What is an Eating Disorder?

The focus of one of last week’s classes was on eating disorders.

Geneen Roth was the speaker, and boy is she an awesome woman. She has written many books, her most famous is probably Women Food and God, and has made many appearances on TV.

I found her to be such an interesting speaker, and so down to Earth and real, that I absolutely plan on reading her books.

Everything I am going to discuss in this post is from her lecture, so I give her credit for these ideas.*

A Deeper Understanding of Eating Disorders

When I first started listening to Geneen Roth speak, I was interested simply because of the subject matter: eating disorders.

I obviously had hoped I would learn something about myself from listening to her, but I had no idea the profound effect her words and story would have on me.

Her lecture was long. Almost 2 hours. I listened to it once through, and was completely enraptured the entire time.

Then I listened to it again, and stopped it literally every few minutes (or seconds for points that really struck a chord), to jot down her ideas and words.

Finally, I listened to it a third time. Just because I wanted to.

Here are some of Geneen Roth’s* points that I found the most interesting:

  • How and What you eat is an outpouring for how we live: “…every single thing you want to discover about yourself or about others can be learned from what they eat; beliefs can be discovered about hunger, about nourishment, about satisfaction, about joy, about pleasure, about entitlement, about the life you believe you deserve to live…”
  • “The way we do anything is the way we do everything“: the way we eat is the way we live
  • What you believe about yourself and what you deserve to have is reflected in your relationship with food
  • When someone’s life is revolved around food, you can see that something else is going on with what they believe is possible for themselves: How they’re dealing with their beliefs about life is through their relationship with food, but that’s not the primary experience of what’s happening in their lives-it’s the belief about being alive that needs attending to and exploration
  • The first and most important thing for anyone with an eating disorder to remember is that you have to learn to trust yourself
  • People with eating disorders need to learn to “…want what they actually want, instead of wanting what they think they’re not allowed to have”.
  • “When diets are based on deprivation, guilt, and punishment, you tell yourself you cannot have what you want and you want what you cannot have”.
  • Healing¬† “…is about opening our hearts, not closing them; softening the places in us that won’t let love in.”
  • Healing is a process of “rocking back and forth between the past and the present and being in the present more and more every time.”
  • The purpose of healing is not to be forever happy, that is not possible, the purpose “…is to be awake and live while you’re alive, instead of dying while you’re alive”.
  • If love could talk to you about your relationship with food what would it say? “Would love say ‘Eat way past enough’ or ‘Eat what someone else thinks you should have’. ‘Eat standing up’. ‘Don’t enjoy the food at all’. If love could talk to you it would tell you to eat what your body wants, not what your mind wants. Pay attention and enjoy it.”
  • If a friend you haven’t seen in a while came to visit, would you talk on the phone, surf the web, etc. while she is visiting? We multi-task with food all the time, then we eat more after the meal because we missed it the first time.
  • People don’t gain weight by eating what they want, they: “…gain weight by eating what they don’t want followed by what they do want, by following rules rather than what the body wants.”
  • In 2007 a UCLA “study of studies” (i.e. a study looking at number of past studies done on diets) found that: 1) the biggest predictor of weight gain was dieting; 2) 83% of people on diets gained back more weight than they had lost
  • Geneen Roth dropped her issues with food after 17 years of extreme diets, anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating because she realized that all through her eating issues she has a constant rant going on inside of her about every.single.thing that was wrong about her body, hair, face…
  • What dieting is and what eating disorders are “…is an expression that you want a different life: Any kind of disordered eating shows what kind of life someone is having-they are uncomfortable in their own life”.
  • Someone who suffers from disordered eating has food, what they’re eating, and the size of their body become the focus of their life; to the exclusion of work, relationships, spirituality, etc. It crowds out the rest of your life. Think to yourself: What part of your life do you not want to be living? What do you feel you’d rather not feel? What do you know you’d rather not know?
  • Food, in ALL disordered cases, is “…only an expression of something much deeper.”
  • Stephen Levine describes Hell as “…wanting to be somewhere you’re not.”
  • We become what we resist
  • With an eating disorder, life is revolved around what we don’t want to feel. In her experience, these are the ways Geneen Roth recommends getting to the root of the problem: 1. remember there’s an exquisitely good reason; 2) look at the primary reason (food is not it); 3) look at what’s going right
  • Feeling feelings never killed anyone, not feeling feelings has, it is suicide.

Here are some of Geneen Roth’s discoveries through her work and own recovery:

  • People use food for exquisitely good reasons: no matter how it looks, in terms of our relationship with food, there are exquisitely good reasons, SANE reasons, for why we’re doing what we’re doing: it’s not because you lack self-control, are crazy, have lost it, have something wrong with you-there is something deeper that needs attention.
  • People don’t change by force, deprivation, guilt, fear, punishment, or shame: we don’t change because we force ourselves to change
  • Pain is part of life: as Geneen Roth points out, many people use food to get out of pain, so it’s good to know that there is no such thing as no pain. She says we need to: “…learn to be broken and whole at the same time”.¬† To emphasize this point in her lecture, she gives a really great quote from Zen Master Stephen Levine: “…anyone he’s ever met, at any time, who has their s**t together, is standing in it at the time.” This is such a great quote because what I think Levine is essentially saying is that you will never get to a place that is perfect and happy all the time. That place does not exist. But so many people (myself included) are always trying to get out of their own life, because they think that if they can just achieve (fill in the blank), then all of the sudden life will be perfect, painless, and easy for the rest of your time on Earty. That’s not possible. So, knowing that you can never get to that point makes the life you do have more appreciated and therefore more enjoyable.

Geneen Roth’s Deeper Principles

  • Feel it, don’t fix it
  • Never underestimate the inclination to bolt (ie emotional eating is a way of bolting)
  • It’s not about the weight, but it’s not not about the weight (ie it’s about being at a weight at which you can feel alive).

*These words and ideas are Geneen Roth’s they are NOT my own. I was struck by them, and thought many of my readers should become familiar with them too. Check out her website and books to learn more, though. ;)

Pretty interesting ideas, eh? So, as I was listening and taking copious notes, I stopped to reflect on my own life and issues with food.

What I discovered was raw, intimate details about my own thoughts processes and views of life.

I plan on writing about my intimate self-discoveries in another post. Stay tuned.

Happy Wednesday, everyone. :)



One thought on “What is an Eating Disorder?

  1. Barbara says:

    I read Women, Food, and God this past spring/summer! Did I ever talk to you about it? Quite a few interesting ideas in there. Glad you had such a connection with them!

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