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Posts Tagged ‘Geneen Roth’

Winding PlantOn my blog entry entitled Shame: What it Feels Like and How to Get Rid of it, a reader posted the following comment:

Can you talk more about the connection between emotions and body? i, too am learning to name emotions. i feel them in my body so strongly, but am struggling with naming and then making that connection. can you keep talking about this part of your healing? ~ Aggiemonday

Michael posted a good response to that comment that I recommend you read. Remember that you need to find what works for you and that it may differ from what works for me. The big picture is the same, though – we are all doing what we need to do along our journey toward a destination of self-love and acceptance.

I wish I was farther along in my progress in this area so I could be more helpful. Shame is the only emotion that I definitely know I am feeling based upon what my body feels. When I get that sunburn feeling in my skin, especially along my arms, I know that I am feel shame, and I know what works for me to process it. I choose not to feed it and, instead, do a visual to pour it out of my body. Other readers responded that they deal with shame differently, so be sure to check out other strategies if mine does not work for you.

The only other emotion I am pretty good at identifying is fear. Ironically, I frequently fail to notice one of the classic bodily responses to fear – an increased heart rate. I lived so much of my life with my heart pounding that I truly do not notice it unless I think to look for it. As an example, I will spend 30 minutes unable to fall asleep before I notice that my heart is racing.

The bodily feeling I notice to identify fear is a sensation in my thighs that I cannot quite describe. My muscles tense up, and I “feel fear” in my thighs. While fear can affect other parts of my body, such as a clenched stomach, the bodily signal I first notice is always in my thighs. When I feel fear, I do deep breathing to slow my heart rate and calm myself back down.

I wish I could be more helpful, but I am still too out-of-tune with the rest of my emotions to describe their physical manifestations. This is something that I am working on. I first learned that our bodies have a physical response to whatever emotion we are experiencing in Geneen Roth’s book, Women Food and God. (“God” represents spirituality in this book – it is not religious in nature.) Perhaps her book will be helpful to you in working through this aspect of healing. I need to read through those chapters again as well.

Photo credit: Lynda Bernhardt

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I have written before about reading Geneen Roth’s book Women Food and God. Her book does an excellent job of taking something very complicated (binge eating disorder) and making is simple. As I say repeatedly on this blog, “simple” is not the same thing as “easy.” I had a little success with her methods but then got slammed with being sick for several weeks, and it all fell by the wayside.

I was under stress at the beginning of March (what else is new) as I started training for a new job. I kept finding myself compulsively overeating but not getting emotional relief from it. Instead of feeling better, I still felt lousy emotionally and felt sick to my stomach. So, March 7 was the day that I said, “Enough!” and decided to give Geneen Roth’s methods another shot. I have been doing great ever since!

To recap Geneen’s methods, eat when you are hungry, and stop eating when you are no longer hungry. When you are hungry, eat whatever your body wants, and enjoy every mouthful to the fullest. No food is “taboo.” To help you know when you are hungry and not hungry, practice mindfulness – deep breathing to bring yourself back into the present. She has other tips, but these are the ones that really work for me.

Since March 7, I have lost 9 pounds effortlessly. I have done this even though I have eaten ice cream several times, Mexican food, chips, etc. – all foods that I typical avoid when I diet. I find that I actually enjoy the food more and get to eat more frequently. I am eating much smaller portions than I used to by stopping when I am no longer hungry. Then, I get hungry again in 2 or 3 hours and have a snack without any guilt. So, I get to eat more frequently, eat anything I want, and still lose weight. How fabulous is that?

What’s more is that, this time, it’s not about the weight loss (although I am thrilled to see my pants getting looser and looser!). It’s more about balance and no longer being enslaved to binge eating to manage my emotions.

This past month has been a very stressful one for me, and I have had a heck of a time keeping my blog covered. I did not get a “heads up” that training would require 15-20+ hours of work a week. My kid has been sick for some of this time, and his school has been out a lot for Teacher Workdays and such. It has not been good timing for me to have to find an extra 15 hours in my week. This is the kind of thing that has historically resulted in my gaining lots of weight, but I have, instead, been sticking with the program, and it is working!

I know that recovering from an eating disorder is a lifelong process, so I do consider myself “cured” – just “on the wagon” so to speak – a wagon I don’t want to get off of.

Photo credit: Amazon.com

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I bought Geneen Roth’s book Women Food and God, and I started reading it this week. It is a fascinating book addressing many of the same observations that I have made about the connections between the body, emotions, and spirituality.

For those of you who are triggered by religion, please note that she uses the word “God” to represent the “something” that exists outside of ourselves and within, which is also referred to as a “higher power.” This is not a religious book, nor is it exploring religion. The focus is on how, through examining our eating patterns, we can discover who we truly are in a metaphysical sense, which leads us to whatever that “power” is when we are quiet and still. She claims that her methods work even if you have no belief in any sort of higher power.

I am so excited about this book and will probably be referencing it a lot as I work through it. I feel like I am reading it too quickly and might have to read it twice to be able to absorb all of the pearls of wisdom it holds. Today, I would like to focus on an interesting observation about how our childhood hurts and traumas affect us in adulthood:

To the extent that we go into survival mode—I can’t feel this, I won’t feel this, it hurts too much, it will kill me—we are slipping into baby skins, old forms, familiar selves. Young children, especially infants, mediate the pain of loss or abandonment or abuse through the body; there is no difference between physical and emotional pain. If the pain is too intense and the defenses are too weak, a child will become psychotic and/or die. It is lifesaving for a child to develop defenses that allow her to leave a situation she can’t physically leave by shutting down her feelings or turning to something that soothes her. But if as adults we still believe that pain will kill us, we are seeing through the eyes of the fragile selves we once were and relying on the exquisite defense we once developed: bolting. Obsessions are ways we leave before we are left because we believe that the pain of staying would kill us. ~ Women Food and God, pp. 41-42

I found Roth’s observations about the way children deal with pain to be very interesting, especially as I have had preverbal memories/feelings bubbling up. There is no question that I continue to act and react as I did as a child, although I have made a lot of progress in this area. So, I guess my question is how to unravel all of this in my head. When I am feeling pain, how do I choose not to react by “leaving” (dissociating)?

I am trying that as I write this with some success. I am upset about a conversation with my son, but I have not turned to food, alcohol, or Xanax to “leave” the pain. I am trying to let myself feel it in the hopes that it will pass and not “kill me.” I know that I have faced much worse pain than this, but I also don’t want to spend the rest of my life doing nothing but feeling pain as it bubbles up to the surface. But what is the alternative? I admit that my lifelong history of dissociating hasn’t exactly made me happy, either.

It sounds like the key is learning how to live in the present and feel whatever comes up in the present moment. This is the same stuff my therapist told me over and over again, but I still have a long way to go before I am there.

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I was waiting on my hairdresser yesterday when the cover of Redbook magazine caught my eye. Trust me – that is unusual for me! The cover was advertising an article inside about the real reasons that women have trouble losing weight. I flipped over to the article curious to see if my observations (the need for more rest and sleep) would be included. Instead, I was treated to more insights that I had never considered.

The article is about Geneen Roth’s book Women Food and God. According to the article, the author had been binging and dieting for 17 years and was just “done” with the cycle. She says that she stopped dieting, started listening to what her body wanted to eat, and settled into her “natural” weight. You can read the Redbook article here.

The author touched upon an area of compulsive overeating that I had never considered but that really hit home for me. Her first point is to “realize that the size of your body isn’t just about food.” She says that you have to look at the big picture and recognize that your relationship with food is expressing “all the self-defeating beliefs you have about yourself and your life.” She says that you cannot separate out the way you eat from the way you live. Wow!

Then, she provides a couple of examples. She says that the person who eats “on the run” and will not take time out to sit and enjoy a meal is expressing a belief that everything else in life is more important than you are. If you do this, you need to be asking yourself how you want to be spending your time. All of this ties in with my need to set aside time to rest and relax. I used to eat on the run, and now I do set aside a “lunch break” every day that I thoroughly enjoy.

Her other example was feeling guilty for eating one cookie. The author asks, “If you feel guilty for eating one cookie, for instance, what does that say about the pleasure you deprive yourself of in daily life?” This article has given me a lot to think about, and I might just have to order that book.

The article includes four other points:

2. Understand that weight loss isn’t everything — but it is something.

3. Go ahead and feel bad.

4. Believe that you deserve happiness.

5. Eat when you are hungry.


Her point in #3 about feeling badly is something I have been working on for years through therapy. I ate as a child to “stuff down” the painful emotions, and I have gotten much better about just allowing myself to “feel bad” for a little while. The pain always passes. I am still a work in progress with the other three points. It is point #1 that I really want to focus upon.

Again, here is the link to the article on overcoming food addiction.

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