hungry, and a world opens up. When you only eat when you’re hungry, you stop dampening your heart’s desires and drowning them with food; you discover what you want besides food.

I got a glimpse that I’m hungry for neatness, organization, a sense of well-being in my home. It’s easy to procrastinate by eating when I’m tired and bored and don’t want to clean up. But when I resisted that urge to eat, I saw that what I really wanted was the mess to go away. My home is neater today for it, and I finally began cleaning out my closet yesterday. I’ve been putting off that project for months.

I wonder what else I can accomplish when I don’t use food as a procrastination tool.

Geneen is firm that each action step, every practice she gives us, relates to all that we’re doing, so you can find out your hidden needs in just one of the practices.

I’m Confused About What to Eat When I’m Hungry

Geneen says it’s natural that a lot of us are confused about what’s right and wrong in the realm of food considering our lifetimes of dieting.

The first step in learning what to eat is tuning into the body. Remember that if you think you want junk food, then that’s what your mind wants, not your body. Your body doesn’t want to be fed loads of grease and sugar, because too much junk food makes your body feel bad.

Tuning into your body means using the direct experience, feeling the sensations and the feedback that your body gives you. See what happens when you eat certain things. Do you feel fueled and energetic? Do you feel sick or tired? See how your body feels when you eat certain foods and you’ll discover what it is that your body wants.

If you think you want something sweet to cap off a meal, and you are truly and honestly unsure whether it’s your mind or body talking, then try a small eating experiment. See what happens. Maybe you try eating a little something sweet and see how it makes your body feel. Conversely, you can try not eating something sweet and then see how that makes your body feel.

Experiment and stay tuned into your body to learn what your body wants and how it reacts to different foods. For most of us, this is going to be a learning process after spending so much time ignoring what our bodies need to feel nourished. Take the time and attention to tune into your body to learn about its needs.

Geneen refers to the way a kid eats, before he discovers sugar. He gravitates towards foods like broccoli, fruit and sweet potatoes. Before we were inundated by commercialized food and our taste buds were polluted by advertisements, what did your body want?

How to Eat When You’re Hungry Within the Confines of Your Schedule

In today’s world, not many of us are able to have access to the food we want, whenever we want it. We might start working at certain times and only get breaks at specific times. Since we all need to respect the reality our routines bring us, we need to make the guidelines our own. Figure out, realistically, how the guidelines can work within the constraints of your day-to-day existence.

If you aren’t hungry now but you won’t have the chance to eat later, then you have to use honesty combined with problem solving and figure that out, whether it means eating something small now, or bringing something portable with you that you know will nourish you later.

For example, if you aren’t hungry at 8am but you know you won’t be able to eat for hours on end, and within that timeframe you are going to become ravenous and light-headed, then you have to acknowledge that reality and take care of yourself. The guidelines are not iron clad rules meant to constrain your behavior. They are meant to help you evaluate situations honestly and do the right thing for yourself.

If you’re only given a meal break when you aren’t hungry, then just eat a little bit at break time to sustain you, and then have a snack when you’re actually hungry. Use the guidelines to help you best take care of yourself while listening to your body.

Learn Your Signs of Hunger

Working with the eating guidelines means understanding your body and giving your body what it needs as fuel when it needs it. To do this, you need to know the signs of being hungry for you. Not everyone gets a rumbley tummy as their first sign of hunger. Some of us get spacey, cranky or headaches.

Track your own hunger and know your beginning hunger signs, and then decide when to eat. If you think of the 10-point hunger scale, 10 being stuffed and 0 being starving, then maybe you want to eat something when you’re a 2 or 4 on the hunger scale. If you wait until 0, you are in famine-I’m-going-to-die mode and it’s extremely difficult to make wise decisions about food in that state. Geneen doesn’t recommend getting that hungry.

Food Restrictions

Many of us are diabetics, have celiac disease, are lactose intolerant, have food allergies or other restrictions surrounding what they may eat. (Or if you’re like me, then just looking at sugar puts you into sleepy time mode.) It’s easy to fall into a mindset of deprivation when you think “I can’t have…”

But there are different ways you can look at it. You can think how the deprivation comes when you eat the foods that make your body sick. When you eat these restricted foods, then you deprive yourself of feeling well.

You can flip the scenario to think “Either way, there is a chance for me to have what I want: I can feel well. Or if there’s an instance where I really want to eat the food, then once in a blue moon, I can go for it.” Then you have the best of both worlds. You can feel well in your day-to-day life without telling yourself you can’t have the food as long as you live.

Geneen, who is gluten intolerant, had baklava when she was in Greece. She made a conscious choice; she knew wouldn’t feel good, but she went with her eyes open rather than feeling like a victim.

Lots of people, either verbally or mentally, do a lot of whining around food, “I don’t get to eat what I really want!” However, the big question is, what do you want more than you want that food?? What do you want most of all?

The Voice Can Crush Your Dreams

The Voice makes it extremely tough to discern what you are really hungry for. The Voice can influence our beliefs, and it’s our beliefs that often prevent us from putting into practice what we cherish. It’s your beliefs, often driven by The Voice, that keep you from asking for and receiving what you’re really hungry for.

For more information about The Voice, read: WEEK TWO: Beyond What’s Broken

Most of us are blended with The Voice, meaning we haven’t yet picked it out as a separate entity; you might experience it as you talking to yourself. When we feel confused about what’s good for us and we feel afraid we’ll fail, we’re often being influenced by The Voice.

The thought of learning to play piano, traveling to China or going on a bike ride can cause nervous anticipation or excitement. The Voice can jump in and tell us we can’t do it, which quells our excitement. When we feel deadened to these new possibilities, it makes it hard to figure out what we’re really hungry for.

More Ways to Deal With The Voice

When you notice The Voice talking you out of your efforts, here are some tactics for handling it.

  • See The Voice small and powerless like a mouse and put it in a jar with a lid on it.
  • Picture a volume knob and turn down the volume on The Voice so you can’t hear it.
  • You can change the channel so you tune out to whatever The Voice was saying.

Do whatever you need to do to make sure you separate yourself from it.

What if I Think I Need to Lose Weight Before I Practice the Guidelines?

Geneen addresses the instance of what happens when someone feels anxiety or desperation about her health and feels she needs to lose weight first before trying to practice the eating guidelines.

Unfortunately, Geneen has seen many come back to her later heavier than they were when she first saw them. She says it takes discernment and honesty to see where you’re coming from when you ask a question like that. It’s new and unfamiliar and scary to trust yourself to ask what you’re hungry for and what you want.

The Voice berates you and says you don’t know when you’re hungry. There’s often a thrill or a fear when we start this process. We often think we should go on a diet and then come back and do this later. Geneen says it’s a common theme.

However, Geneen says if you truly feel that your weight is imminently life threatening, then you need to go inside and be very honest about what’s going on when you’re in a place that’s so precarious physically. What goes on when you overeat? What are your thoughts, beliefs and feelings? What is food giving you and doing for you?

Geneen would never say don’t see a doctor – it’s crucial we work with health practioners in regards to our health. Of course if your doctor feels and you feel that your life is in danger, then that needs to be addressed.

Geneen says the caveat is if you don’t stick to the doctor’s program, you could feel like a failure and rebel. And even if you do stick to the program and lose the weight, but you don’t reach the issues that are putting the weight on, then you will turn to food once again. So the best way is to be with what’s going on at the same time that you protect your health and your life so you can be here on earth to look at your beliefs. Looking at your beliefs is important regardless of what you decide.

What is Inquiry?

Inquiry is the practice where the rubber meets the road in terms of discovering our beliefs. Inquiry allows you to be curious about what you really believe, and what you feel as a result of what you believe.

We think we’re not supposed to let ourselves feel; we’re afraid of pain. That’s why inquiry is a practice like learning the violin. We won’t be good at it at first. Inquiry allows you to question the beliefs on which you’re building your life, your sense of self and the feelings that come from that.

Geneen says that most beliefs are unconscious, and she gives us a list of examples:

  • Other people are special.
  • Life is hard.
  • I always get the short end of the stick.
  • I’m smarter than everyone else, and why can’t they see that?
  • If they really saw me, they would love me.
  • I’ll always be separated from what I need and want in life.
  • Life sucks.
  • I’m not good enough.
  • I’ll never get it right.

Remember from last week: beliefs lead to feelings, which lead to actions.

We can feel these beliefs weaving through our days from when we wake up in the morning until we go to bed at night. We’re loyal to these beliefs unconsciously. We act out a combination of beliefs, thoughts, feelings, and how we see ourselves. We don’t question what we believe about ourselves and our lives, because we take it to be true.

Inquiry is the process of questioning what we believe is truth. Inquiry has us explore the fundamentals of who we think we are, what we have, what we’re supposed to be, how we define success and failure, how we react, and the feelings we have.

To inquire, you have to want to know what you don’t know – you have to be curious.

We need to question our resistance to the way things are and to what we’re feeling. Often when we’re sad, we want to push it away. In inquiry, what do you do when you feel sad? Be curious about it!

We’ve long since buried our curiosity. Think how your curiosity was treated when you were a child. Maybe people got annoyed with all the questions you asked. Maybe you were ignored. So as you get older, you stop caring why. You just want it to be different, and you’re no longer curious. It’s time to revive that curiosity and start wondering and feeling again.

The Opposite of Inquiry

Feeling like a victim is the opposite of inquiry: “Someone wronged me and someone else has to make it better.” This stance takes yourself out of the equation of your own life. It makes you powerless to facilitate your own circumstances.

Conversely, inquiry puts you at the center of your own life. No matter what’s going on, you can be curious about it and understand what’s happening.

We often internalize and repeat what’s said to us: “So and so was mean to me.” That’s the victim mentality, and whatever was said to us is in the past. Now in the present, no one else has the means to shrivel us or make us small, to make you feel that bad, unless you believe it yourself. Your feelings are your own. Inquiry is ability to question those beliefs and feelings.

How Do You Practice Inquiry?

When you ignore your body and eat what your mind wants instead, or you eat and make yourself feel bad – that’s a doorway, an opening, a chance to know yourself better. It opens the door to the inquiry process. If you feel sad, then inquiry is being willing to be curious about your sadness as if it’s the very first time you’re feeling it.

Inquiry means you will go ahead and feel the sadness and explore it rather than struggling to suppress it. To practice inquiry, you aren’t repressing emotions (judging, being cranky) nor are you acting them out (stomping, sulking, shouting, etc.) To do inquiry, you will be with the direct feelings of the sadness. Be in your body physically in order to explore it.

To really explore an emotion:

  1. You can’t have an agenda or preferences as to the end result. Don’t analyze the emotion. Don’t try to figure it out. You can’t think, “Okay, I’ll feel the sadness now so I can feel happy afterwards.”
  2. Drop any and all judgments about what you’re feeling. Judgments are The Voice chiming in. Disengage from The Voice, because it will tell you you’re going to mess up.
  3. Ask yourself where you feel the emotion in your body. What is the sensation like? Describe it in physical terms.

Be curious and open. You can do this alone, you can do it as a written exercise or with a buddy. Any way you do it, be kind to yourself.

Geneen gives the example of being out with friends and becoming a bit sullen and cranky. She realized she was pushing herself down in the group. She was having responses to people, but she didn’t want to say them. The crankiness was a result of judging and pushing herself away.

When you sense an emotion, ask yourself kindly, what’s going on? Where do you feel the emotion? Your chest, your stomach, your head? This is the sensation location. Ask what is the sensation? Is it burning, pulsing, tingling, aching?

If you notice that you’re angry, become curious about it. Where do I feel it? Name the body part. What does it feel like? Wind? A Hammer? What color is it? It is red, blue or grey? Is it like a pounding or a floating sensation?

The feelings that come when you don’t use food — if you don’t push the feelings away — the feelings have something to tell you. If you notice, “I don’t like what’s going on.” Then ask, “What does it feel like?

Start by wanting to know. Begin within your body and the sensation. Don’t involve your mind. Your mind has a story about the emotion, and a story can be clouded by beliefs and The Voice. Shake the story, and just focus on the body.

What Does Inquiry Do?

Geneen tells the story of a woman who eats at loneliness. The woman would often eat and read by herself. She had the belief or the story that people who live alone at her age are losers, and eating kept her from feeling like a loser. Geneen posed the question, who told her she was a loser?

Sometimes we tell ourselves stories about the pain, which can intensify our ideas of what emotions are like. We say things to ourselves like, “This means I’m unlovable, I’m a loser.” Ask yourself, “Is that true?” Question your assumptions. Be curious about who told you that. Question the beliefs that keep you from being yourself and having your life.

Inquiry deconstructs the self by questioning the assumptions that come up and the reasons we use food. We think if we feel our sadness, it will rip us apart. Sadness doesn’t actually feel like that, and inquiry helps us figure that out. When we discover that sadness isn’t what we think it is, but sadness might be calmness or clear space, when you feel into it, you feel more alive. What if, to you, sadness feels like openness? It might, or might not, but we wouldn’t know unless we allow ourselves to feel it.

Drop Your Agenda; Question Your Assumptions

When we practice inquiry, we must learn to be in the process in the moment, and stop trying to fix things. In inquiry, you are in touch with essence itself and with what’s true, just the physical sensations in our bodies, without stories or agendas. There’s nothing to do afterwards. What happens next happens naturally and spontaneously, and you become open to the truth.

Inquiry starts by wanting to know the truth. If you have an agenda instead, then you want to know what to do, as if there’s some place better to get to. What we really want to do with inquiry is to simply be with what your deepest truth is in that moment.

Compulsive eating attempts to avoid what’s there because we make the assumption that the truth, our emotions, will destroy us. And sometimes our emotions do hurt. Sometimes there is huge grief to be felt. So then the answer is to get support and allow yourself to feel it. But if you eat to avoid the grief, then you actually wind up with a double portion of grief. The grief is still there, and you heap the problem of eating on top of it.

Geneen has worked with parents who have lost their children, people who have experienced loss beyond all loss. These people can be with their pain and feel it. Yes, it’s staggering grief, but they live through it. Through inquiry, you learn that allowing yourself to feel your emotions won’t destroy you. Emotions ebb and flow. They come and go, moment to moment. No situations are unbearable or unworkable.

This Week’s Practices

1) Third Eating Guideline: Eat without distractions.

Distractions include radio, TV, reading material, intense or anxiety-producing conversations or music.

2) Inquiry: start developing your curiosity.

Start being curious when you’ve done something you told yourself you’re not going to do. Ask, “What was that about?” Be curious and be kind to yourself. Don’t think you know the answers.

Intend to follow through on these two practices and see what happens. If you don’t follow them, then be curious why.

Past Week’s Practices

Intend to do these on a daily basis for the rest of your life.

Eat When You’re Hungry

Don’t eat when you aren’t hungry, eat when you are hungry and stop eating when you’ve had enough. Be willing to be uncomfortable and know there are times you won’t feel like refraining from eating. If there are times that you decide to eat even though you’re not hungry, be curious and notice what happens.

Be Astonished

Each day, notice what you already have — not what’s wrong or what needs to be changed. Think about the abundance that’s in your world already.

Living “as if”

Live as if you’re worth your own time, love and attention. Live like you like yourself. Live like you like your body.

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

Eat as if you’re worth your time and attention. You wouldn’t eat standing up, in the car, or tasting the food on your way from the stove to the table. You wouldn’t eat a meal in hiding before everyone else sits down so that you’re full when they get there.

One More Practice From Me

Be aware of and disengage from The Voice to help all of your practices become easier.

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Except as noted, all contents of this Geneen Roth Online Course is Copyright Geneen Roth 2013 and is for the sole use of Online Course students. All content on this blog requires express permission from Geneen Roth & Associates Inc. for reuse, display, republication or resale.

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