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A Note From Chicago

Carol Coven Grannick
Judith Matz
Directors, Chicago Center for Overcoming Overeating

It is with great sorrow that we write our last column for the Overcoming Overeating Newsletter. We have welcomed the opportunity to put our thoughts and experience into writing during the past several years, and hope that you, our readers, have benefited from our ideas. We would like to leave you with some final comments about an aspect of Overcoming Overeating that seems to pose obstacles to even the most experienced of non-dieters.

Many of you have become very good demand feeders. You eat when you are hungry, choose what you want, and stop when you are full. Yet, you find that your matchmaking is often slightly "off track." Sometimes it's a subtle mismatch and other times it's quite pronounced. Your comments range from, "It wasn't quite what I wanted" to "It tasted great, but now I'm having indigestion," and frequently, "Nothing ever sounds good to me."

Fine tuning demand feeding raises some important and complicated questions:

  1. Have you truly legalized all foods?

  2. Are you able to be honest with yourself about your body's reaction to different foods?

  3. Does taking good care of yourself in this way stir up old issues for you?

  4. What does it mean to you to truly give up your identity as a compulsive eater?

Let's begin with the first question. Have you legalized all foods? Although you have legalized your formerly-forbidden foods, have you remembered to supply yourself with a wide range of foods? You may be eating from stomach hunger but do you seem to want your old "glitter" foods most of the time? Perhaps you've neglected to bring in a wider variety of foods. If you crave fruit or a salad and it isn't available, you will naturally reach for whatever is around. Why aren't these other "non-glitter" foods in the house? "You know," said a woman in one of our Chicago groups, "the last diet I was on, I ate nothing but fruit until noon. Then, of course, by late afternoon, I'd be binging. I haven't been eating fruit because it had too much diet meaning to me. So even though I haven't been feeling good eating the foods I've been choosing, I haven't been ready to eat fruit again." Getting beyond the "diet" connotation of carrots, apples, cottage cheese, lettuce, etc. is as important as legalizing formerly forbidden foods. Only then can you say when you are hungry, "Of all the foods in the world, what would really satisfy me right now?"

Are you ready to take all of you body's needs into account when you choose food? If ice cream causes your gall bladder to act up, but you stay away from sorbet because it feels "dietlike," are you taking good care of yourself? "Just because my mouth wants ice cream doesn't mean the rest of my body feels good with that choice. Being in pain enough times after eating ice cream made me think twice about the kind of matching I was doing." We hear over and over again from women who are truly free from compulsive eating, "When I make a choice, I take everything about myself into account—how I will feel eating the food, whether it tastes exactly right, and how I may feel after I eat it." In summary, if we eat cottage cheese when we want a cheeseburger, we tend to overeat. If we eat a cheeseburger when we want cottage cheese, we overeat as well.

The third question: Does taking care of yourself in this way stir up old issues for you? Preparing foods ahead of time or ordering in quantity from a restaurant or store, carrying a food bag, eating exactly what you want when you are hungry—all these behaviors have specific meaning for each of you using the OO approach. For a variety of reasons having to do with family histories and the meaning of food, body size and self-care, you may have difficulty doing the mechanical activities that promote finely tuned demand feeding. We find that many of the conflicts around self-care have to do with separation from the past; i.e., from your role in the family or perhaps your relationship with various family members, or the meaning that delicious, bountiful food had to you growing up.

Our experiences vary. One woman, whose mother has known about her daughter's Overcoming Overeating work for close to two decades, told us the following story. One night during a visit to her mother's home she was getting herself something to eat. Her mother asked, "Can't you wait to eat until everyone else arrives?" The daughter paused, full of intense feeling, ready for a standoff. She'd heard her mother's request as more than a simple question about whether she could wait to eat. It felt like a demand to conform to her mother's wishes and this no longer felt okay with her. She looked at her mother and softly said, "No, Mom, I can't."

Separation issues from our families of origin often get in the way of fine-tuning the mechanics of our Overcoming Overeating work. This is why, by the way, many women experience a sense of loss or melancholy (as well as exhilaration) as they begin to outgrow the need for food when they are not hungry.

Finally, what does it mean to you to outgrow your identity as a compulsive eater? One woman poignantly commented, "I know that I am holding onto a few last glitter foods. I'm not ready to give up the glitter altogether; something feels very empty when I think about having absolutely no glitter foods in my life." Another woman stated, "I still need something to glitter for the times when I just don't want to sit with my feelings." Another common scenario goes like this: "Each time I get hungry I hear myself say, 'You can have whatever you want!' But as I listen to that voice, it's a defiant one—as if it's answering another voice that has already said, 'You really shouldn't have that!'" Women who have this struggle may already be quite sophisticated demand feeders: they feel calmer around food, significantly more comfortable in their bodies, stronger within themselves and with others in terms of managing their feelings and identifying needs. Yet they are aware of a subtle, constant level of rebellion. They reach for foods which may not be good matches because it is still important to prove to whomever told them that they "shouldn't have it" or "don't need it" that they can and will eat as they choose. Unfortunately, the rebellion takes on a life of its own.

When you hold onto a few glitter foods or eat as a form of subtle rebellion, you remain enmeshed in the persona of a compulsive eater. Although it is true the compulsive eating has been an extremely painful experience for most of us, one woman captured a common dilemma when she said to her group. "I just don't quite know who I am if I am not either a compulsive eater or working on the issue."

If you find yourself subtly resisting good matchmaking and complete non-dieting, think about what troubles you about ending the obsession with food and body hatred, and think about whether you are ready to nudge yourself gently to explore these issues. Think about taking the final steps towards living life in a different way and developing a richer identity in which food and body size are no longer issues to be dealt with all the time. Remember that if parts of your identity are connected to your involvement in the non-diet and/or size acceptance movements, you can maintain these connections even if you end your own preoccupation with food and weight issues.

Each time you make a good match with stomach hunger, you make a statement to yourself: I am person with unique desires. This is a forceful statement for a woman in this culture to make. As you take good care of yourself with your eating you start claiming your right to be a woman in this world, free of the language of body hatred and dieting, telling the truth to yourself about what you feel and think, and speaking out directly to others.

Wishing you all the best,

If you want to stay aware of events in the Chicago area, you are invited to join our mailing list. We remain available by mail, email or telephone. We continue to provide workshops, lectures, individual and group counseling and professional consultation.

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