Geneen Roth is the author of ten books, including the just-released This Messy Magnificent Life and New York Times bestsellers When Food Is Love, Lost and Found, and Women Food and God, as well as The Craggy Hole in My Heart and the Cat Who Fixed It. Over the past forty years, she has worked with thousands of people in her groundbreaking workshops and retreats and has appeared on numerous national shows, including The Oprah Winfrey Show, 20/20, the Today show, Good Morning America, and The View. She lives in California with charms of hummingbirds; her husband Matt; and Izzy the fabulous, eating-disordered dog.
Geneen Roth‘s pioneering 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. Rather than pushing away the “crazy” things we do, Geneen‘s work proceeds with the conviction that our actions and beliefs make exquisite sense, and that the way to transform our relationship with food, our body, and so much more in our life is to be open, curious and kind with ourselves — instead of punishing, impatient and harsh.
#1 New York Times bestselling author of Women Food and God
There is an end to the anguish of emotional eating—and this book explains how to achieve it. Geneen Roth, whose Feeding the Hungry Heart and When Food Is Love have brought understanding and acceptance to tens of thousands of readers over the last two decades, here outlines her proven program for resolving the conflicts at the root of overeating. Using simple techniques developed in her highly successful seminars, she offers reassuring, practical advice on:
• Learning to recognize the signals of physical hunger
• Eating without distraction
• Knowing when to stop
• Kicking the scale-watching habit
• Withstanding social and family pressures
And many more strategies to help you break the binge-diet cycle—forever.
Please enjoy my conversation with Geneen Roth.
Right-click here to download the MP3
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Follow Along with the Transcript – Episode 144
Geneen Roth 0:00
So this is up to me. This is my, my body. This is my decision and more than that I am willing to stand in what's true.
Alex Ferrari 0:28
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I'd like to welcome to the show Geneen Roth.How you doin Geneen?
Geneen Roth 1:05
Great. I'm very happy to be here.
Alex Ferrari 1:07
Thank you so much for coming on the show. I'm so excited to talk to you about your work and your amazing work what you've been doing throughout the course of your life. And my very first question is how did you kind of get into this line of work because you were kind of at the forefront of what you do, right?
Geneen Roth 1:25
Yes. Well, I was a crazy person around food, body and white. That's how I'd say I live I lived in a hell realm. Probably my entire life starting by the time I was five or six thought I was too fat. I started radically dining when I was 11. By that I mean, you know making up my own diets with a one hot fudge sundae a day diet, the $1,000 I mean the 1000 calorie a day. Cookie diet the Mott's applesauce and meatballs diet, all Grape Nuts diet. I mean, I did some intense diets that I made up plus I was addicted to amphetamines for four years. And then I became anorexic. And through that entire time, even when I was on a wreck sick weighing probably 30 pounds less than I weigh now. Maybe, yeah, 30 pounds less than I weigh now, I still looked in the mirror and loathed myself and so that self loathing prompted the 17 years of gaining and losing more than 1000 pounds. And then finally after the anorexia, and there were no names for it. I'm dating myself. Back in the last century there people weren't calling it anorexic there were there wasn't the nothing like eating disorders was coined none of that. I just felt like an insane person and very alone. And I gained 80 pounds in two months after being anorexic. And at that point, I wanted to kill myself, and started thinking about ways to do it and planning ways to do it. And I had worked in a suicide prevention and Crisis Center, all throughout my 20s. So I knew what serious intent was. And I was pretty serious. And I gave myself one last chance. That was, I was going to stop dieting. And I was going to let myself eat what I wanted to eat, I was going to see if it was possible to actually trust this body. And it wasn't really at the beginning because I was so filled with what I should eat and what I shouldn't eat and binging and all I really wanted to eat was sugar. So it took a little while couple of weeks of eating nothing but raw chocolate chip cookie dough. And but I wasn't guilty about it. And I wasn't shaming myself because I realized for me, I was at the end of the line. It was either I go through this, or I kill myself and and I don't mean to say that lightly because it wasn't a light thing I was I could have written myself apart. That's how much I hated myself. I could have banged into walls, I could have cut myself, eating was my way to do all of that. And finally I realized I read a great book called fat as a feminist issue. And in reading that book, I realized that perhaps there was a reason for all of this I or I was trying to express something. I didn't know how to express through food and maybe it was the most sane thing I'd ever done. And so that started me off.
Alex Ferrari 4:48
So let me ask you, when you when you said you at six, you started to think about this. That's extremely young of 11 you start dieting, what was it around in your environment? Was it something inside View or did you see? Were you modeling where you being, you know, your your family, your community, your cultural environment? What was causing these images? Because, you know, and you didn't even have social media? Could you imagine social media, and Instagram and those things at that time? So um, what was what was it that actually triggered that?
Geneen Roth 5:20
Well, my mom was a fat kid, and very upset about having been a fat kid. And her mother took her shopping in the chubby section of Macy's and shamed her because her thighs rub together. And so she was determined that I not follow in her footsteps. Also, I think in those days, and I mean, the 50s, late 50s, early 60s, parenting was very different than it is now I don't think parents knew that criticizing your kids. Telling your daughter that her ankles look like piano stools was not a good thing. I think, I think that she thought I think she firmly believed that criticizing me, telling me I was fat would lead me to want to be thin, and I wasn't a thin kid. You know, when I look at pictures of myself, then I wasn't fat. But I definitely was not thin, I was round. That's how I'd say I was round.
Alex Ferrari 6:35
Wow. Yeah. And I mean, I was raised in the 70s and early 80s. And, and, you know, my parents, God bless them. Culturally, you know, I'm a guy, I'm and I'm also a male. So it's not as heavy as it is for for females. But culturally, I come from a Cuban household, and you had to eat everything on the plate. So there's that that mentality that you had to kind of break through, you would have someone say, Hey, you're getting a little, you know, get a little chunky, they're these little little things, you know, like, the uncle would come over and say something, or the ad would say, like, Oh, he's getting too big. These kinds of things it does. It does help the programming in your mind to start thinking about these things. And then we get advertising and then and even then, again, 50s and the 70s nothing compared to what we have today in regards to the body dysmorphia, that you know, like, if you don't have a six pack, you're fat kind of environment that we live in. And it's I think it's gone the other way. Now, I think now, you know, you see plus size models and things like that, that would never been around even 5 10 years ago. But it is something that we all kind of I was just was was interesting what caused that because I remember what caused it for me and I battled as well, many, many lot gained and lost weight, binged in, you know, a lot of lost 50 60 pounds and got into the best shape of my life that lasts a couple years. But then the diet that I was on was unsustainable. Yes. And then one thing pops, and then that could be an emotion which brings me to the next question will be the emotion about it. So you break up with a girlfriend, you lose the job, you do something clicks, and then you tell yourself, you're worth it, go have some cheesecake, you're worth it. Go do this, eat whatever you want. I mean, life is tough. And not these kinds of stories, you start telling yourself. And I don't know if you've heard, I'm sure you've heard this story. The the I think Tony Robbins said this once, which was such a great story. And I love bringing it up. It's called the cheesecake story. And I'd love to hear your thoughts on why we do this to ourselves. Where they're the middle the middle of a meal, beautiful meal, we eat it were stuffed completely beyond where we should have eaten, let's say yeah, let's say at the Thanksgiving meal. We've all been there. Yes. And then you're like, Mmm, stuff, and then the cheesecake plate comes out. And everyone's like, Would you like a piece of cheesecake and you're like, in your brain, you having this conversation? Go ahead at the cheesecake. It's gonna be fun. You'll work out a little bit more tomorrow you'll be okay. And you eat the cheesecake and then you get home that night. And you take your clothes off in front of the mirror. And that same little voice says, you fat pig. I can't believe you ate the cheesecake. It's the same voice. What is that and how can we like help deal with that voice that that that little yappy thing in our head that does that.
Geneen Roth 9:32
Well say a couple things about that Alex. The first is go ahead eat the cheese. Kay. To you fat pig. I can't believe you ate the cheesecake. They are two sides of the same stick. They're they're not really any different from each other. Go ahead, you deserve it. Go ahead. It's Thanksgiving, or go ahead. You've been really good today or go ahead. You know it takes tastes good, it won't hurt. And then the other side, you fat pig. So those are basically you can think of them as kind of along the continuum, if you've got one, you're gonna get the other one. And that's how it goes so that I can talk to you on the micro level there with, okay, what do we do when that self critical voice comes? I could talk to you about that. And maybe we'll talk about that in a second. But what we want to do is go meta to that whole thing. And we want to notice, or I want to notice, and this is where I've been working recently, not just with myself on those very old voices, but also with my, my students. I've been working with, what do you really believe about yourself? What is the so called unavoidable conclusion that you came to, maybe even before you could talk, based on the environment based on the information you were getting from your caretakers, or probably by the time you could talk five or six, the TV was blasting. Now, it's social media, and you get certain images, and people tell you things and friends and family, and you and you, as a very young person, when you depending on the environment out there, you're depending on your parents, or depending on your caretakers, depending on your siblings, you are dependent for your survival. And if what you're getting back is contain yourself, you're overwhelming, you're too needy, you're too big, you're too fat, you're eating too much, you will come to some, first of all, your feelings will be hurt, it will affect you, you will be upset. You know, as even as a three year old, you recognize what criticism feels like, doesn't feel good, it feels like sort of getting stabbed. And want to say from the outset, I've never met anybody who had enlightened parents whose parents did not speak to them like this. Whose parents just gave their their kid you know, Yes, sweetheart. Yes, I understand. You know, there was kind of a perfect understanding Parenting is hard. And so we get, we get the message, that we're not okay, we get that message. And we each come to particular conclusions. I looked around in my family, for instance. And I felt like, there was no one there for me. There just wasn't my mother, my father, my brother, my cousins. It was quite a dysfunctional family. And I came to the conclusion that it was because something was really wrong with me, fundamentally wrong with me. And I see that and a lot of my students when I take them back to their early conclusions, this goes way beyond the stuff with food, this conclusion or decision you've made about yourself, something's wrong with me. I'm not enough. I'm overwhelming. I'm worthless. I, I am unlovable, you, you name it, that then you then want to repress that, cover it up, and then you start developing adaptive behaviors. Well, let me be nicer than I think I am. I'm really a mean person. And so that's why my parents are like this because kids can't help but blame themselves and sometimes they are blamed, but even when they're not, they blame themselves. If their mother's lonely or depressed or it goes away or father unavailable, it's my fault. What's wrong with me? A kid makes a decision gets an adaptive behavior. It's too painful to feel that starts to become nice starts to become not so true to themselves separate from themselves. Well, I really am me in person, or I'm worthless. So now I'll make up for it by and the whole thing is a mechanism there and leads to well, if something's wrong with me and not enough and I'm never going to get enough and I'm unavoidable monetarily. Minus well because it hurts to be me. And eating at least Just gives me momentary pleasure, I get to forget about it from the moment that one bite now after the second or third bite people are in their minds again. So they're then it's row.
Alex Ferrari 15:16
It's interesting because when, you know, I'm going through what I've gone through my life, as you're talking, I'm just thinking about using my own experience in my head that you know, when you do eat healthy, unhealthy food when you eat, you know, comfort food, as they call it, comfort food. There's a couple of different things that cause that there's either the comfort that you felt when you first ate it. Back when you were a child, like, oh, yeah, that cake that I ate that that cheesecake or that flaunt that I ate when I was a kid, they loved me then and that's what I'm associating with Flon. But also, there's so there's that kind of release of that emotion. But also the chemical reaction in your brain, you're getting endorphin hits, from from the sugar from the salt from the fat. So I always tell people is like when you go to a fast food joint, that that's food is chemically designed. And even if it's not, like at this extreme as, like, let's say, you know, one of the big chains, but even if you're going to a smaller chain, it's you know, fat, cheese, salt, sugar, that's all triggers in our brain to continue to eat more and more. And I always used to say, like, you know, when I used to go eat in and out, boy, it tasted good going in, but boy, I felt like crap afterwards, because your body, it's not really built that all the time. So it's really, it's really fascinating. To see that now, I want to ask you, because you've kind of mentioned it a little bit in regards to your family and your environment. Let's say you start trying to make changes in your life, let's say you start changing the story that you've told yourself, but your immediate environment doesn't support it, like your wife, like your, you know, relatives, your brothers, your sisters, your family, your parents, maybe they aren't supportive, and then maybe your workplace isn't supportive of it, maybe your culture or your religion isn't supportive of it, it becomes that much more difficult to make those changes. And a lot of times those changes is, you know, it's cultural. It's something that's like, when I told my, my Cuban parents that I wasn't going to eat meat anymore. 10 years ago, they were like, What are you? How are you going to live? Like, well, I'll just go outside and graze. But, but it was a cultural thing. And it's taken a long time for them to just see, oh, he's alive. And doing well. So apparently, something's working. But that was a cultural shift that they needed. So what advice do you have for people dealing with that environmental, cultural, religious, or a family units that don't support change in the stories that you're trying to change in yourself?
Geneen Roth 18:05
You know, sometimes when I go out to eat, or don't go out to eat, or go out to eat and don't eat, because I'm not hungry, and I'm with a group of people, and let's say, eight people, and they're How come you're not eating? How come you don't want this Come on? The the, this is just a little small segment of what you're talking about. But I know, because I've thought this through many, many times, if I eat, because they're eating, it's not their bodies that suffer. It's my bodies, at some point, I will leave them I will go home and I will be suffering like the cheesecake store. So this is up to me. This is my, my body. This is my decision. And more than that, I am willing to stand in what's true. So there's taking a stand in what you know is true. Is it easy? No. But you sounds like you did it anyway, with the me. So. So your parents were like, Oh my God, how are you going to survive and you knew what was true for you. You knew what you wanted to do. You know, many of us are what I call a head of the medicine. So the culture is the medicine of the culture is do what everybody else is doing. Be part of the conditioning be part of the cultural norm fit in, don't stand out because of you stand out. You know the whole Tribal thing, you'll get killed, something will happen. It won't be good. You'll be ostracized, nobody will love you. This is what we're talking about. Is a head of that. by that. I mean, it's about. Yeah, I can see that the magnetization magnetisation is to fit in, and to do what people want me to do to do what it looks like people will approve of what my family does. What? Instagram and Tiktok say, watch, you know, just the whole thing. But you know what? I know. And it takes a while to get to that you just sometimes just get little teeny Inklings like, you know, you wanted to stop eating me. I knew, you know, I was diagnosed with breast cancer a couple of years ago. I'm fine. Thank goodness. One of the things that my oncologist said to me was stop eating any sugar at all. No sugar. Cancer feeds on sugar. Now, some people believe that and some people don't. But I decided to stop eating sugar. And, and I mean, I had read a book a gazillion years ago called Sugar Blues. That was actually about how terrible sugar was for you. It's out of print. Now, my copy probably is worth hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of dollars at this point. But I have never been shocked that this person had stopped eating sugar. Because sugar was all I ever wanted to eat sugar was the reason I ate sugar was the reason for being alive in the food arena. So I didn't stop eating sugar. I didn't eat that much of it. But when the oncologist said stop eating sugar, still, the amount of pressure light pressure I get, oh, have this piece of cake. Oh, have this cookie. Oh, I made this is a homemade thing. Surely this can't be so bad. Just didn't even that. And I'm really good at saying, you know, thanks. But no, it still is standing out being alone. But understanding and of course, having had cancer is a little different than making an A Well, it's not that different than making an elective choice. But deciding No, I'm not going to do that. It's not that hard. It's hard. But after the first five or 10 times, it's not that hard.
Alex Ferrari 22:41
Agreed. And it's just about again, reprogramming yourself and changing those habits in your brain. And I agree with you, I stopped eating sugar. Like, you know, processed sugar and added sugar. I mean, I eat fruits. I eat things that have sugar in it naturally, that's fine. But I stopped eating sugar a long time ago. And it really did help and it seems extreme to other people. But it's the same thing as and I've said this so many times on the show my man remember in the 70s when yoga was starting to come into vogue or jogging. You remember when jogging, people, people looked at people who jog into like, Where are you running to? You're insane. Ahead of the medicine, it's such a great term because there's so many things in our culture, that uh, one moment, people thought you were nuts, podcasting, what are you doing? Right now everybody wants to be a part of everybody wants to have a show and an audience and build all this stuff up. And with food and with meditation, yoga, I mean vegetarianism. My God, you they, I mean, they were still beating back the images of the emaciated vegetarian who just ate carrots all day because there wasn't enough information out there about nutrition and about what you could do. Yes. And now there's bodybuilders and world class athletes who are completely plant based and it's changed a lot, but I love that term that you said ahead of the medicine.
Geneen Roth 24:12
Alex Ferrari 24:15
Now, with when you are trying to reprogram yourself, what can we do to help change the record change those connections in our brain? Because so many of us have like sugar like if I told you, I told somebody right now look, you can't eat. It was really interesting On a sidenote this weekend, I was out with some friends. And some of them you know, heard that we were vegan and they just they literally free they were like freaking out like oh my god, we're gonna go out. Like where are we gonna go? What are we going to eat? I'm like, Guys, calm down. You can go anywhere you want. Find something to eat there. It'll be fine. You know, I'm in Austin. It's this is not the middle of nowhere we could there's plenty of bass Foods here. And they just it was such an interesting thing. And I can even hear almost little derogatory comments, quietly just being dropped into like, oh, well, that's not vegan. And they were trying to like break down the idea of the diet. And I was just like, wow, that's interesting. They feel that there's a threat to them and their way of life, if you're doing something different. So that's, again, that whole reprogramming. So what can we do to kind of change the ideas in our head about no sugar? No, me or just eating healthy or no fast food or these kinds of things?
Geneen Roth 25:34
First of all, it's very individual. It's what feels good on the outside. There are always two levels. And I'm always working with people on two levels. One is the physical level with what, when? And how? Also, where you're actually eating? What when, how, where does your eating take place that is really important to pay attention to, to start paying attention to the way you treat yourself around food? Are you standing up? Are you grazing at the refrigerator? Are you eating at the stove? Are you on tick tock or Instagram or doing your email or talking on the phone? When you eat? Are you paying attention, the quality of your attention just like in meditation, where in meditation, you notice your thoughts, you are the notice or not the noticed. So you're witnessing basically what you're doing around food that's part of it, is paying attention and doing it so that there is a big element of kindness in what you do around food, kind of, I would say self devotion, tenderness, kindness, because the kinder you are to yourself. And that's different than being indulgent. I'm not talking about be kind to yourself and go eat six bags of potato chips, followed by a gallon of ice cream. That's not kind that is abusive. So kindness is I encourage people, you can tell I don't have a lot of men, I mostly deal with women. I encourage people to talk to themselves and say, okay, sweetheart, what, what is it? First of all that's going on that's sending you to food, when you're not hungry? So the first thing is, when are you eating? Are you hungry? On a scale of one to 10. One is really hungry, five is comfortable, tennis, daft. If you're starting at five, you're not hungry at all, you're eating for other reasons. And then you start asking yourself, what are those other reasons? So you notice then if there's that voice in your head, is SAP did you get triggered? I really, really encouraged people to notice their triggered, okay, I was doing fine. I didn't want to eat until my colleague, my boss, my friend, my partner, my kid, the kids teacher, somebody made a comment about me, or one of my kids or my work, and I got triggered. And what and now I find suddenly, I was feeling great. And now I feel collapsed. Or I feel like something's wrong with me. Like that conclusion that we talked about. Suddenly, I don't know how it happened. I was skipping along or walking along my day, everything was fine. Now I feel like I'm two feet tall. I feel collapsed. I feel wrong. I feel bad. I'm either making myself wrong blaming myself or I'm blaming somebody else. What happened? And so this requires some degree of kindness and tenderness and willingness to say to yourself, Well, what happened when my friend didn't text me back? I had a story going, that she's doing other things. She never answers my tax. She doesn't like me. I knew this was going to happen. She isn't really my friend. Well forget her. So I have now interpreted that and I'm feeling bad about myself underneath that will forget her is the feeling like something's wrong with me. And that's why I'm turning to food. And that's that voice that you're asking meaning about the voice is, if you put it in the you something is wrong with you. You did it wrong. You did it bad. You shouldn't have texted her. You should have waited two more days to text her. You should have known this was going to happen. She was a lousy pick as a friend. You always pick lousy friends. Your spine. Yeah, you're spiraling down with that voice when you notice that that's happening. And you notice it on a sensate level, usually in your body? Small collapse paralyzed bad. That's when you look back and you say, Okay, what happened? It takes a little time to catch yourself. Because if what you do then is, well, something's wrong with me. And I'm honest, well II, that then that voice is double. Because then you have basically abandoned yourself, rejected yourself by saying something is wrong with me. That's self judgment. That's self rejection. That's abandonment. Because you were feeling hurt. And so you came right in with? Well, you should have known better. You shouldn't have texted her, you should wait longer than you'd like something is wrong with you. And so you injected yourself there you abandon yourself rejection and abandoned, self abandoned, same thing. And then you reject and abandon yourself by eat it to make it better, and abuse. Yeah, we have a double whammy. We have the whammy of she didn't text me and I feel you know hurt about that. Let me see if I can see what I believe about that. What's the conclusion I'm making about myself? Because my best friend didn't text me. I'm feeling like something's wrong with me. I'm feeling like I'm overwhelming. I want too much. I'm too needy, that I get to step in and be with myself there and just like put my hand on my heart. Say, Oh, sweetheart, you know, is that actually true? You know that Byron? Katie, question at first question. Is that true? And most of the time, you will know immediately. No, it's not true. And you'll be able to be the one you're waiting for. Food isn't what you're waiting for. And your friends text isn't what you're waiting for. It's you being with you that you're waiting for. And you have left yourself until you come back to yourself. And when you come back to yourself, that voice goes away.
Alex Ferrari 32:52
Yes, I agree with everything you just said. Because, as I you know, on the show, as I speak to more spiritual masters, and Yogi's and things like that, a lot of like, keep hearing common threads. And you said something so interesting, that, when you come back to yourself, is when you're looking for things outside of yourself for happiness, you're going to, you're going to fail, when you look for outside things, to make yourself happy, you need to be happy inside of yourself. So my next question is, why are we so damn tough on ourselves, so brutal with our voice of ourselves, we beat ourselves up more that we say things to ourselves that we would never in a million years, say to another human being? Why is that?
Geneen Roth 33:37
You know, there are a couple of reasons for that one is is developmental, so the super ego, which is that inner judge in our parent, critical parent, whatever you want to call it is developmental and all of us have it, all of us have one. So there is no way avoiding it. It's installed, you keep using the word programmed, which is a great word because that program, super ego program is installed. It's installed in us before we even know what's going on. What's also installed, Alex is what you said before that, which is that we believe since being a kid that the answer and the love is out there. And that if only we could get it in the right combination. The right person, the right success, the right amount of money, the right house, the right friend, the right partner, the right dog, the right job, the right anything, that then we would be happy and that comes from being a kid as well, because you're dependent on other people for your survival. So we get used to looking out there for the answer. And until we realize, and this really takes a while, because you look around and everybody's looking for it out there, and the right weight, the right body, the right, the right, you know, six pack, you said the right, you know, amount of muscles tone body, right, the right whole thing, you fill in the blank. If I only had fill in the blank, then I would be happy. And the thing is that even though many of us, many of us, I would recommend to say that almost everybody who's listening to this has already had the experience dozens of times of getting what they thought was going to do it, even if it's a piece of cake, or it's a job, or it's a relationship or losing weight. I mean, I start off every workshop I do, by asking people how many of you have been on a diet, and everybody raises their hand, how many of you have lost weight on that diet, everybody raises their hand, how many of you believed before you went on that diet, that losing weight was going to make you happy, everybody raises their hand, some of them are just not very happy about raising their hand because I know where I'm going, and how many of you were actually once and for all forever happy when you lost weight. And of course, nobody can raise their hand, we've gone from everybody to nobody, because they wouldn't be sitting in a workshop with me if they were forever happy. So everybody has had the direct experience of getting something out there that we thought would make us happy in here. And it didn't do it. But it's almost like this. Well, first of all, it's a habit. It's a cultural habit. And we keep believing we keep persisting, I've had people say to me, I have lost weight 30 times in my life. And I still believe that if only I could do it one more time. One more time. I would never have to do it again. Because each of those 30 times something happened. My mother got sick, my kid got sick, my husband left me I lost my job, you know, like that. A friend moved across the country, there's always a reason. Another outside reason why we leave ourselves. Yes.
Alex Ferrari 38:09
Yes to everything you just said it's, it's so it's so fascinating to see what what we do to ourselves. It's, you know, you go back, you look back at what you've done to yourself. And this is only an absolute, as you said, it takes time you look back at the years, and you're like, okay, in my 20s when I thought when I said I looked horrible, you go back and like I would kill to look like right here, and people like oh in my 30s on like you kill the look like you did in your 30s or feel like you felt in your 30s you know, and it's it's just this vicious thing that we keep doing with ourselves. And so it's so interesting that, you know, I've met people who are truly, if not close to really feel comfortable in their own skin. And when you meet those kinds of people, there's an energy there's a confidence, there's a It's not arrogance, it there's just a truth a knowing within themselves about themselves, that you can feel, you can feel it, you can feel it, you could also feel someone who's extremely insecure. Like I told you, before we started I work in the film industry, so you can only imagine what I've had to see. And you work with, you know, some of these major movie stars and you go, Oh, I understand why they people are attracted to them. There's an energy about them, there's this thing, but then when you dig in deeper, you're like, wow, that, you know, once you get past the glamour, and you look at the human, like they're struggling with things they we can't even comprehend it, you know, like you and I, you know, we're, you know, semi public figures, but we're not Brad Pitt, you know, so can you imagine the kind of stress that they're under?
Geneen Roth 39:54
Well, I think what it does is put stress on just like any anything external like that any kind of pressure or need to look a certain way or be a certain way? Anything that really emphasizes image puts pressure on all the different parts of you that don't believe that, that don't believe the story that believe you are not worth it. There's a big difference. And people know this. I read something that Will Smith said, a couple months ago, I guess it's in his book, where he said before he got famous, he believed that being famous was really good. This is a paraphrase, heal everything that was uncomfortable, that needed to be healed, and then he got famous. And that No, I didn't hear those things. And there was no if only I were famous, it would all be good. And I think that discrepancy between that big public figure nests, like Anthony Bourdain, I was just reading about him recently. There was a big article in the Times, I guess there's a new biography about him and the last couple of texts. He said, I'm so lonely. I hate my job. I don't like being famous. He had the, you know, he had supposedly everything. fame, money, good locks, a fabulous job, travel. But whatever was let's just call it unresolved, unhealed the parts of him that he didn't love. And so that's why this work that that we're talking about doing is so important to do. Because just what you said, when somebody is comfortable in their own skin, when they don't leave themselves when they have presence, you feel that, but when somebody doesn't have and so that radiates out, and you treat them appropriately with respect, there's a sense of, oh, wow, you know, there's a kind of uprightness. But when somebody is radiating because of feeling, I'm not okay, I'm broken, something's wrong with me. They radiate that as well. And you pick that up. It's so interesting, and it comes back. It's like a radio tower, where you're emitting a frequency of, I realized that with some friendships I've had, where I kept feeling like, why are these falling into the same pattern. And then I realized there was a very deep belief that I was having about not being good enough, somehow radiating that out, coming back in the way these friends treated me. And I kept thinking it was out there instead of in here.
Alex Ferrari 43:16
You know, it's, it's when I had a, some relatives come over with some some young boys that were unruly, let's say, and the parents didn't seem to have a real good control of them. Like just they, you can just sense they were just, I can't, I can't. And then they would run into my friend, who is one of these people who is very, you just meet them, and you go, Oh, they did? They did they demand respect without saying a word. Yeah. And the kids picked up on it. And the parents were like, how are you doing that? And she's like, I'm just doing I'm just being me. And those kids were angels around my friend Angel around. And it's so true is that energy that you put out, and people do feel it, you know, and you can go woowoo about it or not, it's like, I'm no. And I always use this example. I know, many people at one point or another, have gone into a car dealership and wanted to take a shower afterwards. Because of like, Oh, I feel so sleazy with these, you know, this person or you've met someone who's made you feel that way, whether it's a woman who's getting picked up at the bar by some sleazeball or you meet as a sleazy salesperson or something like that, that you you feel that energy. And that comes from within, which is what goes back to the theme that we're talking about is understanding that what we are looking for is inside of us. And that's what all the great sages and all the great tech spiritual texts throughout history of said, and food is just another. It's the food is the porch. It's the job, it's the thing, but food, unlike those other things have an immediate effect on us
Geneen Roth 44:59
And that's the blessing of it. So the great blessing is that it's a portal and immediate portal to what's going on inside. So if you find yourself standing up grazing over eating, binging eating things that make you sick, that's a red flag. That's the time. Because, you know, I often say that you eat the way you live, and you live the way you eat. So eating the way you live means that there's some kind of belief that's operating there. Do you believe you deserve pleasure? Do you believe you can get enough? Do you believe you need to deprive yourself in order to be okay? What do you actually believe about being alive? Because that absolutely shows up in your relationship with food, which is a fabulous part. Immediate part, it's like food is a Rorschach test. You know, I don't mean it a test, but you get to see immediately what you're believing in that moment about yourself and about, about living that day? I'm not okay, I don't deserve this, or No, I do. Part of what I'm talking about. And the process that I teach, is that when you see that, because I've, I've just or you've just eaten there, I've just eaten, let's just say I've just eaten a lot of chocolate to the point where I'm sick, then I get to say, okay, honey, now I can go either one way or the other. I can say I, you know, you've written 10 books about this, and you've eaten? How much chocolate? Really? You hypocrite? How could you do that? Or, and that's the way the voice talks. I call it the GPS from the Twilight Zone, that voice. Or you can say, Wow, that's a lot of chocolate for somebody who wasn't really hungry, what's going on? And then I can sit down and the weaker, you can forgive yourself. Be tender with yourself. Be kind to yourself. Kindness and relaxation are the answers Alex? there because the quicker you can do that, the more truthful you can become, the more authentic you can become. And what every spiritual teacher says. Somewhere in there teachings is that the truth will set you free. Being an n, it starts with being authentic in this moment with the teeny, teeny teeny little things you do every day in which you are leaving yourself. Or lying to yourself. A friend said to me, it's actually it wasn't a friend. It was one of my teachers who said to me, when one of my friendships with women exploded years ago, when was the first what was the first lie you told yourself about this person? And that stopped me in my tracks because I knew from the get go, but I didn't want to know what I knew. And sometimes I will often say to my students, what do you know about your relationship with food that you don't want to know? Because, you know, you know what it is? Well, I know that. I eat whenever I feel hurt or bread does not actually agree to me, but I love it and I won't give it up. I remember the first time somebody told me that I was allergic. I had some time Gly add in some kind of enzyme. And I couldn't eat gluten. This was 22 years ago. And I was on my way to Greece and I refuse to give up eating baklava. It was I mean, what I mean, okay, right. It's buckle up. I stood back the vibe, but guess what, guess what? It didn't Cloten and I just felt like no, I'm not doing that.
Alex Ferrari 49:33
Line in the sand.
Geneen Roth 49:35
That's right. So so you become authentic, truthful. You start listening to yourself and you realize that what anybody else is saying to you and of course you need information and you need all kinds of things, but you already know what you know. And if you don't know, you ask yourself, what do you know that you don't want to know? And that will often get to it because that is the beginning. That's the where the thread starts. If you totally, that whole ball of wool gets totally rolled out there, it starts with a thread. And that's the thread.
Alex Ferrari 50:21
You I think you once said in an interview that food is spiritual. Can you can you dig into that a little bit for me?
Geneen Roth 50:29
Well, what I meant by that was exactly what we're talking about, which is that if you follow the portal or the doorway, to what you're doing with food, you know, one of the things I wrote in women food and God was we don't want to eat hot fudge sundaes, as much as we want our lives to be hot fudge sundaes. We want to be the fullest expression of who you are. We want to be lit up. We want to know why we're here. And we want to express that, that. You know, there's a quote by Eckhart Tolle, that I love that he says, many things matter in your life, but only one thing matters. Absolutely. And what matters absolutely is this is to know yourself, when that was on the door of the Oracle of Delphi, know thyself. And so what food helps you do, by being an out picturing of what you believe about yourself, is it helps you to know what you're believing about yourself. And it helps you to see the ways you're not allowing yourself to be lit up the obstacles that you are putting in your own way the beliefs you have that are not true. Did you ever see a baby maybe except for Rosemary's Baby, and you know, which was a devil baby. And I'm sure many of you don't even know that movie. But in any case, it was a devil's baby, except for Rosemary's Baby. Babies are born clear, and lit, and unobstructed. And they don't take themselves to be a self, a solid self, until they are told, This is who you are, this is your body, this is your name. This is what you feel, this is what you can do, this is what you can't do. But what we want to do, and what food is the doorway to doing and this is the part that spiritual is helping you see who you actually are. When you're not adapting to your outside environment, when you're not leaving yourself abandoning yourself, when you're speaking the truth when you're being true to yourself that is spiritual. That's as another teacher of mine says, the higher octave of love.
Alex Ferrari 53:04
Great answer. So great, great answer. Now, do you have any tips for us on how we should approach eating and approach food in general?
Geneen Roth 53:14
Well, I do have a set of eating guidelines that are online that are in my book, women food, and God, I think they're all over the place by now that I wrote them when I first started this work. So it's been decades, and they mostly have to do with paying attention to your hunger, paying attention to food, figuring out what your body, not your mind wants, stop it when you've had enough sitting down, not lying about food, because when you lie about what you eat, you're basically saying to yourself, if they, the people online to saw me, they wouldn't love me, therefore I must hide and therefore I must sneak. And so it those guidelines are really truly about paying attention and being kind to yourself. And then I've been taking people through a process now where I say to them, because at my retreats, which I teach twice a year, the first session while the second session, actually because the first session is stillness and movement, a little Tai Chi, but after that, it's we all eat together and we all bring our meals and so we even on Zoom, we all eat together. And I said if people show me your food, and so they show all their plates of food and after I asked them about the hunger scales, I will then say, who chose this food? And of course, they chose that nobody, but they didn't really choose that food. What the answers will be what will be? Well, the four year old whose mother told her she couldn't have mashed potatoes chose this food, the nine year old, who was told she shouldn't eat bread. She's the one who chose this food, the 14 year old, who is absolutely determined. Now these women are 3040 5060 14 year old, who was told that her legs were too fat, and she needed to go on a diet. And she's the one who's basically saying, screw you, I'm not going to. And not only am I not going to go on a diet, I'm going to eat everything in sight. So it's really important when you're choosing the food. And you know, Alex, I would say that, because these habits are so ingrained, and as you called it installed, we need support. You know, it's very hard to do this alone, we can get it. And we know what she's saying is true, or something rings true for me. But what I have seen in myself and also with the students that I work with, I have a group of about 70 or 80 ongoing students that I've been tracking, some of which only a few months, but some of which a couple of years, and some of which many is 10 years, how much kindness and support it takes to it's like, we're standing the culture is this tsunami coming towards us? And we're saying, Okay, now I can eat when I'm hungry. I know I can pay attention. But which is basically the saying the same as I can serve this tsunami is tsunami is in Canada, and you need support to do it.
Alex Ferrari 56:46
Now, you mentioned something earlier about the you mostly most of your your students are women. Do you have men in how do you approach this in a male because men I think more now than ever, are dealing with a lot of the struggles that were closeted before are now coming out for men of like, we're struggling with this too, because we have the same images, we have the same programming, we had the same people telling us growing up you're too chunky, you gotta get gotta get big muscles, you got this or that you need that sits back. How do you approach that? With men?
Geneen Roth 57:21
We all want the same thing, Alex, you know, it's this is not gender specific. I started out working with women, when I started my little teeny groups in Santa Cruz for which I charged $1 A night. It's not gender specific, because we all have these unavoidable conclusions we've come to, I'm wrong, I'm bad. I'm not lovable. I'm too much. I'm needy. I'll never make it. I'm ugly, I'm worthless. And we act those out without realizing we act those out through our relationship with food. And so it's not really gender specific. We all want the same things. We want to be ourselves to feel like, I'm allowed to take up space here this, and I'm allowed to have joy and pleasure and be lit up.
Alex Ferrari 58:23
Now I'm going to ask you a few questions I ask all of my guests. What is your definition of a good life?
Geneen Roth 58:31
My definition of a good life is to understand that many times do I take myself to be is not actually who I am and be able to question it. And realize that I took on something that wasn't mine. And and up comes what is mine, which is really most of the time a sense of joy and peace and clarity.
Alex Ferrari 59:00
What is your mission in this life?
Geneen Roth 59:03
To express that? And I feel like I was given certain gifts really like writing. I've discovered writing or writing discovered me when I was in fifth grade. And so that's a gift that I want to be true to and keep expressing what I know because not everybody likes to write not everybody wants to put into words what's going on, but in the act of putting it into words many people can read it so I think it's being true to that gift and also to speaking it to teaching.
Alex Ferrari 59:42
And where can people find out more about you and your your events and your seminars and retreats? I think you have a retreat coming up. What can they find out more about that stuff?
Geneen Roth 59:52
They can find out at geneenroth.com under Events and there's also A lot of free stuff there. There are a lot of downloads, there are a lot of articles. I do blog on Facebook. The retreats are twice a year, they're six days. And they're immersive experiences with layers and layers and layers and layers of support after that. And then I do public events as well. So all of that I really encourage people to find out more, and to go to my website to find out more geneenroth.com.
Alex Ferrari 1:00:35
And when is that new? The retreat? I know it's coming up in November, right?
Geneen Roth 1:00:39
Yeah, that retreat is I'm pretty sure it's November 8, two, I'll tell you in a sec. November 8, to the 13th. All right. And I'm also doing a free event. But you can also find that out at the website.
Alex Ferrari 1:00:57
Geneen it's been such a pleasure and honor speaking to you. I want to thank you so much for all the amazing work you've done over the decades. And really helping people with this because I think it's something that we all think every human being almost on this planet has to deal with at one point or another in their lives. So I truly, truly appreciate you being on the show. And thank you again for all your love and support to people. So thank you.
Geneen Roth 1:01:19
Oh, Alex, you have such a big heart. And you're so earnest and sincere about what you say and how you say it. So thank you. It's been a pleasure and a privilege.
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