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I first came across Geneen Roth's eating guidelines in my late teens. It was an excerpt from an interview with Oprah Winfrey which included a list of her seven principles. The notion of eating intuitively instantly resonated with me, although it was the opposite of what I knew dieting to be. Initially I felt conflicted and struggled to let go of my restrictive dieting beliefs, but eventually I was convinced it was the only sane path.
I began listening to my body and I was immediately relieved from my anxiety surrounding food. There were no restrictions to adhere to which made eating an enjoyable and guilt-free experience once again. I simply followed her guidelines, particularly three of which stood out to me, and as a result I began to shed weight. Those being, eating when hungry, eating what my body craves, and eating until physically satisfied.
I practiced tuning inwards and became conscious of my bodily sensations and cues, something I had grown unaccustomed to doing. The line between my emotional hunger and physical hunger was greatly skewed, and so was my discernment of it. Geneen explains how we use food to leave our bodies, however by inhabiting our bodies we get in touch with the feelings we so desperately try to run from. A type of meditative practice, where our awareness is redirected to the present moment and to what is taking place both inside and outside of ourselves.
It wasn't until last year I finally got my hands on Women, Food and God. After reading it several times and reflecting on Geneen's work, I realised that even though her eating guidelines had helped me to lose unwanted weight, I ended up turning her principles into a modified dietary plan. I noticed once again I was trying to focus merely on the external and evade any type of investigation on my self-limiting beliefs. A reminder for each time I choose to reach out for my drug of choice, whether it be food or another form of escapism, to observe and explore my thoughts and beliefs about the world in that moment.
To notice what I'm feeling, to invite those feelings and meet them with kindness. We avoid self confrontation at all costs, in order to protect ourselves from pain, however as the author affirms so brilliantly, "the medicine for the pain is in the pain." Anything else is only a temporary fix and the very thing we try to avoid will keep resurfacing. "When the suffering is fully allowed, it dissolves," we fear our pain will destroy us but it is that which will set us free. Take on an approach of curiosity when addressing any type of psychological discomfort. I am reminded to embody the courage depicted in legends such as that of Saint George, who tamed and slew the dragon (that being our inner dragon).
We erroneously believe that compulsive overeating (or any other type of addictive behaviour) is the best thing life has to offer, but when we connect with ourselves the aroma that permeates feeds all our cells with love. That which we seek outside of ourselves.
Weight loss is not the main agenda of this book, but rather a side effect. Geneen's philosophy is "that our relationship to food is an exact microcosm of our relationship to life itself," what we believe about life is "revealed in how, when and what we eat." Weight is merely the outer expression of the beliefs we hold about ourselves. Work on the mind and the body will follow. She explains how people lose weight and still feel unhappy. Weight loss in itself will not fulfill us. Her guidelines are not strict rules, don’t let it become an obsession but rather a way to look inwards—a gateway to our inner awakening.
The culture of comparison breeds self-hatred, but if we were to see through the "eyes of a child" we would not only appreciate the miracle of our body but the miracle of life itself. See yourself only with eyes of love. We look at our bodies with rejection as it doesn't match the ideal image we hold in our mind, but ask yourself what will a "perfect" body bestow me with? The approval of others? A sense of worth? Is that what you want to be valued for? Is it not something deeper?
Intuitive eating isn't a new concept but something that comes naturally and is observable in young children. However, we lose this intuitive connection with each and every attempt we make to suppress and numb our emotions, leading us further astray.
I would like to conclude with what I believe summarises the above - it is not our stomachs that hunger, but our hearts that hunger for love, understanding and connection. Geneen describes this as "anorexia of the soul."