Saturday, July 16, 2011

Take what you need, and leave the rest.

What a loaded little statement.

How much better might our world be if we would only take what we need and leave the rest? More to share. Less poverty. Less waste.

Adopting a generous interpretation of the word "need" to allow for what we require in order to thrive rather than merely subsist, this single concept could dramatically improve our lives and our planet.

To live by this rule, however, we would have to recognize and acknowledge the true nature of our needs. If much of our hunger is actually for love, acceptance, beauty, God, belonging, relief from pain, or triumph over adversity, no amount of food will fill that void. Many of us don't need as much to eat as we think we do, yet the very thought of being deprived of the food we want is enough to trigger all manner of hoarding and binging.

It's not surprising that someone like me who is carrying excess weight might have trouble following this advice in multiple areas. When in doubt, I tend to adopt a more-is-better approach. If I visit the napkin dispenser in a fast food restaurant, I almost never take just one napkin. My core assumption revealed in the moment is that it is safer to have too much than too little, so I've developed the habit of taking "a little extra."

Of course, my assumption flies in the face of the whole, 'tis-more-blessed-to-give-than-to-receive thing, but I've never been one to let a little cognitive dissonance stand in my way.

I've occasionally heard speakers or authors preface their words with a version of the take-only-what-you-need adage, giving permission and even encouragement to extract from their work what we find useful and disregard the rest, understanding that at another point in our lives we might take away a substantially different message from the same presentation.

I'm reading Geneen Roth's excellent book, Women Food and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything.

It's my second try.

I checked out the same book from the library last year and didn't get very far before I hit a pothole. Something Ms. Roth said revealed a view I don't necessarily share, and from that point forward, I found it hard to concentrate on anything she had written. As I continued with the book, it became increasingly evident that the author and I see the world through somewhat different lenses, and--largely on that basis--I found myself questioning her credibility.  Although I thought she made some good points, I returned the book to the library without finishing it. There lingered, however, a vague sense that I might have missed out on something valuable.

Fast forward about a year: a great deal of personal and professional strife has mercifully eased since last summer, and I'm feeling calmer, less afraid, and better able to concentrate. I'm now ready to get serious about healthier eating.

This time, I bought the book.

This time, I didn't bristle when the author expressed a belief or conviction which I don't happen to share.

This time, I'm taking what I need, and leaving the rest.

Among other things, the book is reminding me to notice before I eat whether or not I am actually hungry, and, when I am, to note the specific nature of that hunger. I have also been challenged to consider how often the pain I try to avoid or dilute by overeating is not from a current threat, but rather pain which has already occurred--sometimes long ago. Present day eating cannot possibly alleviate the pain from a story of my past. The book goes on to outline a non-judgmental method of compassionate inquiry into whatever we are currently experiencing in our bodies.

One of many sentences I have underlined in the book is a Pema Chodron quote: "Never under-estimate the inclination to bolt." Although Ms. Roth introduces the quote in the context of attendees at her weight loss retreats suddenly deciding that they have to leave, it was not lost on me that when I tried to read her book the first time, I also bolted.

My history differs from Geneen Roth's. I haven't worked with hundreds of people in dealing with their compulsions, and I will admit that one or two of the conclusions she reaches about food and eating, based on her experience, seem a bit bold to me. But whether or not you are ready to accept everything she says, there are such important insights in this book that I would recommend it to anyone (male or female) who has struggled with weight or compulsive eating.

Just take what you need and leave the rest.

Disclosure: I've signed up for Amazon's affiliate program. I'm new to it and not entirely clear precisely how it works, but (assuming I've done everything correctly) if you buy something from Amazon via one of the links on my blog, I will receive a small percentage of the purchase price.

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