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For most of us, food isn't allowed to be itself: a source of pleasure, joy, nourishment. Instead, food is the middleman between feeling something we don't want to feel and numbing or distracting ourselves from feeling it. We don't eat for enjoyment, taste or particular sensations, we eat for the effect the food will have on us. Food is our drug of choice. But there is another way to live with food. It's called eating with gusto, joy and pleasure.
A student of mine named Sunny tells this story: "Once a month, I take myself out for a steak-and-mashed-potatoes dinner. I love steak—love, love, love it. But I don't think I am supposed to eat it. This doesn't stop me, of course, but it does stop me from enjoying it. So I eat my dinner in a hurry—as if someone I know is going to walk in the door, and I have to be quick before I am discovered. Then I pay for my meal, hurry home and spend the rest of the night feeling ashamed of what I ate."
I ask Sunny what she thinks would happen if she allowed herself to eat with gusto. To taste every bite. To pay attention to what she finds pleasurable about it. I tell her the story about Ed and the Zen master. I ask her what she thinks her life would be like if she ate her once-a-month steak the way Ed was to smoke his cigarettes.
She laughs hard, and her eyes light up. "Eating is always a guilty pleasure," she says. "I feel as if I'm not supposed to enjoy food because I need to lose 10 pounds, and people who are supposed to lose 10 pounds should be ashamed of themselves. They should eat dry chicken without skin and salad without dressing—not steak and mashed potatoes."
Now we've gotten to the core belief: Emotional eaters and/or those of us who feel as if we are overweight are not supposed to enjoy food. We are supposed to skulk around, eating food that tastes like leather. Better yet, we should be eating astronaut food: freeze-dried pellets of desiccated vegetables.
After 30 years of working with emotional eaters, I can confidently say that I've never met anyone who has ever lost weight—and kept it off—by deprivation. We are sensory, pleasure-loving beings. It is not just calories that fill us up, but the joy we take from eating them.
We don't overeat because we take too much pleasure from food, but because we don't take enough. When pleasure ends, overeating begins.
Imagine what your life would be like if you let yourself eat with passion. If you felt entitled, no matter what you weighed, to eat with gusto. You may discover that foods you loved—as well as those you didn't—truly do give you pleasure, and there's no price tag attached. And that's how it should be. Why not be astonished by the crisp taste of an apple? Why not revel in the smooth texture of an olive? Since you need to eat to live, why let one moment of joy—even one—pass you by?
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:
Does having one cookie turn into 10? How to stop
The no-diet weight loss method
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