As a diet coach who addresses dieting from a head and heart perspective, I consistently get asked if I am familiar with the work of Geneen Roth? Well, now that she is Oprah's favorite (non) diet guru, there aren't going to be many people in America who aren't familiar with her philosophy, which basically espouses that one need not diet, if one will instead address their own emotional and spiritual needs. According to her philosophy we'll all stop overeating when we fill that hole inside of us with love instead of food.
Unfortunately, she is offering a one-dimensional solution to a multi-dimensional problem. Now, don't get me wrong, most of what Roth says is right on target. We DO need to address the emotional reasons for overeating.
But what of the research done by Brian Wansink? In his book Mindless Eating, Wansink tells us that human beings (not dysfunctional human beings, but simply random human beings), eat more based on cues such as container size, placement on the table and what those around us are eating.
Let's not forget about the amazing work and recent discoveries in the field of neuroplasticity (brain change). This research shows the brain gets wired in certain ways, and the resulting habits, obsessions and limitations can be changed, but it takes repeated intentional behavior modification techniques. Many of these techniques, ummm, often sound a lot like the structure, discipline and accountability associated with dieting. (Read Norman Doidge’s The Brain That Changes Itself.)
What about the fact that moving our body must now be planned into our day, lest we find our butt turning to lard in the computer chair?
Do not discount the numerous scientists and experts who have documented the addictive qualities of corn syrup and even simple carbohydrates. It's pretty damn challenging to construct a diet that doesn't include some of these. You certainly don't do it by talking to your therapist or your rabbi. You do it by making a plan, reading labels, avoiding certain foods and seeking out others, not by getting right with God and hoping it all works out.
What is this “diet” that Geneen Roth is so afraid will keep us away from spiritual enlightenment and this wonderful, beautiful, juicy life that we are longing to live? Is it calorie counting? Weight Watchers? Dean Ornish's Eat More Weight Less or Joel Furham's Eat To Live?
All of these, and thousands of others on the shelf, are what I call “directed diets.” That means you follow a set of directions about your diet. What do all such diets have in common? First, let me tell you what they don't have in common. They don't tell you that you have to be deprived or hungry. And, you know what else â€“ even at those times when you DO feel deprived or hungry when dieting, that might just not be the end of the world. It may mean that you need to eat more vegetables, which might be a lesson you need to learn. Just saying.
Oh, and if the diet doesn't really make nutritional sense, then avoid it because of that, not because it is in a book with “diet” in the title.
Five Elements Most Directed Diets Have in Common
1. Structure â€“ If you have some preplanned ideas about what to eat and when to eat it, you are half way home. Brian Wansink, in Mindless Eating says we make over 200 food decisions in the course of a day. That's way too many for the “willpower” brain capacity of any normal human being. Structure helps us narrow things down, eliminating a bunch of those moments-of-choice. You can make up your own plan about what to eat, but it is not cheating to follow someone else's plan occasionally. Sometimes it's nice to let someone else drive.
2. Information â€“ Most diets have some element of education or information built into them. My clients say they are in the “I know what to do, I just don't do it” crowd. Even they (and I) were amazed when we found out that Famous Dave's cornbread muffin was 600 calories. Instead of being afraid of dieting, I think high school health class should force feed (i.e., teach) calorie counting to every teenager who has ever eaten a Big Mac.
3. Accountability â€“ Being on a diet means there are some rules that are supposed to be guiding you. I know accountability can be tricky. What if you fail to do what you committed to doing? Are you then a failure? Roth seems to believe that we would all think so. She may be nearly right, but looking closely at accountability is actually where my philosophy closely ties with Roth's, yet veers away at the same time. I believe accountability can be our best opportunity for the personal and emotional growth she and I both believe we need in order to heal what ails us. If you don't do what you said you were going to do, it gives you an opportunity to examine the reason(s) why. Sometimes it is a spiritual hole that needs filled, but sometimes it's just the need to buy and use a slow cooker or attend to some other mundane task . In my work we explore the answer (to why we didn't do what we said we were going to do) from, what I call a top-down and bottom-up perspective. Top-down is “head and heart” (this is where Roth and I sing out of the same song book), bottom-up is “moving your legs and filling your belly.” Her work seems to indicate the only reason we are eating dysfunctionally is because of top-down reasons.
But honestly, there's just as many times when working out the details of being organized enough to regularly get fresh salad in the refrigerator is just as much of an issue. Accountability gives us an opportunity to solve our problems, no matter what they are: top-down or bottom-up. If we aren't holding ourselves accountable to anything… then we are just out there basking in the problem and not narrowing things down enough to start the search for a solution.
4. Mindfulness â€“ Geneen Roth is all about mindfulness, to the point of discounting everything else. I’m about mindfulness too. However, I just happen to believe when you are specifically following a plan, you are less likely to eat mindlessly and you are going to have more opportunities to really slow down, enjoy and appreciate your food.
5. Motivation â€“ Usually when someone is following a diet, they are doing it with some outside stimulation â€“ whether it be a group, a coach, a buddy, a website or a book. I'm sure Roth would agree with me on not trying to travel the journey alone. Our eating and food habits are deeply ingrained, and it's not easy to change them. Support and external motivational help is always a gift you can give yourself on any journey.
Whether you are going to be following a directed diet or devising your own directions, I believe you probably need some degree of each of those five elements in order to get some traction on your journey. Traction is good. Weight loss might not be the end goal … spiritual maturity might be the end goal, butÂ good vibrational energy, excitement if you will,Â is easier to manifest when you are getting results. And you can’t tell me that Oprah isn’t going to have good vibrational energy when she drops a size or two.
No disrespect to psychotherapists, especially the one I'm married to, but therapy alone rarely solves food issues. Therapy, whether self-help or professional will be more effective, if one is not peeling off to Dairy Queen after every session. Just as most therapists urge abstinence, or at least attempts at abstinence while one is working on issues with an alcoholic…so should one urge diet… or at least attempts at structured healthful eating while working on food issues.
Not that I'm saying everyone who needs to diet has major issues. Some do, but then there are those with poor education about food, no cooking skills, who are overbusy, are a little lazy or a myriad of other factors.Â If you do have “issues”Â you’ll have a lot more access to what those issues actually are, if you are at least attempting to hold yourself to some healthful eating guidelines. (Which is a sneaky way of saying diet).
Geneen! Oprah! There's nothing about dieting, in and of itself to be afraid of. There is nothing about dieting that has to keep us from being emotionally and spiritually fit if you define dieting as a means consciously trying to eat differently than the rest of society eats; planfully making decisions about what and when to eat and yes … even following guidelines.
Roth says our weight can be a door instead of a wall. I agree. But I also see that diets help you actually walk through that door.
I think Roth and I will agree on this… anything that can get help one get (and stay) checked-in is a good thing.
We've all actually watched as Oprah has used diets in this way in the past. Diets made her vibrational energy soar. Diets got her checked-in to her life, instead of the checking-out, which she was doing with food.
Does the spiritual and personal growth she attained while she was on those diets get discounted, washed down the drain, just because she put the weight back on? No! What she learned about herself â€“ about not eating beef, about getting past her own personal limitations and running the marathon, about how to connect to her highest spiritual self when she was not binging â€“ were all contributing factors to who Oprah is today. The world is a better place because Oprah used those same five elements as she transformed her body and her life.
Of course it's disappointing that she eventually checked-out and gained the weight back. All of us check-out sometimes; Roth admits even she does. I just happen to believe that how long we check-out and how deep we dive would be a lot less extreme if, instead of scorning the idea of dieting, we embraced the idea of dieting and even embraced what I call diet-jumping. When dieting starts to get old, stale, boring…find a new way to mix it up. Don't stay with the same old thing and burn yourself out. Stay checked-in and be willing to adjust and adapt and ask yourself whether you need to explore top-down or bottom-up solutions.
What do I hope for Oprah?
I hope that she uses the good energy she has from working with Roth to fuel some very mindful eating that will lead to weight loss.
I hope from her past experience she has enough ingrained self-knowledge to know she needs the above five elements in some form or fashion. I suspect she does. I suspect she’ll be “dieting” even when she says she is “not dieting.”
I hope she calls soon! I’ve got a wonderful, beautiful, juicy life (and lots of clients who do too) and we’d love to tell her how we achieved it while (and through) dieting!
- Would you like to receive notifications of my blog posts in your inbox? Click here.
- Would you like to receive my free mini-course: Five Things You Must Know Before Starting Any Diet?
Just sign up for the newsletter on the left! (You’ll also be registered to win an iPod fully loaded with my Four CD set: Six Minutes of Sanity Seven Days a Week.)
PLEASE use the share button below to share this post on your Facebook page and elsewhere! Thanks!