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Hold That Fat Thought

by Jane R. Hirschmann and Carol H. Munter

Millions of us walk around all day in a cocoon of self-hatred. It's as if there's a radio program—with bad music and lots of static—playing in the backs of our heads. If you tune in, you will hear a constant refrain: "Yuck, I can't stand my thighs, stomach, hips, butt…"

The presence of these "fat thoughts" in our thinking is so entrenched that, for most of us, it is nearly impossible to imagine life without them. We talk to ourselves in ways we would never consider speaking to a friend and often in ways we would not address our worst enemy. Fat thoughts are abusive; they make us miserable and send us straight to the fridge for solace. Why then do we keep beating up on ourselves?

First, we continue to have fat thoughts because we are members of a society in which our bodies are constantly criticized. In other words, we have fat thoughts because we have learned to see our bodies negatively. In one way or another, almost every ad tells us that our bodies are in need of fixing. When we look at ourselves with disgust, we are simply passing along the cultural message that our female bodies are in need of renovation.

Second, we continue to make ourselves miserable with fat thoughts because our discontent with our bodies serves to distract us from many of our real concerns and anxieties. As you know, we maintain that fat thoughts are never about what you think they are about—namely, fat—no matter what size or shape you are. In other words, when you yell at yourself for being fat, you are distracting yourself from the real source of your discomfort. For example, you say, "I'm fat," when what you mean is "I'm anxious about my upcoming class reunion," or "I'm angry at my husband," or "I'm upset about my raise," or "I want sex," or "I feel rejected," or, or, or…

You want to believe that your fat is, in fact, your problem because you are then on familiar turf. You know the scenario: "I hate my fat stomach. It's really disgusting. I'm going to start working out. I'm really going to cut back on fats. I feel better already." Of course, nothing gets better because you are not addressing the real source of your discomfort.

We live in a culture that encourages us to focus on our bodies rather than on our lives. We have learned our lessons well. We are all experts at moving from the language of feelings to the language of fat. The time has come, however, for us to give up fat talk and learn to speak the truth.

Freeing Yourself from Fat Thoughts

There are four basic steps to moving beyond fat thoughts. Once you have identified a fat thought, take a moment to sit with yourself the same way you would with anyone in your care who has suffered an insult and is hurting. Then, gently and compassionately, go through the following steps: apologize; challenge your thought; set the fat thought aside and learn what you can about yourself from this experience. Let's look at these steps in more detail.

Step 1: APOLOGIZE

Calling yourself names is hurtful. When you are hurt, you become sullen, depressed and mouth hungry. You need to take better care of yourself and not fling fat thoughts at yourself. When you slip up and have a fat thought, you might say something to yourself like, "I'm sorry I said those awful things to you. I'll try and see to it that it doesn't happen again."

Step 2: CHALLENGE YOUR FAT THOUGHT

Growing up in this culture makes you vulnerable to fat thoughts. You have learned to be critical of your body. Thinner and thinner female bodies are held up for all of us to see and admire. The message is clear. "Be like her no matter what your size." The time has come for you to challenge that message. "Why should I be like her?" you need to ask. "Who says?" "Who says my thighs are too big? They get me where I want to go." "Who says my rear end is too large? Maybe the chair's too small!" "And who on earth says that thin is more attractive than fat? What a silly idea!"

People often giggle nervously when they hear us ask, "Who says?" They feel anxious and delighted simultaneously. After all, without such beauty rules in your head, you might just find yourself saying, "I'm just fine the way I am."

Step 3: SET YOUR FAT THOUGHT ASIDE

At this point, you simply pick up your fat thought, as you would an object, and move it aside. Don't be surprised when the thought sneaks back into your head. After all, you've never challenged your fat thoughts before, so it's understandable that they're not yet sure that you mean business. Well, they have another think coming! You're going to keep setting them aside until they get the message. Every time a fat thought reappears, remember to apologize, challenge it with a resounding, "Who says?" and set it aside so that you can move on to Stage 4 and beyond.

Step 4: LEARN FROM YOUR FAT THOUGHTS

If a fat thought is never about fat, it is now time to find out exactly what was bothering you when you yelled at yourself about your body. In other words, the time has come to move from fat language back to the language of your feelings. This will require some detective work on your part—work we hope you will find compelling and revealing.

Let's take an example. Mary, a woman in our New York weekly workshop, reported:

"I've been dreading my upcoming high school reunion. I don't want people to see how fat I've gotten. I'm sure they'll be shocked that I don't measure up to what they expect. I never was a fat adolescent. When I get into this kind of obsessive thinking, I know I'm yelling at myself. The other day I finally asked myself, fat aside, what don't I want my former schoolmates to see? Then it hit me. I was chosen most likely to succeed, and I'm worried that I haven't lived up to that title. I know that I am successful and quite content in my professional life, but I'm not doing anything which will particularly wow the crowd. I guess I have to remind myself that if I feel content, that's what counts, not some external measure of success. I see now that my not measuring up has a lot more to do with achievements than pounds, and I feel more relaxed about the reunion."

In the next issue of the newsletter, we will teach you more about how to decode your fat thoughts. Look for our regular column called HOLD THAT FAT THOUGHT. In the meantime, remember each and every time you have a fat thought to apologize, challenge, set it aside, and learn from it.

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