The Search for True Nourishment
Geneen discusses awareness, pain, breaking free and your ability to make satisfying choices.
Geneen discusses awareness, pain, breaking free and your ability to make satisfying choices.
Even when women achieve their goals, disappointment for some may be 'inevitable.'
originally published online by the "Huffington Post"
by Jean Fain, L.I.C.S.W., M.S.W. Licensed psychotherapist and author, 'The Self-Compassion Diet'
Whether the ultimate episode of "The Oprah Show" was really the end or just the beginning, the daytime talk-show diva has clearly moved on. If you're afraid that Oprah's mindful-eating coach, Geneen Roth, has moved on, too, rest assured. The best-selling anti-diet book writer who inspired Oprah to stop dieting is not abandoning food issues for money problems as some fans fear.
But after losing her life savings to Bernie Madoff (of all people) and living to write about it, Roth has expanded her focus to include foodand money. Her new memoir, "Lost and Found," not only chronicles that traumatic loss, but explores food, money and her complicated relationship to both. More specifically, the compulsive-overeater-turned-mindful-memoirist is now writing about how the emotional issues with money mirror those all-too-familiar issues with food.
When I realized that the ultimate episode of "The Oprah Show" aired one year after Oprah had declared she'd found the answer to yo-yo dieting in Roth's bestseller, "Women Food and God," I realized America could use help understanding how anyone could make such a declaration and yet remain visibly unchanged. What's more, I thought veteran dieters could benefit from a fresh perspective on comparative judgments. That's what Roth calls statements like "At least I'm not as fat as ..."
I could have dashed off a blog on the topic myself or quoted long passages from "Lost and Found." Here's a short one: "I hardly have the words to tell you what it was like to see the exact same patterns with money as I'd once had with food. I splurged the way I once binged, and budgeted the way I once dieted. I lied about the money I had in the same way that I once lied about how much I ate. I rationalized buying sweaters on sale in the same way that I once rationalized eating broken cookies."
But what I know for sure: Two compassionate minds are better than one. So I phoned Roth, and we got to talking about all of the above: women, food, money and Oprah. What follows are questions and answers from our recent conversation.
Q: Oprah has moved on to her OWN network, and you've moved on, or so it seems, to money ...
A: I haven't moved on. Food is still my main focus. People get turned off [by the book] because they haven't dealt with the food thing, and they don't want to deal with money. It's overwhelming. I want them to know food and money problems are very similar.
Q: What's money got to do with food?
A: After my husband and I lost our life savings, many of the patterns I thought I'd worked through with food were surfacing in my relationship with money. It was losing everything and being confronted with the decisions I'd made about money that catapulted me into questions about what is enough, and the sense that no matter how much I had, it was never enough. It was the very same thing I'd experienced with food on an emotional, psychological and, dare I say, spiritual level.
Q: Why do you say the old adage of "You can never be too thin or too rich" isn't true?
A: Most people are so focused on what they don't have, what they're not allowed to eat, what they shouldn't eat, what they'll be able to eat when they finish the diet, lose the weight ... it's a constant feeling of "If only I had this, then I'd be happy." But they've already lost 10, 20, 30, 40 pounds 30 or 40 times, and it didn't make them happy. It gave them a thinner body, but it didn't give them the sense that "Now I can rest, now I will be seen for who I really am, now I can be happy." The same is true with money. Let's face it, we need money for food and shelter, but after those needs are met, this insane desire for more and more and more ... it doesn't make people happy.
Q: How do you explain how Oprah could say she found the answer in "Women Food and God," and yet still struggles with her weight?
A: I can't speak for Oprah or about Oprah, but I can say when you find something that speaks to you, when you find something that feels like "Now I'm at home," that's the beginning, not the end. That "a-ha" moment is wonderful, but when it ends, and it always does, it needs to be followed by some kind of commitment to take action on your own behalf, a daily decision to be there for yourself.
Q: How do you decide to be there for yourself?
A: You can't do it alone. Support helps you follow through, and the desire to follow through helps you get support. It can't just be the support of one friend giving you advice. Advice doesn't help so much. The problem with all the advice we've been given is we don't know how to follow it. When people don't feel instant change, they think it's not working. This is a failure. I'm a failure. At that point, they need support in asking the right questions, like: What am I feeling? What happened in that moment when I went to eat when I wasn't hungry? When I went to spend when I was feeling hurt? Unless you become interested in those moments, you'll always turn to food or money to fill them.
Q: Is that how you survived losing all your money?
A: I felt the loss, the grief, but I also had a lot of support. It [the support] helped me see that everything that really mattered was still here, and that helped me see objectively what I needed to do next.
Q: It's easy to be critical of anyone's weight, especially a public figure like Oprah's. What do you know for sure about making comparative judgments?
A: It doesn't help to compare yourself to another or to yourself [at another time] because it's not about you. When you're not interested in yourself, whatever is driving you to diet or binge, restrict or splurge isn't being touched. When you judge and blame and shame yourself, you feel weak, diminished, collapsed and paralyzed. It's hard to think or move or know what to do next.
Q: What do you know about quick fixes?
A: [Real] change is not always visible, especially not at first. While there's a pay-off to being conscious about eating -- losing weight -- with money, there's a different kind of pay-off. I'm not saying if you're conscious about money, you'll get rich. I am saying your relationship with what you have in life will change. Everyone reading your blog in this moment has five things they have enough of, but because they're focused on what they don't have, they're focused on lack. If all you're valuing is what you can see, touch and accomplish in this second, it's going to be hard going. You have to value your inner process.
Q. Both you and Oprah have made private issues a public service. Ever wished you'd kept your issues private?
A. Part of my job description here on earth is to write about things most people wouldn't dare tell their friends. After I was anorexic, I doubled my weight, from 80 to 160 pounds, in two months. I also went on every diet there was, fasted, purged. I was a crazed, mad person around food. I didn't exactly have a sane relationship with money either. There's a value to having a tour guide, someone who's been there. Because I've been there, you don't have to go there. If I can come back from the brink, anyone can.
Q: Anything else you want to say?
A: There's nothing I want to add, but if readers have questions, I'm starting an online retreat June 7. It's six weeks, 90 minutes each week, with me on the phone. I'll be answering questions and talking about my eating guidelines, which are the core of my approach. [For a fee,] they can listen live or they can download it [the recorded phone call] and listen anywhere, anytime.
I've been thinking about chocolate cake recently. To be precise, I've been thinking about what happens when a piece of bittersweet flourless Chocolate Decadence Cake from Debbie's Does Dessert arrives at a table at which I happen to be sitting with a few friends when we are sharing one piece amongst ourselves. Eyes light up. Glints of mischief appear on people's faces. Oohs and Ahhs are exclaimed. The whole environment becomes vibrant and joyous and thrillingly alive.
The waitress puts the cake down in the middle of the table and for a moment there is a feeling of reverence, of hushed silence, as if we are all in the midst of a holy event.
Forks get lifted.
Eyes are cast down.
Will it taste as divine as it looks? Are there hidden surprises (like almonds or pecans) in the dark, rich, thick mound of chocolate? Is disappointment in store for us? Will it be as good as the last chocolate cake we ate -- or the first? And -- can we get our forks in there quickly enough to procure a satisfying morsel or will our beloved friend (who suddenly seems like she has a huge appetite and is ready to take it all for herself) take such a big bite that there will be none left for us?
Winnie the Pooh, in A.A. Milne's The House at Pooh Corner says, "...although eating honey was a very special thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called."
Pooh might not have known what it was called, but I do. It's called desire. It's called anticipation. It's called wanting -- and if we let ourselves really really feel it, have it, love it for its own sake, we set ourselves free.
I realize that that's a radical statement -- if you let yourself feel the depth of your wanting, you will set yourself free -- but believe me, after twenty-seven years of working with hundreds of thousands of compulsive eaters, I've gotten the hang of what works and what doesn't. Recently I worked with one of my students who said, "I LOVE cupcakes. I love love love them. Every time I see them, I have to eat every single one. I am helpless in the presence of a cupcake."
The story we usually tell ourselves about our lack of control -- especially if it's about high fat or high sugar foods -- is that we need to discipline ourselves and stay away from them. Keep them out of our houses. Lock the cabinet doors and throw away the keys. I had a student once who was so frightened of eating the foods on her most wanted list that she locked them all in her kitchen cabinets and asked her husband to hide the keys. Then she'd spend the middle of the nights while he was asleep ransacking his drawers, trying to figure out where he'd hidden the keys so that she could eat all the food she'd promised herself she wouldn't touch.
Sound familiar? (Okay, maybe you haven't locked your food in a cabinet, but how about those times you are certain that the potato chips have suddenly developed vocal chords and are calling you from across the room?).
If you find yourself bingeing and dieting, making proclamations about which foods you absolutely can't have in the house only to find yourself, in a moment of madness, running to the store and loading up on those exact foods (and telling the grocery clerk that they are for your daughter or that you are having a party), here's the million-dollar question: What are you wanting when you want those potato chips, that Chocolate Decadence cake? I can hear you saying: The potato chips of course! The chocolate without a doubt!
But remember what Pooh said: That the wanting was better than the having. That the moment before he put his hand in the honey jar was actually better than tasting the honey itself. And then ask yourself: If honey was truly what he wanted, why was it better to want it than to have it? Why is the race to the food or the moment before you eat it equally or more delicious than actually having it?
Here is a dialogue I had with the above mentioned Cupcake Student:
Cupcake Student: I want cupcakes.
Me: What about the cupcakes do you want so much?
Cupcake Student: I want the sweetness. I want the richness. I want the feeling of it in my mouth.
Me: When you have one in your mouth, how do you feel?
Cupcake Student: I feel calm, I feel loved, I feel like everything is good.
Me: So, it seems as if what you really want is to feel loved, calm, relaxed.
Cupcake Student: Uh-oh. Is this a trick? Did you just talk me out of wanting cupcakes?
Me: Nope. You can still choose to have them if you really want them. We're just trying to figure out what it is you really want when you say want cupcakes.
Cupcake Student: Well, okay then, I do want to feel loved, calm, relaxed.
Me: How about giving yourself permission -- just for a minute -- to want that? To want love?
Cupcake Student: But what if I know I can't have it? I just got divorced, my kids are living with my husband half-time, I'm not dating anyone. What's the point of wanting love when I can't have it?
And that is million dollar question number two: what is the point of wanting something I can't have? Why not spare myself the pain and turn to something I can have -- food -- instead?
The point is that when you give yourself permission to want what you want instead of replacing it with a substitution, you make contact with your heart's desire. Believe it or not, feeling the desire itself is incredibly, immensely, deeply satisfying. It's the desire -- not its fulfillment -- that nourishes you because it's the language of your heart. When you listen to that language, you hear your self. You return your own true, deepest nature (which is, after all, what we thought that cupcake would do for us).
The things you want are breadcrumbs leading you home. If you follow your desire for them, if you trust that desire, if you are willing to be curious about and really feel the depth of the desire rather than push it away or act it out, you get closer and closer to who you really are. To what you really want from this life. And what you end up discovering is what good ol' Glinda told Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz: that it wasn't the ruby slippers, it wasn't the balloon, it wasn't the Wizard. Dorothy had the power all along to return herself home. It's not the cupcakes, it's not the potato chips, it's not the chocolate cake. If you give yourself permission to want without judging or dismissing your desires as crazy, you too have the power to return yourself to what you want most: the center of your own stunning, tender, radiant heart. You, it turns out, have been the cupcake all along.
So . . .
The next time you find yourself seized with wanting to eat a particular food, celebrate the fact that you are in touch with what you want and then take a few minutes to ask yourself these questions: