Geneen Roth

Daring to Soar

Two New Years ago, I set an intention to write 100 blog posts that year. In retrospect, I see that the goal was ambitious. I do not want what I write to simply be stream of consciousness or quantity unpolished, unreflected upon. Still, there are ways with writing that I hold back that don’t help me.

 

I wrestle with blogging. There is a perfectionist in me that wants everything to be, well, perfect. That is not simply spelling, grammar, paragraphing. That is the easy part. It is more in striking the right balance between relevant and entertaining, serious and playful, logical and beautiful, pedagogical and vulnerable.

 

I realize in thinking about this that I am seeing blogging as more about appearance than essence. That is philosophy speak in my world for caring more about how it comes across to you than how it is for me. No wonder I was so struck in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Big Magic when she entreats us to create for the sake of creating. She decries that we have been socialized to see creativity as instrumental (Am I talented? Will people like it?) instead of expressive (How is it an expression of myself? How does it make me feel?). Gilbert believes we all have a human need to create and part of us atrophies when we shut that down. She laments that we need to stop thinking about the audience (or lack thereof) and start believing in the benefits for ourselves.

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My Year of Blogging Boldly, Part One: The Dude

 

Nearly two years ago, I came across a man’s picture on a dating profile that stopped me. He was attractive enough. And I liked what he had to say. But there was something about his eyes that caught me. They had depth. They looked like they had seen and understood pain. I think that made me feel safe.

 

I reached out to him at the time, sending a note. Unusual for me as I rarely make the first move with online dating. In fact, I put up barriers to make contact with me a challenge in a bid to weed out insincere people. But something about him captured me. Alas, he did not respond.

 

I hardly ever go on that website now. But did on a lark late one night a while back as stolen moment of distraction while I was getting through a pile of work. He too was online. I would have been prepared to leave it at just noticing his presence there except that I’d seen him a couple days before at a movie. That had got me wondering about him. So when I saw him on at the same time, I said hello and asked him about what he’d thought of the film.

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My Year of Blogging Shamelessly: Part Six of Six

One woman’s journey from her body to her soul letting her relationship with food show the way.

 

The keys to healing.

 

Put absolute faith in the intuitive eating principles. The beauty of this approach is that it is both psychological and physical. It is most effective when you engage on both fronts. You may start with some understanding of why you eat. But that begins to look very theoretical compared to the insights that emerge when you align your eating with your hunger. I have seen people brought to tears during mindful eating meditations that I lead. Your normal eating is like a lid on a pot. You use it to keep things down. You can guess what lies underneath. But taking the lid off, if you have the courage to, is when you really see what is going on.

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My Year of Blogging Shamelessly: Part Five of Six

One woman’s journey from her body to her soul letting her relationship with food show the way.

 

In my mid-twenties I came across the books Fat is a Feminist Issue by Susie Orbach and When Food is Love by Geneen Roth. They were part of my discovery of feminism and the proposition ‘the personal is political.’ Through them I realized that I wasn’t alone in my struggles with my body, and they weren’t all my fault. I began to understand that the challenges people, especially women, have with food are substitutes or masks for other struggles that we don’t have the emotional space or safety in our lives to confront. We don’t have the social will in our culture to take on. Intellectually, I connected many dots within myself. Academically, I did a master’s degree on why women use food and their relationship to their bodies to have autonomy and give meaning to their lives. Physically, emotionally and spiritually, I am still finding my way.

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My Year of Blogging Shamelessly: Part Two of Six

One woman’s journey from her body to her soul letting her relationship with food show the way.

 

My mum had had a handful of boyfriends since her divorce. Not a high number for a single woman, but for a girl who missed her dad, who liked the men her mum was with, and who was devastated every time one of her relationships ended, it was too many. It was like having my already tentative heart opened only to have to close it again—hardened with a new layer of scar tissue each time.

 

To make matters worse, my dad was not someone I could rely on emotionally. I have learned in adulthood that I am Métis through him, and that he spent grade five and grade eight in care with the Catholic Church in Moose Jaw and in Edmonton. I have heard stories that my grandparents drank a lot and partied a lot, and were desperately poor. My dad won’t say much about that time except “you knew which priests to stay away from.” But his elder sister recounts memories of neglect at home and being left for long periods of time in the convent. On the occasions when she was finally picked up by her parents, she would arrive home only to meet new siblings.

 

My dad is a much better parent to adult children. I get that. And in my youth, when I needed him most, he was carrying a lot of shame from my mum’s leaving him. That likely only exacerbated the scars from his own parents’ eventual divorce. One thing I knew then, my mum was all I had.

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brene brown photo showing I am Enough written on a woman's chest

I am enough.

How can something that feels so wrong actually be oh so right?
Why you shouldn’t always believe what you’re thinking.

 

Oh my God…what have I done? What was I thinking to share my ideas like that? Who am I to think I can be on a mission to spread the word about mindful eating? I am still working through eating issues myself. Who am I to think I can be a specialist in this?

This is exactly what was blaring through my head when I woke up Monday morning after two days at the amazing workshopping weekend “The Good One Hundred Experiment” for businesses and projects out of Edmonton that focus on the social and local good. Even though I loved the weekend, got amazing feedback on what I was doing with mindful eating, and met some truly fantastic people, my overall take away at that point was that I was a fool for sharing myself like I did. I was sure that the people there were thinking what a quaint little project I had but was truly out of my league, or what I loser I was for talking so openly about something that is better seen as a private and shameful issue that only belongs to weak and undeserving people. (Underscore the word shameful–more to come.) When I was thirteen and started to gain weight, I learned pretty quickly that my ‘go to’ position on my weight gain was to give the world the impression that it did not matter to me…in spite of all the pain I was feeling inside. That way, people wouldn’t be able to use it against me. Now, here I was some thirty years later telling a room full of participants that it was my issue, and it meant the world to me. I felt naked.

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How mindful eating changed my body, mind and life

I had always been a slender and active kid, never giving a second thought to my weight until puberty, when I suddenly realized I became fat. At age 14, I tried various diets. One high fibre and low fat diet worked well for me—so long as I stayed on it.

 

At age 17, I found a life-changing book called Thin Within. It was my first exposure to what I term intuitive hunger eating principles: eat when you’re hungry, eat exactly what you want, do so with presence and intent, and stop as soon as the hunger goes away. The book also explained that if you eat outside of intuitive hunger signals, you are likely eating for emotional reasons. It was as though a light had been switched on for me. (It had already occurred to me that if diets were so great, why did people gain weight back? I wondered why some people manage a “good” weight their whole lives yet eat whatever they want? It occurred to me that if people eat a lot but get hungry again, haven’t they burned off all the calories?) The intuitive eating philosophy ultimately led me to ask myself why I was turning to food, which sparked a healing journey in me that continues to this day.

 

A few months later, I had some bad experiences with my mum’s boyfriend. I felt unsafe around him, and unheard and unsupported at home. Anxiety and confusion overwhelmed me. My body, unprotected by fat, felt too unsafe. I literally could not stop eating, and over the following weeks my weight climbed from 120 to 180 pounds. I remember not recognizing my reflection once, in a mall mirror . Thick red stretch marks stared back at me unapologetically from all over my body. My family judged me and made verbal swipes. Intuitive hunger eating seemed beyond my control. I felt humiliated and unworthy. I see now that I was trying to protect and care for myself through the weight.

 

When I left home things got easier. With the help of therapy, I gained significant insight into my personal and family history, and what the weight was voicing for me. I lost much of the weight. But my size would still fluctuate a bit based on the love and security I was feeling at any point in my life. Food was my “go-to” for warmth and stability.

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