Kindness and Calories

By Geneen Roth

Imagine this: You are walking in a meadow on a fresh autumn day. The leaves are turning a burnished gold and red. You come upon a long table covered in a white linen cloth with vases of flowers at perfect intervals. Then you notice the food.

The food!

It is as if someone knew you were arriving, because the table is laden with every single food that you have ever loved - even the foods you won't let yourself eat because they're too expensive or too fattening. A platter of sweet lobster meat and a silver dish of drawn butter. Twelve different kinds of dessert, including Chocolate Decadence Cake, coconut pies, cheesecake, and the exact flavor of ice cream you love. Homemade bread and every cheese imaginable. And food from your childhood is here: Hostess Sno Balls, roasted marshmallows, mashed potatoes, butterscotch pudding. It is a feast and it is just for you. Only you.

If all those foods were equal - if you could eat bread with the same recklessness that you could eat broccoli - what would you choose?

Take your time. There is no rush to decide. The food will be here.

Now, ask yourself: Would you take small bites of everything? Would you settle on one thing, eat as much of it as you want, then go on to the next? Or, given free rein, would you feel so overwhelmed that you'd just start with a fork in both hands and wild abandon in your heart? Are you like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day when he realizes that he can eat all the pie he wants and not gain weight?

"I'd eat everything!" you say.

Or "I'd dive into the triple-cream Brie and never come up for air."

"At last," you say, "I get to ignore my diabetes and scrape all the icing from the carrot cake and eat it with a spoon."

And some of you say, "Gimme a break. Cholesterol is real and so is my heart condition. And, by the way, what's the point of this fantasy?"

Before I get to the point, I want to tell you a story.

Years ago, a woman named Oona attended one of my workshops with her 11-year-old daughter, Miranda. At the time we met, Miranda was what my own mother used to call me ? pudgy. Round cheeks, round knees, round hands. A body that looked like it was made of circles. Miranda was not exactly fat, but her mother was very worried. She watched over Miranda's meals, commented on what she ate, took desserts away. Oona had been a fat child, had struggled with weight most of her life, and didn't want to see her daughter suffer the same way.

All in all, it was your basic mother-daughter war. Miranda hid food from Oona; Oona was enraged that, despite her hypervigilance, her child was gaining weight.
My solution floored both of them. I spoke bluntly to Oona: Fill up a pillowcase with M&M's, give it to Miranda, and whenever it gets even a quarter empty, fill it back up again. Stop commenting on her body. End the war now. Come back to me in a month and tell me how it's going.

Miranda thought she had died and gone to candy-coated heaven. Oona just wanted to strangle me.

A month later, Oona was convinced that miracles did happen.

During the first week, Miranda took the pillowcase everywhere; she even slept with it. For the first time, she could eat what she wanted without feeling rejected by her mother.

During the second week, she stopped taking the pillowcase to school. She ate fewer M&M's.

In week three, she hardly touched them. By week four, she never wanted to see another M&M again.

But more important than the M&M's was that the war had stopped. Miranda no longer needed to eat to pay her mother back for her constant disapproval. She no longer needed the comfort of M&M's to make up for the hurt of her mother's rejection.

Although this story actually happened, I'd like you to take it as a metaphor rather than as an example of something you should try with yourself or your daughter.

The point of both stories is not the food itself but your attitude about it. The point is, we can be free from the endless cycle of depriving and restricting ourselves if we cultivate a kind of welcoming and openhearted friendliness toward ourselves. Most of us want to get thin because we believe that then we will be entitled to like ourselves and treat ourselves well. We want to get thin because we believe that then we will be happy. We've got it all backward.

What would happen if, right now, you gave yourself permission to like, respect ? even adore! ? yourself without first having to earn it by losing 10 or 20 pounds?

Consider how your food choices would change if they were based on self-respect and on what made you feel well, alive, and radiant. If you liked yourself immensely, you'd be unlikely to seek comfort in the all?ice-cream, all-the-time diet. You'd know that eating ice cream for dinner would probably make you feel happy for a second and then a little spacey and then tired. Soon you'd be cranky, yelling at your kids, picking on your spouse.

This new self-respecting you wouldn't need to seek comfort in food because you would no longer be rejecting yourself every minute of the day. No one can handle that kind of perpetual criticism without seeking solace somewhere, and the mint chocolate chip does nicely.

Most people say they gain weight when they eat what they want. But the truth is that people gain weight when they eat what they don't want - and then eat copious amounts of what they do want because they're afraid they'll be deprived again. They gain weight because they argue with themselves constantly and then, bruised from the argument, eat ice cream to be kind to themselves.

True kindness has no calories. True kindness is deciding right now that you deserve to feel fabulous - even if you never lose another pound. When you make your food choices with that sort of kindness, your life becomes a feast.


We invite you to leave a comment below.



14 responses to “Kindness and Calories

  1. I soooooo needed to read this today. I have been in a really unkind place towards myself lately and thought to myself this morning, “I just want to feel okay in my own skin. But I don’t know how.” Your message definitely helped with one single word – Kindness. I pride myself on being a kind person to others (as often as I can), but I am so unkind to myself. And as we all know it’s very hard to be happy when someone is putting you down all the time! So I am making a vow right now to talk to myself as I would talk to a friend. Thank you for the message. 🙂

  2. Brilliant!! Thank you for talking about the constant disapproval received when someone is always controlling ‘you’!!! VERY clearly spoken! I never thought of that before. I am so grateful for you and all your share!

  3. I know this is true deep in my bones. Much of the time I can pause and see what my body is hungry for. It never is wrong. If my body wants a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and I eat that, I am completely satiated and do not think about the next thing I can eat. If my body wants a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and I eat broccoli and chicken, I will find myself standing in front of the pantry looking for chips or something else that I think I want. I get this totally. However, the problem I face is when I get obsessed with something to eat and I check in with my body only to be vaguely aware that I am not hungry at all. Even though I realize I’m not hungry, the obsession to eat remains. That’s when I go from one food/snack to another, never being satisfied because I wasn’t hungry to begin with.

  4. Geneen really saved and changed my live so many years ago and I’ll hope she came to Spain one day or I could go to one of her retreats. Thank you for be a powerfull and inspirational light for lots of people…for me. Love!!

  5. I feel like crying. As I made my way thru your story/metaphore, I felt a lot.
    Getting even with my parents for their constant corrections and critisism. Maybe that was the center of my bulemia that started at 16.
    I could stuff myself with forbidden foods..also nit making actually changes an self correction tho in therapy. Then, I could hide the whole mess from myself and others by expelling it.
    Oh, that makes sense. I’m 70 now, soon to be 71. I’m a slow learner but very inactive from the bulemic process.
    The other thing I’ve noticed, thru dense and muddled thru mindfulness, is how quick I am to view myself negatively. And others. How about that.
    I’m very imparient, on the inside, calm as ever on the outside. I really needed to appear and be calm growing up.
    Thanks for your kind and insightful and uplifting words and kindness.
    The light is beginning to shine, especially from the story you shared.
    Thanks Geneen,

  6. I truly appreciate your insights Geneen! I love the way it always feels as if you’re speaking to me directly in your writings. Your sense of humor is superb. Thanks for the work you are doing in the world!!



  7. I could read this piece every day for the rest of my life. I took one of your workshops probably 15(?) years ago and your self-loving approach has stayed with me over the years. I remember thinking that you were the calmest, most gentle person I had ever met. Today for lunch I was reheating a bowl of delicious cauliflower-leek soup that I made from scratch yesterday. Yesterday I served it, for me and my husband, garnished with crispy prosciutto, freshly grated parmigiano reggiano, and chopped parsley. I toasted a spicy Mediterranean bread to accompany it. Today, I hesitated briefly when considering whether I wanted to take the time to cook the prosciutto, grate the cheese, toast the bread, etc. I remembered your teaching, even though it’s no longer a conscious thought, to make it the most delicious meal possible. So, I took the time to prepare all of the toppings and to have it the way I really wanted it. It is so satisfying to live this way around food and has helped me to be healthier and happier. Thank you, Geneen – you have had a lasting impact on my life.

  8. I can’t imagine this world. This world you are talking about above.
    I can’t fathom a day in it. Not even a small amount of time in it. I feel so trapped with this cycle sometimes I weep out loud when no one is home. Even more sadly, I have two daughters that I am probably pulling into this cycle ever so slowly. This is not the life I want or ever dreamed for them, but I can’t even fix it for myself. I don’t know where to begin to fix it for them.

    1. Kelly, my heart goes out to you. I’ve been where you are. Know that there is hope. I don’t know any specifics about your situation, but I do know that in order to truly heal from this, we need God’s strength. There are the practical, physical/bio-chemical things to consider (after all, God created our physical beings, and He created food), and there are the emotional, habitual, and spiritual aspects of our eating…WHY we eat, HOW, we eat, and WHAT we choose to eat. It’s a journey and a process, and I pray you will grow closer to God through this struggle.

  9. I’m turning 60 in January. I’ve struggled with weight all my life.

    I have no respect for liars. People who lie are not allowed in my life. I never understand why people do it. And, finally, finally, after decades of making excuses about why I overeat or make bad choices I have come to realize that I continually lie to myself about why I eat too much.

    I love myself and want to have as much internal integrity as I have external integrity. I’ve stopped fooling myself. I am embracing honesty, especially with myself.

    And when I am truly honest, I know in my heart that I want to be healthy for as long as possible so I can embrace my heart’s desires. It’s made changing my eating habits easy. It’s an ultimate act of self love to come clean. At first it was challenging because I had to admit that I, too, was a liar.

    Now, when I have a Cosmopolitan with my lunch, I do it very, very consciously. When I eat gelato, I am HAPPY to order a small because I am honoring myself and MY choice to get healthy. Most days, I don’t even want any of the ‘forbidden’ foods and willingly choose my green smoothie, that wonderfully complex salad with ‘expensive’ veggies because I love them and exercise.

    The pounds are slipping away. I LOVE that I can exercise and really use my body. I’m making myself stronger, in every way, especially including the self love aspect.

    Thank you, Geneen, for all the books and work you have done to share your heart with us. God bless.

  10. Goodness….where to begin. Like so many I have been a yo yo dieter all my life. Lost 90 pounds this time and swore I would never put it back on again. The past 8 months have been a roller coaster for me…we retired, we moved, left family and friends and came to an new area. We moved in December and I was down the 90 pounds, here we are in September and I gained back 75….I am so tired of the yo yo…I finally understand now that it has to do with emotional eating but my problem that I am so disconnected from my feelings I don’t even know what the emotion is that I need to deal with. So when i go to eat the wrong foods and stop and ask myself why are you doing this what are you feeling….I don’t have any answers except because I want it and I am craving it. I am so disconnected from what I am feeling. Now not only am i dealing with not knowing what emotions I am dealing with I am so upset about the weight gain…I feel so desperate…..

  11. Wow this is so interesting. Thank you so much! It is a few year I Planned to go to your 5 days retreat. I told my boss that next year I need days off to go I am from Montréal. I have all your books and some of your audio CD. Participate in all conference calls or listen to them after. My Relationship with my mom was one of rejection because of my weight even if my mom never had that problem. Plus at school I went through rejection as well being different than what was the norm then. This is very interesting. I went to a therapy with a nutrionist psychologue who made me go through something similar with food in general (potatoes, bread, pasta) and it worked I do no longer go crazy when I have or see them. I did not do yet the exercise with sweet. I took a lot of weight when I did that but after I was able to go back to my weight and never go crazy with bread pasta or potatoes. I have worked a lot on my Relationship with food. Been to OA meetings as well. It has improved a lot but I want to go to your retreat. You are great this article says a lot and thank you because so many suffers from this disease and are rejected. Thank you thank you thank you. Great article. Martine Lemieux

  12. I LOVE THIS – and everything else Geneen Roth. After gobbling up Women, Food, and God, When Food Is Love, Breaking Free, and doing the Why Weight workbook, I was knew that there were only a limited number of books left written by Geneen. Then… I found her blog!

    Thank you so much Geneen for maintaining a blog. It gives us the opportunity to find fresh, new inspiration to keep honoring ourselves and break the diet mentality. You are amazing!!!!!!

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