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A Message from Carol H. Munter and Jane R. Hirschmann

Dear Reader,

Frequently we hear the lament, "Using this approach is so much work." We agree. However, as we see it, you have spent many years seeking comfort and caretaking in food; in order to reverse this trend, you need to become a more reliable caretaker of yourself than food has ever been to you. Becoming reliable to yourself requires work. Feeding yourself when you are physiologically hungry—exactly what and how much your body craves—is the first and fundamental step in this self-caretaking project. Other steps follow.

Think about it. You need to stock the house with food; stock your closet with clothes you love; pack your food bag; watch for bad body thoughts and handle them; respond to stomach hunger with enthusiasm and the right match; figure out when you're full; be patient with yourself when you have mouth hunger; figure out what's bothering you when you're having an upsurge of mouth hunger or bad body thoughts; learn to speak gently to yourself; and learn to hold yourself through difficult moments. There's a lot to do!

The paradox, of course, is that providing for yourself in these ways—according to your reports—makes you feel great and significantly diminishes your pull to seek comfort in food. Why then is it so hard to provide for yourself consistently? Why are those once well-filled cupboards now bare? Why have you been unhappy with what you've been wearing for the past few weeks and done nothing about it? How come your bad body thoughts have met with no resistance from you in quite a while? And how come your food bag is lying empty and abandoned in the car?

One evening at the Lake Austin workshop this year, the group addressed itself to this phenomenon—resistance to self-caretaking. Let us summarize the discussion for you.

Many people are angry about having to take care of themselves. They say things like "I have no models for good caretaking. I treat myself shoddily because that's how I was treated. I don't know how to do it differently." They were neglected as kids or otherwise treated badly and they have always dreamed of being cared for differently. Becoming their own best providers means giving up the hope of reparations. They also feel that learning to provide for themselves lets their parents off the hook. They resist saying "You didn't give me what I need, but, you gave me enough so that I can learn to take care of myself differently." Refusing to provide for yourself as a way of expressing resentment about what wasn't done for you in the past is, of course, a Pyrrhic victory, but sometimes self-deprivation still feels like sweet revenge.

Another group of people report that providing for themselves in the ways we suggest leaves them no place to hide. "When I carry a food bag, stop the yelling and I'm generally nice to myself, I have less mouth hunger and I'm more aware of what I'm feeling. Yes, it's a relief not to be wrapped up in a food and weight obsession, but my emotional life is a whole lot more complicated as a result. If I cut back on my caretaking operations, I can lose myself in food and weight concerns again." Others in this group report that life seems a little dull, too "normal" without all the drama of binging and attempts to lose weight. "When I'm taking good care of myself, food is not an issue and I'm just kind of going along. I feel a loss of excitement when I'm taking care of myself and eating in this way."

These concerns explain much of your resistance to taking care of yourself consistently in the ways that are necessary to end your problem with compulsive eating. But they don't completely cover the territory. Many of you say, "When I don't want to do some of this stuff, it just feels like too much work… I feel lazy… I'm just not up to it." "What else could be going on?" we asked the women at Lake Austin.

"I don't know," said one woman, "maybe it has something to do with not feeling worth the effort. You know how it is when you feel lackluster, no energy, kind of slovenly. Everything seems like a lot of trouble, a lot of work."

"I have a good example which I think is related," someone else interjected. "A while ago I realized that I often get thirsty when I'm in my car. But it took a long time before I was willing to fill a water bottle and bring it with me consistently. I do it all the time now and I love having it, but getting to that place wasn't easy."

Someone else said that the discussion made her think about how women are trained to do for others but not for themselves. She wondered what the connection might be.

We talked about how we feel when we don't take care of ourselves. Think about how you feel at those times. You're unhappy with your outfit; you're hungry and have nothing with you to eat; you're hungry but there's nothing in the house that even comes close to what your stomach is craving; you're envying the attractiveness of every woman you encounter but you never once consider that you're having bad body thoughts. Would you say that you feel abandoned? Not worth much?

Why, we wondered, do women abandon themselves? Not worth the trouble? Why not?

It became clear to us that these behaviors which seem neglectful are not simply neglectful but are also punitive. Is it possible that when we don't take care of ourselves, we are punishing ourselves in subtle and not-so-subtle ways?

Why inflict self-punishment? Why live in a continuous state of discomfort? Whether or not we pay attention to it, we are always managing a rich inner life. In other words, we are constantly experiencing impulses, thoughts, wishes and feelings. Invariably, some of these impulses, thoughts, wishes and feelings are not in accord with our values and ideals—the assumptions we make about what is and is not permissible for us to want, think, feel or do—and we are in conflict.

From this perspective, when we make ourselves uncomfortable by neglecting ourselves, we are punishing ourselves for our thoughts, wishes and feelings. Until we can accept ourselves unconditionally—with all of our wishes, aspirations, thoughts and feelings whether or not we like or approve of them—we are likely to deprive ourselves of certain comforts without even recognizing what we are doing.

Imagine what the world would be like if women accepted all their aspirations, actions, feelings and ideas. Imagine a world in which women take such good care of themselves that eating problems are obsolete!

Hearty appetite!

Carol and Jane

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