Sunday, June 27, 2004

Information overload and the urge to binge returns

Sunday morning. The Geneen Roth seminar was, as expected, amazing. I'm not going to go into everything we learned because, in addition to being an incredibly long entry, you sort of have to experience it yourself to really appreciate much of it. The basic premise, however, is pretty revolutionary and might be too much for some (like me) to allow in.

Geneen's idea (also espoused by groups like Conscious Eating) is that dieting and deprivation don't work because they don't deal with the reasons that we overeat in the first place. [Wonder how many people just got their hackles up and are ready to defend their own ideas? I know that part of me felt that way through much of the seminar.] At the root of the plan of eating that Geneen espouses are seven principles that basically boil down to paying attention to what your body wants (not your mind, your body) instead of eating for reasons other than physical need.

Here is my interpretation of those principles:

1. Eat only when your body is hungry. Note that this is very different from a mental hunger. Your body is hungry when there are physical signs such as your tummy rumbling, irritability, or an inability to maintain focus.

2. Eat sitting down in a calm environment. This does not include the car.

3. Eat without distractions. Distractions can include TV, books, and intense conversations.

Principles 2 and 3 basically mean that when you're eating, that's what you should be doing, not allowing yourself to eat mindlessly.

4. Eat only what your body wants. Geneen talks a lot about really listening to your body, becoming in tune with its needs, and this step is part of that process. It's really tough (I can't do it) to distinguish between what your mind wants (Twinkies, HoHos, McDonald's) and what your body wants (protein, fruit, salad, etc), and it will take a lot of practice (or so Geneen said).

5. Stop eating when your body has had enough. OK, so here's a major roadblock for me. Stop before you're uncomfortably full? How the heck am I supposed to do that? If I do that, how am I supposed to enjoy eating? (The real truth, of course, is that I go numb when I start to eat anyway, so there's no true enjoyment of anything I eat.)

6. Eat (with the intention of being) in full view of others. This principle is for those of us who have made an eating career out of sneaking food knowing that calories consumed when no one is watching just don't count. No eating in the car on the way home from the drive-through. No waking up in the middle of the night and eating from the fridge. No cramming your mouth full of food so that you can eat an entire meal before your husband comes home and then eat again when he does, so that you'll "get enough food". (Yes, I really did that, more than once, when I was married.)

7. Eat with gusto and enjoyment. This final principle would seem to be the easiest, seeing that most overeaters have a love affair with food. The problem is that most of us salivate and quiver with anticipation of the wonderful food we're going to eat, rush with eager hands to take the object(s) of our desire from whatever source we're receiving it from, and then immediately go numb after about the first bite or two, appreciating none of the tastes, smells, or sensations produced in our bodies. All that we want is more and more and more and the blessed numbness. Sad, but true - the thing we think we love more than ourselves, more than our health, more than our lives, we never actually enjoy fully, either.

I highly recommend reading Geneen's latest book, by the way. It's not strictly about eating but she read extensively from it during the seminar and it's a great exploration of what you do after you've conquered your food addiction, your fear of real emotional intimacy, and you still don't find the bright, shiny, perfect life you're sure will magically materialize once you've "fixed" everything else. It's called The Craggy Hole in My Heart and the Cat Who Fixed It and the prose is so beautiful that you don't even have to pay attention to the underlying message of healing and redemption to be able to appreciate this book. I also bought When Food Is Love, which draws a parallel between the difficult relationship with food and the difficulty of forming a satisfying love relationship when you've got unresolved feelings from your past coloring your perceptions.

In any case, I was quite horrified to find myself thinking about bingeing in the aftermath of the seminar. I'm not sure if it was the chocolate kiss that she had us savor in our mouths as part of learning to appreciate the sensory pleasures of the food we normally shovel into our mouths or all of the unpleasant feelings from the past that I was forced to confront, but there were definite binge impulses going on last night. They weren't terribly strong and I didn't act on them, but I did nearly slip into the "it wouldn't hurt if I just got a nonfat chocolate frozen yogurt" trap - came much closer this time than the last time. I had to, literally, shake myself to snap out of it and realize that I'd done too much and come too far to let some fear of feeling push me back into the Hell that is bingeing and self loathing. Not. Going. Back. There. NOT!

And, with that, I'm going for a walk. Increased my daily time to 26 minutes, 37 seconds yesterday in the gym at the hotel. Man, it's starting to get to that "this is a long time to be doing something I really hate" place, which scares me. So far, so good, and we'll just have to wait and see what my inner child cooks up for tantrums this week.

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