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LETTERS

Dear OO,

You are an answer to a prayer that I have prayed for 30 years. With your help and encouragement, food is fuel in my life.

I wonder if anyone else might have had anything happen to them like I did. I am in therapy to deal with this but having positive body experiences is very difficult. The reason is that I am a rape survivor and the rapist blamed me for the rape because I was "fat!" I have a very difficult time even feeling that I have a body because I "disengage" from it.

Would anyone or would you have any suggestions for me? This has been and continues to be very painful, but I am healing. I really could use encouragement from you—I know you understand.

Thank you,

Barb

Dear Barb,

We were touched by your letter. As you know, it is easy for others or even for each of us to blame what befalls us on our body size. The list of problems blamed on body size includes ill health, economic problems, marital problems, layoffs, lack of popularity, and now rape!! The message is clear—if we're fat, we deserve what's coming to us and may even have brought it on by being fat. In our culture, fat is no longer a physical description; it is a moral indictment.

When it comes to rape, the woman is often blamed, "She asked for it." "She shouldn't have been so seductive." "She shouldn't have been out so late." Now we can add to the list, "She shouldn't have been fat." Blame the victim, particularly if she's female and fat.

No wonder you feel disengaged from your body. Your body represents your femaleness. And your female self was invaded and violated in a very brutal way. Women's bodies are viewed as objects and assaulted by advertising, television and movies, and by general comments made all day long. However, your experience goes way beyond the everyday cultural assault on women's bodies.

Many women feel shame about their bodies because they have internalized two early lessons. One, that our bodies are not okay the way they are and, two, that our bodies are for the pleasure of others, not ourselves. Slowly but surely we must all undo these early lessons and rid ourselves of body shame and hatred.

Sometimes a survivor of sexual abuse tries to fight back by eating her way to a larger size where she feels more protected. By eating and by disengaging from her body she attempts to deal with the horror of the event.

Perhaps now that you are in the process of reclaiming your appetite, using food to fuel yourself rather than numb yourself, you will be able to reclaim your body and re-empower yourself. We wish you well on this next leg of your journey.


Dear Jane and Carol,

I want to let you know how your work has affected my life. You came into my life in spring of 1989 when I purchased your book. Then I attended the June 1993 workshop at Lake Austin Resort and my life has not been the same since. It is hard for me to describe the impact. I now tend to view my life in two segments: B.T. (before Texas) and A.T. (after Texas). The break is more significant than before my divorce and after my divorce and rivals the significance of before graduate school and after graduate school. The impact is substantial and very empowering. I am not the same person that I was prior to that experience. I don't perceive myself in the same way. I don't dress in the same way. I don't act in the same way. And everyone has noticed the change. Much of the credit should also go to Freda Rosenberg for her wardrobe counsel and guidance. She taught me so much—including a better way to view, appreciate, and clothe myself. Toward the end of my individual counseling session with her she said: "My God, Virginia, I don't have to tell you how to select clothes! You're an artist for heaven sake! Select clothes like you would select a piece of art!" That is the advice I treasure and that I have applied ever since.

One of the many valuable changes I have made is in my professional life. I am an artist—although, I have never been employed as an artist. I have been a teacher, an accountant, a lawyer, and am currently an administrator and policy analyst. And until January of this year I had not produced a piece of artwork for over 15 years. Even when I was producing art I was never comfortable calling myself an artist and I was embarrassed when others called me an artist. B.T. I was full of denial in many areas. I now proudly call myself an artist and have discovered—to my great relief—that I still know how to do it. In fact, in many ways my skill has improved over the years despite the lack of practice.

Last summer we remodeled our house and a central part of the effort was the creation of two studio areas for my work—one in the garage for messy projects and the other, a converted bedroom for cleaner (and warmer in winter) work and for storage of materials that might deteriorate in a garage environment.

In January my employer granted my request for a reduced appointment and I now work a four-day week and have three-day weekends which I devote to my artwork. I am drawing and painting again and I have learned to etch glass. I have made a connection with other local artists and last week succeeded in locating and making contact with the watercolor professor I studied under in 1970. He gave me wonderful updated advice and suggestions and is sending me brochures to show me how his work has evolved in the intervening 23+ years. With every piece I produce, five to ten more ideas jump out at me. I feel as though the dam has burst.

My short term goal is to produce a sufficient amount of material in the next ten months to have a show. My long term goal is to gear my employment down further over the next two to three years, take an early retirement, and devote myself full-time to my art.

Meanwhile, there is much work to do with respect to overcoming overeating. I have made peace with my body but I became aware after reading the newsletter that I do not yet give it the love and respect it deserves. It is not enough to just stop berating my body. I need to genuinely love it and respect it. I have not developed sincere and genuine size acceptance. The newsletter also made me aware that I have not completely legalized food. My diet mind-set lurks just below the surface and gets in my way pretty regularly. The result is that I eat from mouth hunger or for prophylactic reasons much of the time.

The newsletter has helped me to look again at these issues, review what I learned in Texas, and renew my determination to learn to pay full homage to my wonderful, beautiful, large body and listen to and provide for its needs.

Thank you so much for all your good research, counsel, caring, and support. What you foster goes well beyond bodily needs!

Much love,

Virginia


Dear OO,

I would like some help from your "Readers Helping Readers" column. Recently, at Christmas, my younger sister (who I thought understood about my OO approach!) made a comment to me about how I couldn't possibly be happy at my weight (260-ish!). Also, she keeps mentioning my health and how John Candy died from obesity, etc. I just keep explaining my situation and finally asked her, "What do you want me to do—go on another diet and gain more weight?!" She sincerely asked me, "Why couldn't you just diet and then not gain the weight back?" Obviously, she still doesn't understand!

I would like to hear from others who have incorporated the OO approach but are still larger-sized like me. How do they handle situations like this? How do you get around the "medical" aspect of obesity?! Thanks in advance for your help.

Thanks!

Jacki


Dear OO,

In the last issue, Lucia, from California, raised a question about how to limit her meat-eating without feeling deprived. This topic is of interest to me, so I wanted to respond. Lucia is concerned about meat-eating as a health issue; my concern about it is environmental. But I think we're both having trouble sorting out internal cues from external pressures.

Humans and other primates are omnivorous, meaning we'll eat just about anything, plant or animal. Historically, human cultures have eaten primarily grains, fruits and vegetables because meat was much more difficult to obtain (you better believe it was a lot easier to grub for roots than it was to bring down a woolly mammoth!). As agricultural societies grew, meat still was used sparingly, as a flavoring agent rather than as a main dish except on feast days.

As agriculture became agri-business in the last century and a half, beef took over a larger portion of our plates. By the 1960s, instead of killing the fatted calf for feast days, we expected to eat some kind of meat every day, sometimes at every meal. More grain went to feed beef cattle than humans. It takes 16 pounds of grain and soy to produce one pound of meat, yet that same 16 pounds of grain has twenty-one times more calories and eight times more protein (Lappe, Diet for a Small Planet, 1982). This is a most inefficient use of the earth's resources and energy.

Beef is promoted like cigarettes, liquor or any other product. As children, most of us were told to eat lots of protein, preferably in the form of meat. Then came the super health craze. Now, beef is considered bad, cholesterol-laden junk that clogs our arteries and weakens our bones. In the midst of all this contradictory information, how can we possibly decide what to eat?

I think the only answer is: eat what your body tells you to eat. Intellectually, I would like to take in less meat so that I would consume less of the earth's resources. Yet, as a result of the work I've done thus far with Overcoming Overeating, I know that after years of dieting, I cannot restrict foods without triggering what I think of as my "deprivation mechanism." If I say, "No meat," I'll crave steaks and ribs and overeat them when I get them.

As I learn to listen to internal rather than external cues, I am learning that I feel more alert when I eat a larger proportion of grains, fruits and vegetables. I've also found that I sleep better when I'm not digesting a heavy meal. This is what's true for my body; other demand-feeders may find that their bodies react differently. I have many demand-feeding friends who eat meat when they want to because that's what their body craves at the time. As omnivorous animals, we are meant to eat all kinds of food. Our drive to eat a particular food should come from inside, not from the latest health craze or commercial. When I stock my fridge and freezer with red meat, I'm more relaxed about the issue and can be more accurate about whether or not meat is what I'm hungry for.

Over time, with more legalizing, I expect I'll be eating less meat. That's certainly what happened with macaroni and cheese. I still keep macaroni and cheese in the house, I just don't crave it like I used to.

Molly

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