Reframe Food with Reverence and Restraint

It’s time to stop the madness with weight and food. Women aspire to thinness and this leads to distorted relationship to eating. We seek peace with food, yet we’re going about it all wrong. We starve ourselves on a new diet each Monday, and then binge by the weekend. Eighty percent of American women are on a diet, and you can bet that millions are planning their next diet — the latest program to drop pounds effortlessly. Yet 98% of diets fail. We progress to surgery – lapbands or liposuction. We inject hormones like junkies such as hCG, human Chorionic Gonadotropin, a hormone of pregnancy. Madness.

Who gets it right? Gurumayi Chidvilasananda, the Siddha Yoga guru popularized by Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat Pray Love. Gurumayi gets me to reframe the role of food in my life, and to observe how food could best serve me and others.

For many, reframe starts with identifying your default pattern. Your reach for chocolate, sugar, coffee, the latest haute cupcake, fine wine. Your attachment to a particular weight. Your attachment to certain restaurants and certain brands of food.

“I only drink Vanille Sencha from Mariage Freres!” protested one patient recently, when I asked about caffeine intake and her lousy sleep.

Perhaps you romanticize food. I used to. Well, I still do much of the time, but I rarely act on it. I wake up thinking about where I want to go for lunch with a friend, or which new restaurant I want to check out with my husband for date night. I peruse menus and get caught up; I get attached to certain outcomes. I plan what I’ll eat. I plan the emotion that I want to accompany the food: madly in love, delightedly connected via dialogue with a great friend, surprised and inspired by new heights of culinary artfulness.

For many, delight in food may devolve into compulsion. Do you compulsively eat certain foods, or obsessively drink Vanille Sencha, or compulsively weigh yourself each morning?

Gurumayi has a lot to say about discipline around food, in her book, Yoga of Discipline. However, because of copyright issues, I can no longer post her excerpt. Read more about her work here. 

Women and Food. Women and Weight. It’s BIG. I agree with Geneen Roth that it’s about something bigger than the lesser topics at hand of food and eating – it’s about divinity. Your hunger for food might be hunger for something larger, such as God, or a Higher Power, or Flow. Call it whatever you’d like. Food and weight just might be a vehicle to our Divine Self, Authentic or True Self — our sense of integrity, aliveness and connected wholeness. True Self is your path to a right-sized body, not stronger will power. Well, more specifically True Self and a right-sized False Self, which develops from how you’ve complied to external rules, such as how your body is supposed to look, how much you are expected to eat, the social codes of eating, food and body image.

Winnecott believed that every person is a hybrid of True and False Self, and your False Self hangs out somewhere along a continuum from healthy to pathological. In other words, your division of True and False Self may be at the root of your difficulty with food, if you have one.

I like to use this construct of True and False Self to excavate information about what food would best serve you. We want to use your divine intelligence to discern what to eat, and “eat with restraint and reverence,” according to Baba Muktananda, the predecessor of Gurumayi. He adds: “As you take medicine in a measured dose, take food in a measured, frugal quantitiy.”

Put another way, hunger for food has the potential to be alchemical, a yearning for something bigger than the parameters of your current reach. A hunger for Truth. What is your truth as it relates to food? We all respond differently to this question. After years of intestinal issues, I’m coming to the rather unwelcome conclusion that my truth may be this: a vegan diet would serve me better. It would help me transit time. It may provide my mind with greater tranquility. I’ve already kicked sugar, gluten and alcohol. Perhaps meat and animal-products are next?

Is it crazy hard for you to give up the goods —  the sugar, the coffee, the expensive wine? WWGD?

If restraint is a challenge, you must work on it, says Gurumayi. You must transcend the desire for food that is bad for you.

Easy for Gurumayi, perhaps. If that sounds like an impossible goal, consider one of the 12-step programs for food such as Food Addicts or Overeaters Anonymous. To paraphrase 12-step, addiction to bad food, or to excessive quantity, is a medical problem with a spiritual solution.

Please share your truth, in the comments section. And stop the madness with compulsive eating and weighing. Start with admitting how hard this is, how powerless it makes us as women. Start your recovery today.


  1. Irene Turner on May 9, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    How wonderful to see my Guru’s face pop up via Elephant Journal on FaceBook! Wow…that was a round about way to get to you. I LOVED Gurumayi’s book the Yoga of Discipline and your post is the perfect reminder to revisit her book, and my current eating patterns. Thanks

  2. tiffany on May 29, 2011 at 11:17 am

    My food truths. I find my body does best with animal protein, lots of vegetable and complex carbohydrates.
    I find it CRAZY hard to give up my addiction to something sweet after lunch and dinner. It is almost a game of how I can sneak something good?
    I also have a love of good wine and coffee. Neither of which I truly want to give up!

  3. Julie Hall on June 4, 2011 at 2:53 am

    Thank you for your insightful posts! This is my 9th day off of sweets. I have been addicted to certain foods for most of my life, and now I am almost 43 and am tired of feeling poorly. It has been almost impossible to make significant food changes due to my emotional eating, especially at work. Fortunately, my work situation has changed and I am busy and fulfilled more than I have been in years. I have gone from eating several pieces of chocolate, etc., per day to none. Now I’m on a mission. This is only the tip of the iceberg. : ) Peace and gratitude, Julie Hall

  4. Birdsong on September 10, 2011 at 3:35 am

    I am very grateful to OA for helping me deal with my addiction, heal my life and ‘get out of the food’ as they say. Each day is a new day, and healthier one. Thanks for this insightful post.

  5. Whitney Till on October 27, 2011 at 12:40 pm

    I have struggled with eating and beating myself up about it for years. This last year, I have done a lot of exploration around eating and how I feel about my body, in particular, my belly. I feel like I have made leaps and bounds in my understanding and self-compassion, creating more capacity to hear my body’s nutritional urges and to enjoy my body/my self more. Awareness practice and self-acceptance has made a HUGE difference. Two books that really helped me along the way were Cheri Huber’s “Making a Change for Good” and Geneen Roth’s “Women, Food, and God.”

  6. Gayatri on November 9, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    True, that. All compulsive behavior is symptomatic of a deeper hunger for, as you say, the True Self. Restraint, discipline, controlling urges and even desires-these are the True Self governing the False Self. The more restraint we can exercise, the more inner power we accrue, and the more attuned to the True Self we become.
    Thank you for your insightful words everywhere on this website!