Friday, April 13, 2018

Well, That's Disappointing

I understand more fully why people in the recovery community are upset with Geneen Roth. I was disappointed to find out that she will be participating in some sort of feel-good summit this summer. There are several keynote speakers that, on the surface, look like they have some decent credentials. The problem with this particular event is that it looks more like a good old-fashioned weight-loss camp than anything promoting actual wellness. The website is filled with all kinds of trendy catchphrases that are sure to intrigue you, and right before the claim that it will be a judgment-free zone, there's a nice little bit of bullshit about willpower, more specifically your lack of it that keeps you from experiencing life at its best.

Mark Hyman, who boasts about his ties to Dr. Oz, among many things, leads the Feel Good Summit and offers a "clean food" designer meal plan (red flag) for those attending. Right away, this doesn't sound like an individualized program that takes into consideration people's food preferences or actual needs, and it doesn't sound like the method Geneen Roth previously used and promoted as a way to break free from compulsive eating, quite the opposite, in fact. No diet plan can be predesigned for anyone. Every day, your nutritional needs change, and, more importantly, what you or your body craves does too. If you're given a meal plan designed by someone who doesn't know you or your history, a plan that's exactly like everyone else's, how likely are you to continue eating that way once you're not in a camp-like setting? How restrictive is that plan? How much freedom are you getting through controlling portions and types of food, eliminating "junk" food and opting for "clean" foods instead?

This guy states outright that you shouldn't eat ANY crap. Is that realistic? He insists that if you eat crap, you will feel like crap. Is that accurate for you? It's not for me. I often eat some cookies or chocolate or french fries and feel physically and emotionally good later. Clean food. Shit, dust off a twinkie and eat it if you want and need. Fuck clean eating. It's such bullshit, a marketing tool and nothing more. A healthy diet can include what you want it to. Yes, nutrient-dense foods will give your body a good dose of what it probably needs, but what about enjoying life and feeling good about your choices, even if you choose to eat a bowl of ice cream?

There's a lot of talk about feeding or nourishing yourself so that you can be the best version of yourself possible, or something along those lines, but promoting wellness can be done without frowning upon those who don't follow a clean-eating plan. Overall health is not about skipping dessert. If you haven't figured it out by now, this kind of retreat is a great way for anyone there to sell you their product, a new book, a diet plan, a wellness program, therapy sessions, or one-on-one consultations. They want you to believe that they have the answers and experience profound energy, happiness, and wellness on a daily basis. Oh, one or two will admit they aren't perfect, but the overall message is that you can be as socially accepted as they are, and all you have to do is pay a bunch of money and eat and exercise the way someone else suggests.

Nobody trying to help others lead a healthier life should be promoting the idea that any food is bad or dirty or sinful. Everyone has the right to eat what fuels their body, mind, and soul. Yes, good nutrition usually does help you feel good, but nobody else can define what healthy means for you. The problem with these kinds of restrictive and measured diet plans is that they don't teach awareness. The focus is on eating certain types of foods and avoiding others instead of trusting yourself in your choices and being able to weather whatever emotions and fears come up after you have eaten.

The whole thing seems a little too controlled, but the magic is supposed to happen in three days at the cost of $2,500+, the amount and time it takes to completely transform your life. These kinds of retreats are designed to target people who probably need something deeper, not a weight-loss or "feel-good" plan. Of course, the advertisements aren't addressing weight-loss per se, but there are subtle and not so subtle clues that are obvious to anyone looking. Plus, Mr. Hyman likes to bring the conversation, no matter what's being discussed, back to diet. That's what he's selling, all his fad-diet books including those on detox diets, eating fat and getting thin, and the ultra this and ultra that diets. His speakers promote the bulletproof diet, the archetype diet, genius foods (foods that make you smarter AND happier), and one that suggests you can eat your way to better health. I won't go into the one author who, if you buy her book, wants to tell you how to make every man want you. Is anyone else feeling queasy yet?

Years ago, a friend of mine went to something similar. She was always on a quest to improve her life and lose weight when she didn't really need to, so she signed up for a three-week raw foods retreat. She left a strong, healthy individual and returned looking dangerously thin and so weak that she could no longer run with me and couldn't even complete the hike we did as a substitute for running one day. She insisted she felt great, but she didn't look or act like a specimen of health. I was concerned and let her know. She eventually gained back the weight she lost plus a few extra pounds that she complained about but looked just fine on her body. She was also back to being healthy and able to exercise again.

When I look at retreats and seminars like the Feel Good Seminar, I can't explain all the reasons why they make me cringe. There are so many. I get a physical reaction to all the bullshit they're trying to spread. There's always an air of fat phobia and not a lot of diversity with the presenters, all lean, smiling citizens with extra white teeth and abnormally wide eyes.

I'm sure some people benefit from retreats. If you happen to be looking for more positive ways to spend time away from home, try Women's Quest. Colleen runs programs that are designed to actually support you, not sell you gimmicks.


  1. They are so dangerous both physically and mentally. Unfortunately, those who sign up tend to be more vulnerable and susceptible to the outlandish claims. Orthorexia is as real as the other EDs and this does little to address the negatives. Little can be learnt if told to eat X in X amount so many times a day. It reads chillingly like the cults we read about.

  2. Yes! Thank you. That's such an important point to bring up about orthorexia. The idea of clean eating is vague, but anyone can take it too far, to a dangerous level, especially when looking at certain foods as bad or sinful.

  3. If the doomsday claims of the "clean eating" people were even remotely accurate, no human beings would have lived past the age of about 23 until the cleanies started peddling their nonsense. I'm pretty sure that is a falsifiable (albeit not explicit on their part) claim.

    It is one thing to propose that this or that dietary adjustment might help someone become incrementally healthier. But when they start coupling their beliefs to rabidly revolutionary ideas, they had better be prepared to present equally eye-opening reasons to support those ideas. As the much-missed Christopher Hitchens said, when the facts don't fit the theory, change the facts. Wait...that was Einstein. Anyway, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and all the Dr. Oz crowd ever comes up with is horseshit and apocrypha.

  4. In this particular case, the draw to clean eating is avoiding fatness more than anything. The seminar isn't about body acceptance or health. It's about being thin, at least that's the carrot Mark Hyman dangles to lure people into paying thousands of dollars for three days of spitting out "information" that readily available online.

    When it comes to eating, I'd rather take advice from someone like Ivan Orkin than a guy who looks and acts so rigid and stiff and holier than thou. The last place on Earth I would want to be to learn how to feel good is under the nose of a guy who insists on calling certain foods crap because he's too controlling to allow himself a cupcake.