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If the term “food prison” makes sense to you, then you may already know who Geneen Roth is. She’s hilariously honest about her struggle with food, and her willingness to expose the pain that triggered it stirs hope and courage for others who need help facing theirs. I love her for that.

When a friend first mentioned “food prison” to me years ago, I had no idea what she was talking about. Food’s not one of my issues. {Heck, it hardly enters my mind…which, of course, could indicate that it is, in fact, an issue…} But, the point is that we can be imprisoned by any number of things in our lives, and whatever feels likes “prison” needs to be explored.

That’s why I related to every word Geneen Roth wrote in When Food is Love, except…the word, food. One glance at the back cover was all it took for me see the parallels between a seemingly irrelevant topic and my own issues. It was just a matter of filling in the blanks, and I knew this book had a lot to say to me…and just about every woman I know.

Geneen’s books and retreats link compulsive eating and perpetual dieting with deeply personal and spiritual issues that go far beyond food, weight, and body image. {I’m paraphrasing her website here… } She believes we eat the way we live, and our relationship to food, money, love is an exact reflection of our deepest held beliefs about ourselves and the amount of joy, abundance, pain, scarcity we believe we have (or are allowed) to have in our lives.

She encourages us to be open, curious, and kind with ourselves, instead of harsh, impatient, and punishing…because she knows that destructive actions and distorted beliefs make exquisite sense. {Love that word!} And once we begin to see it for ourselves, self-acceptance becomes the very thing that transforms our relationship with food, or whatever else fills the blank.

Fear of emotions is at the root of emotional eating, not the emotions themselves. And believing that painful or powerful feelings will shatter us is what keeps many of us stuck in them. {So ironic.} What actually damages us is avoiding emotions, not allowing them to surface. Trying to escape pain {ironically} keeps it locked inside our bodies. Feelings cannot be skipped; we can only get out of them by going through them.

Geneen suggests an experiment for those who aren’t used to feeling. If that’s you…because you don’t trust what might surface if you let anything surface…try this:

Become aware of what you are feeling at this moment. Notice how it affects you to be paying even this much attention to a feeling. To give it space. To be curious about it. To be treating yourself kindly. If you’re like most people, you’re starving not for food, but for attention–your own attention. Just spending a minute or two with yourself, noticing which emotions want to be heard and how they affect you, is a great way to begin feeding those parts of yourself that are starving to be noticed. 

Kindness is always the answer, Geneen reminds us…and I love her for that.