The bottom line, whether you weigh 340 pounds or 150 pounds, is that when you eat when you are not hungry, you are using food as a drug, grappling with boredom or illness or loss or grief or emptiness or loneliness or rejection. Food is only the middleman, the means to the end. Of altering your emotions. Of making yourself numb. Of creating a secondary problem when the original problem becomes too uncomfortable. Of dying slowly rather than coming to terms with your messy, magnificent, and very, very short—even at a hundred years—life. The means to these ends happens to be food, but it could be alcohol, it could be work, it could be sex, it could be cocaine. Surfing the Internet. Talking on the phone.

For a variety of reasons we don't fully understand (genetics, temperament, environment), those of us who are compulsive eaters choose food. Not because of its taste. Not because of its texture or its color. We want quantity, volume, bulk. We need it—a lot of it—to go unconscious. To wipe out what's going on. The unconsciousness is what's important, not the food.

Sometimes people will say, "But I just like the taste of food. In fact, I love the taste! Why can't it be that simple? I overeat because I like food."


When you like something, you pay attention to it. When you like something—love something—you take time with it. You want to be present for every second of the rapture. But overeating does not lead to rapture: It leads to burping and farting and being so sick that you can't think of anything but how full you are. That's not love; that's suffering.

I'm not exactly proud to say that I have been miserable anywhere, with anything, with anyone. I've been miserable standing in a field of a thousand sunflowers in southern France in mid-June. I've been miserable weighing 80 pounds and wearing a size 0. And I've been happy wearing a size 18, been happy sitting with my dying father, been happy being a switchboard operator. But like many people, I've had the "When I Get Thin (Change Jobs, Move, Find a Relationship, Leave This Relationship, Have Money) Blues." It's called the "If Only" refrain. It's called postponing your life and your ability to be happy to a future date when then, oh then, you will finally get what you want and life will be good. You will stop turning to food when you start understanding in your body, not just your mind, that there is something better than turning to food. And this time, when you lose weight, you will keep it off. Truth, not force, does the work of ending compulsive eating.

The poet Galway Kinnell wrote that "sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness." Everything we do, I tell my students, is to reteach ourselves our loveliness.

Diets are the result of your belief that you have to atone for being yourself to be worthy of existing. Until the belief is understood and questioned, no amount of weight loss will touch the part of you that is convinced it is damaged. It will make sense to you that hatred leads to love and that torture leads to peace because you will be operating on the conviction that you must starve or deprive or punish the badness out of you. You won't keep extra weight off, because being at your natural weight does not match your convictions about the way life unfolds. But once the belief and the subsequent decisions are questioned, diets and being uncomfortable in your body lose their seductive allure. Only kindness makes sense. Anything else is excruciating. You are not a mistake. You are not a problem to be solved.

The Sufi poet Rumi, writing about birds learning to fly, wrote: "How do they learn it? They fall, and falling, they're given wings."

If you wait until you have Toni Oliver's eyes and Amy Breyer's hair, if you wait to respect yourself until you are at the weight you imagine you need to be to respect yourself, you will never respect yourself. To be given wings, you've got to be willing to believe that you were put on this Earth for more than your endless attempts to lose the same 30 pounds 300 times for 80 years. And that goodness and loveliness are possible, even in something as mundane as what you put in your mouth for breakfast.

Beginning now.

From Women, Food and God, by Geneen Roth. Copyright © 2010 by Geneen Roth & Associates, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

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