When I was at my fattest, when I only had one dress to wear in mid-December (a summer dress with an elastic waist and a flouncy, expandable skirt), I realized that my apparently insane eating was trying to get my attention. It became clear that because it was so tenacious, it must have something to teach me that I wasn't learning in other, more subtle ways. So I sat down and wrote what I called "A Fat Dialogue."
It was like writing a play for two characters: Me and Fat. I started out by asking my fat what it wanted from me. It rambled on about wanting my attention, then ended up telling me something that forever changed my life: It told me that as long as I was thin, I would be flinging myself at someone who lived across the country, didn't love me or was otherwise unsuitable. When those words came unsuspectingly out of my pen, I was stunned. I was also nailed.
It turns out that ol' Fat knew exactly what it was doing. I was single then, a penniless upstart who had the bad habit of getting involved with unavailable men and then making it my life's work to convince them to love me. Not exactly a promising occupation. My fat seemed to have found the perfect way—being overweight—for me to concentrate on what I needed to be doing: writing, establishing a career and supporting myself. When I was fat, I felt so unattractive that I kept to myself and concentrated on my work. Being fat was a brilliant, unconscious maneuver that allowed me to make enough money to pay the rent. I could have lost weight 900 times, but I would have gained it back 901 times until I understood the message I couldn't seem to hear any other way.
Within a short time after writing that dialogue, I resolved to devote my attention to writing and teaching instead of flinging and convincing. I stopped needing the suffering of bingeing and extra weight to get my attention and I started losing weight. And buying clothes with real waists. My friend, the Cookie Burglar, upon asking herself how her bingeing was helping her, discovered how bored she was in her life. Her kids had gone to college, she didn't have a job. "I am like the Energizer Bunny without a direction," she said. "At least breaking those locks is a challenge, and when I finally accomplish it, I feel victorious." I asked her to name what she would do if she could do anything in the world. "I would sing," she said. "I would get up onstage and belt out some Supremes songs." I encouraged her to, at the very least, get a home karaoke machine, stand on a table, and croon at the top of her lungs. Take lessons, I said. Make a home CD. Check out local choirs or clubs or singing groups. I urged her to stop—bingeing—in the name of love and take the direct route to her heart's desire.
Ask yourself now what your weight might want you to know that you have been ignoring. Write a fat dialogue. Discover how your fat is helping you. Learn the language your body has been speaking for years. Take a chance that you are more brilliant than you've ever imagined in designing this thing you call your weight problem. You have nothing to lose except your suffering. Every last ounce of it.
Geneen Roth's books were among the first to link compulsive eating and perpetual dieting with deeply personal and spiritual issues that go far beyond food, weight and body image. She believes that we eat the way we live and that our relationships to food, money and love are exact reflections of our deeply held beliefs about ourselves and the amount of joy, abundance, pain and scarcity we believe we have (or are allowed) to have in our lives.
Geneen has appeared on many national television shows, including The Oprah Winfrey Show, 20/20, The NBC Nightly News, The View and Good Morning America. Articles about Geneen and her work have appeared in numerous publications, including O, The Oprah Magazine, Cosmopolitan, Time, Elle, The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune and The Philadelphia Inquirer. She has written a monthly column in Good Housekeeping magazine since 2007. Roth is the author of eight books, including The New York Times best-seller When Food Is Love and a memoir about love and loss, The Craggy Hole in My Heart. Women, Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything is her newest book.
Read More from Geneen Roth:
How to eat less and enjoy it more
Worrying about your weight doesn't help you lose it
What your cravings really mean
Start the 15-week companion guide to Women, Food and God