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poor Oprah, the “non-diet” weight loss show

Posted by on May 13, 2010 in Blog Posts | 4 comments

Ugh. I have to say it is fun to watch Oprah and call it work, but my goodness. What a mess. Oprah’s guest, Geneen Roth has written Women, Food and God. I haven’t read it yet, but just finished When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up A Chair by Roth. Sounds like a lot of a similar message. A couple things stood out to me.

  • The focus seemed to be still on weight loss (surprise!)
Oprah Winfrey Picture Gallery
  • The only two people they showed had conspicuous “before and after” pictures. I’d love to know what the percentage of folks who go to her workshops or read her books or “do the work” in the books actually experience weight loss. Have you failed if you don’t lose weight? Are you “doing it wrong?” The implied promise seems to be long-lasting and serious weight loss.
  • They kept talking about women who eat when they are not hungry. I bet many of these women ARE hungry when they eat or binge. Women tell me they skip breakfast, or eat a small lunch and are ravenous by the time they get home and eat in an out-of-control way. I wish they had at least brought up that restriction(dieting)+ stress = loss of control. It is the stress, hunger, emotions that makes the effort of restriction almost impossible in adults (and children) who have dieted. A vicious cycle. But, many women are indeed, very, very hungry.
  • I am curious about Geneen Roth. In Pull Up a Chair, she talks about her strict vegetarian diet that she ended only a handful of years ago and her panic at gaining five pounds. I wonder again at the focus on weight. It’s just something that stuck out while I was reading. This panic was at a time when she was already the Guru in the non-diet approach? When she already talked about self-love and worth and beauty etc, but still had that reaction? Is that OK? Am I overreacting? Does that take away from the potential power of her message? Is this her eating disorder and her experience in recovery?
  • Oprah asked about eating if you can’t diet, “then how do you do it?” A point that I think is valid with Geneen’s work. Perhaps not enough concrete advice on how to learn to eat when you are hungry, or even learn to recognize sensations other than famished or stuffed. A great companion book would be Secrets to Feeding a Healthy Family (Ellyn Satter) which, though it says “family,” spends a great deal of time explaining how to feed yourself first.
  • Oprah talked about her binge on a pound of lettuce with lemon juice after an upsetting phone call. Oh, Oprah. That just made me sad. I’d be hungry, deprived and cravingly obsessed with real food if I ate lettuce with lemon juice, regardless of whether I had been beaten by my grandmother as a child or not.
This issue of eating to numb-out or deal with emotions and stress is not new. (Some studies suggest that “overweight” individuals do not partake in that particular coping mechanism more than their “normal” weight counterparts BTW.) While it’s a piece of the puzzle for many, again the show (the book?) ignored physiology, hunger, hormones, feeding and dieting history and the complex interplay…
Did you watch it or read the book? What did you think?
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  1. familyfeedingdynamics

    Ila, I missed some of your blog. I really like Intuitive Eating as well. Very helpful. I find Secrets to be even more concrete, which some folks need. Again, I have not read if W,F,G mentions weight loss, but the show sure did have that bent. I TOTALLY agree that size acceptance is critical. If folks go into the "non-diet" approach expecting weight loss, and don't, they likely will end up right back where they started.

  2. familyfeedingdynamics

    What's so interesting to me is that she has had other "Health at Every Size" guests on in the past, but didn't seem swayed. I am not convinced she is ready to "hear" another way yet…

  3. ila

    I haven't read When You Eat at the Refrigerator, and Women, Food and God just doesn't appeal to me. However, I have read Roth's Breaking Free from Emotional Eating (2004) and I think it is a useful book for people who are trying to deal with the emotional side of binge eating. The focus is on dealing with the binges and the feelings that cause them, not on weight loss. I didn't perceive a covert weight loss agenda in this book, but at the same time, I wished she had been more explicit about the fact that, for some people, overcoming a binge eating disorder does not mean automatically losing all the "extra" weight. She does write in passing about her own dieting experiences, and about her disappointment when she discovered that thinness didn't immediately bring her confidence and happiness – this is a very important point that I think can't be overstated, and I wished she had given it more prominence.

    I agree that she doesn't offer a lot of concrete, practical advice on how to eat: a book I found very helpful in this respect is Tribole and Resch's Intuitive Eating. I would say Breaking Free and Intuitive Eating complement each other – I read them together and found them very helpful.

    I am saddened by the idea of Geneen Roth promoting weight loss, or pushing her ideas on emotional eating as "the" path towards thinness, or some kind of "no-diet diet". For me, an essential part of binge eating recovery is size acceptance and a healthy body image.

  4. Mare

    I understand your points but actually like a lot of what Roth had to say in her new book. I've never read her other books so can't speak for them.

    I'm just glad that Oprah has recognized someone in the non-diet arena. Maybe that will lead to other guests with different points of views.

    But I agree that Roth doesn't talk enough about the other reasons people eat more than they need. She mainly deals with the covering feelings issue which may not apply to all.

    Maybe I should read her other books to see how they compare to Women Food and God…