Geneen Roth is Perpetuating Eating Disorders

NOIn case you are not familiar, Geneen Roth rose to prominence by writing about eating disorders. She has developed a sizable mailing list, to whom she sent the following e-mail (Trigger warning for fatphobia, eating disorder trigger.)

“It’s uncomfortable to walk around in a body that is uncomfortable. It’s hard to let innate brilliance or power express itself when you are schlepping around twenty or fifty extra pounds. It’s not impossible, just more difficult. And since there is already so much inherent difficulty in being alive, what with people getting sick, raising kids, dying, and the earth on the verge of destruction, why not make life easier on yourself? Why not make the effort to discover what enhances your aliveness and vitality? Because when you do, you become less and less fascinated with those foods, activities, and people that don’t. The only best reason to do this is that there, in that vast space, we find love itself, flagrant, unstinting, give-it-all-away love. Not just for our spouses or children or particular community, but for arms and legs and nights and fog, love for the mornings, floors, caterpillars, and trees. Love for the sounds your foot makes on the sidewalk, for traffic and honking horns, for the earth itself. Nothing is left out. Zen teachers call it discovering “your original face.” We do whatever it takes to keep the channel open because when we don’t, it hurts, and when we do, it doesn’t. Also, there is nothing better to do with a life. — This Messy Magnificent Life”
~Geneen Roth

Let’s start with the obvious fact that this is fatphobic bullshit. The belief that fat bodies are “uncomfortable” to live in rests on a foundation of weight-based oppression. It’s uncomfortable to live in a world where space isn’t made for you, where clothes aren’t made for you, where people are constantly comparing your body to other bodies and finding you lacking, where people are actually so brainwashed by sizeism that they believe that weight has anything to do with innate brilliance and power, where the government spends billions of dollars trying to recruit everyone you’ll ever meet to fight a war against you, and where the mailing list that you signed up for to support you in your eating disorder recovery sends you fatphobic drivel instead. I’m not “suffering from obesity,” but I am made to suffer by this kind of fatphobia.

The notion that some people’s entire body deserves to be “schlepped” around, but for others of us, only part of us is worthy of “schlepping” is patently ridiculous and offensive, Roth is one of these charlatans who sell the idea that “‘When people begin respecting themselves, and treating themselves well, it just so happens that weight loss becomes a side benefit.” That’s bullshit and Geneen doesn’t have any kind of evidence to back up the idea that she can help people produce long-term significant weight loss (she has this in common with literally everyone, because there is no method of weight loss that has been shown to work for more than a tiny fraction of people.)

She is also one of these dangerously misinformed so-called eating disorder experts who forwards the notion, despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary, that if someone is fat they are a compulsive eater who must be treated with paternalism and cannot be trusted as a witness to their own experience.”   (“…if someone weighs 22st…even though they will tell me outright that they are eating only for physical hunger – it’s safe to say there’s probably a reason for that compulsive eating.”) This alone should discredit her completely.

But it’s more than just fatphobic and misinformed paternalism, she is literally perpetuating eating disorders by trying to sell weight loss through sizeism. By telling people to be afraid of being heavier lest they have difficulty expressing their brilliance and power, (and, in an utterly ableist argument, have difficulty moving their body,) what Geneen is saying to everyone on her mailing list who may be developing, struggling with, or recovering from an eating disorder (especially those struggling with the accompanying weight gain) is: “the fears that perpetuated your eating disorder, and that help it keep its grip on you, are completely justified. Whatever you do, don’t get fat.”

Which says to someone with an eating disorder, that the (disordered) behaviors that are currently keeping them “thin” are a good idea. When she suggests that weight loss and maintaining thinness is a good idea, including and especially in eating disorder community, she supports the dangerous idea that we should recommend and prescribe to fat people that which we diagnose and treat in thin people.

Like so many before her, Geneen’s attempt to find ways to get a piece of the $60 Billion a year weight loss industry for herself is harming countless people of all sizes.

I recently had the honor of giving a keynote address at the MEDA (Multi-Service Eating Disorders Association) National Conference.  The organization’s leadership – including Beth Mayer, Rachel Monroe, Michelle Pierce and others – has been amazing in embracing intersectional social justice, including Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size as part of their work with eating disorders. (Sadly, that’ s not the case in all of eating disorder community.)

My talk was called Size Acceptance and Eating Disorders – A Critical, Crucial, Core Conversation. The premise was simple and obvious – if we truly want to prevent eating disorders, and allow those who suffer from them to experience complete recovery, then a Size Acceptance paradigm is the only option that makes sense.

Size Acceptance doesn’t just benefit fat people, it benefits people of all sizes, and especially those with body dysmorphia related to weight. The fear of being or becoming fat that drives so many eating disorders would be hard pressed to exist in a society where being fat wasn’t seen as a bad or negative thing.

It’s difficult to believe that your recovery is the most important thing when diet culture and a fatphobic world are telling you that the most important thing, by far, is being thin by any means necessary.

It’s difficult to let go of your fear of being fat/gaining weight/having an “imperfect” body if you can plainly see that you live in a culture where your fear is absolutely justified.

In a fatphobic world, rife with diet culture, where hating your body and being terrified of being or becoming fat or gaining weight is considered normal, preventing eating disorders, and making a full recovery can be completely impossible.

And that’s the kind of world that Geneen Roth is perpetuating with her ridiculous, harmful, irresponsible, blatantly fatphobic, ableist, and untrue e-mail. I call bullshit, and you should to.  She may not be intending to do harm, but harm is being done nonetheless. Here’s her contact page if you’d like to…a-hem…weigh in and help provide her with the education she needs to stop harming people.

If you are looking for diverse eating disorder activists and providers, check out this list!

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14 thoughts on “Geneen Roth is Perpetuating Eating Disorders

  1. I personally find it hard to let innate brilliance or power express itself when I am hungry from intentionally cutting your calories, worried about what I am eating and if I am exercising enough, and overall making losing weight a full time job.

    And that’s why I stopped dieting.

    1. Amen to that.
      I’m in the unfortunate situation where going without food isn’t voluntary at this point. I don’t always have enough money to eat. Believe me, I am hardly able to put a thought together when I’m starving, let alone have brilliant inspirations dancing through my head.

      1. I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been having trouble with food insecurity. I’ve been there, as a student. I hope you are able take advantage of every resource out there for you! No one should have to go without food.

  2. I had not heard of this woman before, and I’ll be sure to avoid anything she publishes or says if I ever do come across her name. Thanks for a great article.

  3. I posted a comment on her Facebook timeline, because I’m not up for privately commenting on something objectionable if it was done publicly. I took a screenshot because I’m anticipating she removes it.

  4. Hey, Geneen, guess what? I did make life easier on myself. I quit trying to force my body to be a size that it doesn’t want to be. I quit with the self-loathing, and I stopped listening to people like you. I still have chronic health problems and my life is still difficult in many ways, but it’s a lot easier since I stopped buying the bullshit that your ilk loves to shovel.

  5. I’m not sure you can do that study anymore. Fat hating/woman hating be thin or die culture has spread round the globe and even once fat positive or fat neutral cultures have bought the American popular culture 20th century lie of health/self/and society must be thin or else.
    Was working class Jews, Pacific Islanders, and some African and Italian, and Inuit, Middle Eastern… You know, there were A LOT of cultures where being fat was not only O.K. but preferred for a very long time before the 1920’s and the “Revenge of the Thin Woman” and Hollywood came about. Be interesting what it looks like in another 100 years…

  6. Written on her facebook page:

    When I was 15 I spent 7 weeks hospitalized for what then was called “non-purging bulimia” and is now recognized as BED (binge eating disorder). When I was released from the program the social worker who I had been assigned to by child protective services (due to my dysfunctional family life) said to me, “so… when are we going to see some of the weight come off you?”

    I had never liked Susan, but that was the final nail in that particular coffin and I refused to go back to her. Even at 15, and desperately wanting nothing more than to be thin, I knew what she had said to me was all wrong. I knew it was a disgraceful way to treat someone who was trying to recover from an eating disorder.

    I am now 42, and that conversation has stayed with me all these years. However, no one else has ever managed to make me feel as terrible as Susan. No one has even come close… at least, that is, until I read your most recent email newsletter.

    Let me be clear. The only thing that makes it harder for fat people, like myself, to let our “innate brilliance or power express itself,” is a fat phobic culture that is perpetuated by fat phobic individuals… like you.

    And the worst part is, just like my therapist Susan, you’re doing so in a “for your own good” sort of way, as if us fat people can’t determine for ourselves what is for our own good. The worst part is knowing that another patient who was dealing with eating disorder recovery but not as sure of herself as I somehow managed to be at 15 would continue to see someone like Susan… or read emails like yours. The worst part is knowing that you just sent this email to probably tens of thousands of people, many of whom are vulnerable and who are going to read your words and continue to fear the scale.

    Not just currently actually fat people… but people who are in recovery from disorders like anorexia, who will read your words while thinking of the very necessary weight they’ve gained, who know might view that weight as somehow inhibiting their “innate brilliance.” While it certainly feels directed at presently fat individuals, you’re saying something like, “t’s uncomfortable to walk around in a body that is uncomfortable” risks speaking to an audience that is EXTREMELY uncomfortable because of medically necessary weight gain that comes in the healing process that is eating disorder recovery. Congratulations… you just justified all of their disordered feelings about their recovery bodies.

    In other words, while your target audience and intended goal may have been to attempt to shame fat people into thinness, your words manage to potentially cause severe damage to anyone reading them. Well done.

    1. I am very sick of her e-mail. I am so deeply sorry for the person at the receiving end. I am so deeply sorry for all the people who had to read this terrifyingly fatphobic message. I cannot believe that a person like this is a disordered eating therapist (if I got it right). How can a person like this speak to people who need to hear ANYTHING but about the importance of maintaining a certain, supposedly healthy weight? It just screwed my evening, it really did.
      I do believe that fat does not mean unhealthy (not that health is an obligation of any kind). But I’d love to tell her one thing: I have never been underweight by BMI charts. Yet, I have been on verge of death. I could not bear my life anymore, people like her, words like hers, and more. It was all too much for me already. Yet she would not believe that it’s a valid reason to ‘eat whatever you like and not obssess over it’. EVEN if I was at a higher risk for health problems, I’d much rather have those than life the life I used to live! Obviously, deppression and possible suicide are not such problems; look at heart attacks, look at knees, look at OMGDATHFATHZ. I am so happy to be alive today; you’re not going to scare me by some dubious threat of future. I am over that.

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