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We all want to change the way we eat and, of course, change that number on the scale, but we don't realize that wanting to change what we do with food means changing what we do without food. And often that means taking a risk. Breaking out of our routines. Doing something we've never done before. Questioning beliefs we've taken for granted, such as, "I am supposed to do this alone" and "Asking for help is a sign of weakness."
Think about the events in your life that send you running for the Fritos. Is one of them a situation in which you believe that you are not supposed to ask for help? If you didn't eat in that moment, but decided to ask for exactly what you need, would you still feel that need to eat?
Giving myself permission to ask for help is a process I'm still trying to master. A recent example: A few weeks ago, I was in New York visiting my mother who, at 78, had just had complicated back surgery. When the doctor told us that she'd have to undergo another procedure six days later, I was scared—at her age, more general anesthesia was something she didn't need. And since my usual pattern is to believe that the first sign of discomfort signals catastrophe (a sore throat equals throat cancer), I knew that I needed to fly to New York immediately to be with her.
My husband, Matt, was about to leave for Canada to attend the funeral of a cousin. He asked if I would like him to come with me instead. "No," I said. "Go and be with your family. I can handle this myself."
Each day, I would leave the hospital exhausted and depleted. I'd head around the corner for a cup of soft-serve "diet" ice cream (if you can call a bland, tasteless, cold, low-carb, low-fat mixture that you eat with a spoon ice cream). Then, one day, I talked to a friend who said: "And why exactly did you tell Matt that he didn't need to come? Wouldn't it be wonderful for you if he were here? Wouldn't you be less inclined toward cold, tasteless concoctions if he flew here to join you?"
And the answer was yes, yes, yes. Just thinking about Matt's coming to New York relieved and comforted me. Yet even though we've been married for 20 years, it hadn't occurred to me that I could ask him to come. My unspoken belief was that it's okay for me to ask him to change a tire since I can't do it myself. But if I am merely anxious, tired and frightened, if it's not a life-or-death emergency, I should be able to tough it out and buck up on my own.
Haven't I learned by now that it's all right to ask for help? Yes, I have learned that, but I don't always remember. If only we learned deep lessons right away, learned the first five times, learned the first 50 times or even the first 500 times. So this time, I learned again. I realized that the courageous move in this case wasn't handling things on my own. It was calling him and asking him to come and be with me.
My mother came through her second surgery and is healing well. Matt arrived, and my consumption of cold, tasteless foodstuffs ended (though I did eat some delicious lemon ice cream for dessert one night). Turns out that my radio host and I had a lot in common. In order to stop using food for comfort, we had to risk doing something uncomfortable.
So, go ahead. Take a risk. Do something differently. Keep learning, as I keep doing, that if you want to live the biggest life you can, asking for help is sometimes the bravest thing you can do.
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. Geneen 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:
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