Friday, February 18, 2011

Geneen Roth. Can't get enough.

My library copy is getting ragged.  Last night I found it at the half-price bookstore and leaped on it.  I've been yammering on about it for a couple weeks now, but I've decided to devote a whole post every so often to the gems of truth and wisdom that come trickling out of its pages.  

If you're new here, let me introduce you to the book:

I've been enamoured with Geneen's books since I devoured (no pun intended, I think) her book When Food is Love a few years ago.  Her message of ditching diets and learning to trust your body (not necessarily your mind) to heal from compulsive emotional eating (or insert any other compulsion du jour), was like finding a long, lost friend who understood me.  To read someone else's articulation of the jumbled emotions and suffering I'd dealt with for years surrounding food was like a whoosh of cool wind thru my scorched soul.  

They are not easy books to read.  They don't lay out step by step instructions for fixing what's broken.  They are part autobiographical, part instructional, largely encouraging.  It takes a lot of letting go, trusting the process, learning to love and trust yourself again.  It's a completely new paradigm for life as we know it. 

I've started going back thru Women Food and God paragraph by paragraph. I want to highlight a few quotes and how I'm processing them.  The first is right on page 2.

If we are interested in finding out what we actually believe--not what we think, not what we say, but what our souls are convinced is the bottom-line truth about life and afterlife--we need go no further than the food on our plates.

When I read this, I was hooked....though I didn't have a clue what she meant.  Thankfully, that is her thesis statement for the book, and each chapter delves into how what and how we eat is a parallel universe to our inner world.  Page 4:

Food is good and comfort is good.  Except that when you are not hungry and you want comfort, food is only a temporary palliative; why not address the discomfort directly?

Therein lies the rub.  For me, I never even stopped to consider why I'm putting food in my mouth when I  was not hungry.  Of course there are myriad situations where you might do so for appropriate reasons....dinner at a friend's home, when you're sick and need nourishment, when you know you won't have another opportunity to eat for a long while and will need stamina for instance.  But Geneen is talking about emotional eating, sticking something in your mouth in a desparate attempt to feel something physically to cover over emotional feelings.  Most of my life I haven't been in touch with those emotions.  Too much of ANY emotion felt scary, so I replaced it with the physical sensation of tasting, chewing, swallowing, fullness.  Convenient.

Geneen's whole thesis revolves on cultivated this awareness.  Stopping for an instant.  Getting in touch with your physical belly.  Asking some curious questions.  Hard work.  That's a freight train that needs halted, and most of us overeaters aren't about to get in the way of that!  Page 6:

But right here, right now, in the center of this wound--I've been abandoned and betrayed by who and what really matters and what I've got left is food--is where the link between food and God exists.......
.....It marks the feelings we won't allow ourselves to feel, and in so doing, keeps our lives constricted and dry and stale. In that isolated place, it is a short step to the conclusion that God--where goodness and healing and love exist--abandoned us, or betrayed us or is a supernatural version of out parents.

She goes on to say her work at retreats is to work thru this despair by "being curious, gentle and engaged with the cynicism, the hopelessness, the anger."  Which doesn't necessarily translate to comforting our inner child.  Geneen believes (page 7):

...there are frozen places in ourselves--undigested pockets of pain--that need to be recognized and welcomed, so that we can contact that which has never been hurt or wounded or hungry.

In other words, we can't fathom our innocence without walking thru and gently examining those "undigested pockets of pain".  I will mention here that the thought that there is an innocence within me flies in the face of all I was taught and believed about salvation thru Jesus.  To transcend the 'sinful nature' in order to get in touch with Goodness (God) is a radical concept to one such as me who had embraced 'there is no good thing in me' mantra for more than 3 decades.  Hmmmmm.  There's a can o' worms, eh?  Page 12:

As soon as the feelings come out, there is an inevitable recognition of the self-inflicted violence and suffering that fuel any obsession.  And on the heels of that recognition comes the willingness to engage with and unwind the suffering rather than be its prisoner.  The exquisite paradox of this engagement is that when the suffering is fully allowed, it dissolves.....
....And without the self-inflicted pain and the stories about what is wrong, what's left is what there was before they began: our connection to meaning and to that which we find holy.

It's all about perceived self-preservation.  As we grew up, and tramas (major and minor) unfolded in our lives, we found ways to cope.  Those defenses, while helpful as kids, often become unhealthy habits and morph into compulsions as we age if we don't go back and 'digest the pockets of pain' so they can be eliminated.  Just like food that doesn't get digested and eliminated then makes us feel sick, those lumps of fermenting pain need dealt with as well.

But even being aware of those pockets of pain isn't enough.  In fact, in my own life, the awareness conjured fear of feeling that pain again and often resulted in a binge.  Or at least an couple oreos and a session of vegging on the decorating blogs.

The process of untangling the hairball of our compulsions lies in understanding what we really believe.  In order to do that (page 16): attention to the way you act--and to what you do when things don't go the way you think they should.  Pay attention to what you value.  Pay attention to how and on what you spend your time.  Your money.  And pay attention to the way you eat.

As you can see, like T-Tapp, this journey to wholeness regarding food takes focused attention.  Mental energy.  Courage.  Mostly kindness, gentleness, and love.  I'm ready to engage again.


  1. Hello fellow T1! I found your blog through the DYT forum! These books sound interesting! I've been struggling with my weight too! I might have to investigate these! :D

  2. I've read Women Food and God too. It's a great book.
    Today my hubby and I are starting a vegan lifestyle. Wish me luck!

  3. That was awesome, Cindy!! I'm so glad you shared it.

    I have that book but have not read even the first page. But I like her, too, so maybe I need to get it out & read it.


  4. I appreciate that you are baring your soul here. I'm going to look for that book at our library. Have you read any Eckhart Tolle? His book "The Power of Now" is excellent. I'm here from your other blog and I'm a new follower.

  5. I read Women, Food & God months ago and was all gung ho and then notta. So, thanks for this because I realize I need to go read it again. And maybe again after that!


I'm all ears! Er, eyes.