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LETTING GO OF THE DIETING FRAME OF MINDNotes From Chicago

Carol Coven Grannick
Judith Matz

Directors, Chicago Center for Overcoming Overeating

All over the country, women are working hard to end body hatred and dieting. However, as you know, the diet paradigm is embedded in our lives and requires vigilant and repeated efforts to dislodge it. One day everything is "going fine" with legalizing and demand feeding and then suddenly, "It isn't working" anymore. Usually, when this happens, we have unknowingly turned the Overcoming Overeating guidelines into a diet. We then rebel against what we now experience as rules. Even when we are truly nondieting in terms of our eating, we often discover that the dieting mentality has a firm grip on other aspects of our lives. As Anna commented in one of our groups, "It was only when I legalized food and began to demand feed myself that I realized how many other 'diets' I'm on in my life." Anna found, as you may, that her belief in and need for rules extended far beyond her eating and her body.

In this culture the diet frame of mind is like a huge psychic magnet. The Overcoming Overeating approach as well as the other life-changes it inspires is counter-cultural at its core. No wonder we periodically revert to diet-like thinking. "Sometimes I wish there were one right answer," sighed Melinda. "It's difficult to keep going inside myself to find out what's right for me: I want someone to tell me it's okay to feel a certain way."

To find out if you are operating within a diet frame of mind, look over our basic checklist, compiled by our groups here in Chicago (we welcome your additions!):

YOU'RE IN THE DIET FRAME OF MIND IF YOU FIND YOURSELF SAYING:

  • I have to…

  • I should…

  • I shouldn't…

  • I should have

  • From now on I will…

  • I was good this week…

  • I was bad this week…

  • It's going really well (When going well means, for example, never having any mouth hunger, as if ups and downs and hard times are not part of going well or part of following the approach.)

  • I'm losing weight! (in a positive tone of voice)

  • I'm gaining weight! (in a negative tone of voice)

In our Overcoming Overeating groups, women have become adept at hearing each other's diet language, and even better at catching the multitude of diets that exist in their lives. Remember, the main characteristic of a diet is setting expectations of perfection, and feeling like a failure when you do not measure up to them. Food diets instruct us when, what and how much to eat and life-diets tell us when, what and how much to feel, do and think.

So, from women in Chicago, here's a highly condensed list of some of the diets we have discovered in our midst. We'll start with the ways we turn the approach itself into a diet and then move on to a sampling of other diets we have uncovered in our lives.

  1. The "I'M GOING TO DO THIS APPROACH PERFECTLY" Diet…

    On this very common diet, you set up the Overcoming Overeating guidelines as rules which you believe you "must" follow. When you don't, you feel like a failure. The Overcoming Overeating "diet" sounds something like this: "I am going to eat only from stomach hunger," "I'm not ready to get rid of my scale or my small clothes, so obviously I'm not doing this right," or "I should be looking at myself in the mirror, but I hate what I see." As we've said in previous columns, the process of nondieting is so profoundly different than anything you have done before that it is difficult to comprehend that although the guidelines are firm, the path towards ending body hatred and dieting is unique for each individual. The process of nondieting is a quintessentially human process and therefore has nothing to do with achieving a state of perfection.

  2. The "I WILL BECOME MY OWN INTERNAL CARETAKER" Diet…

    Recently, a woman in Chicago called this diet to our attention. In one of our groups, we had used a visualization using the image of the Internal Caretaker (see Carol and Jane's new book, When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies, for an in-depth discussion of this concept). It was designed to help women in the group find ways to use an internal caretaker instead of food at moments of discomfort or anxiety. Laura found the exercise so beneficial that she vowed to use it regularly during the next week to help her intervene when she had mouth hunger. But in group the following week, she reported that after several days of living under this injunction, her Internal Caretaker took a vacation and was nowhere to be found. When Laura saw that she had turned a guideline into a diet, she changed her words. She said to herself, "I'm very interested in using this visualization as much as possible," and her Caretaker returned immediately.

  3. The "I'M GOING TO DEMAND FEED MY CHILDREN" Diet…

    This diet reflects our wish to share our new-found freedom from food and weight obsession with our children. If we have restricted our children in the past, we want to unrestrict now—RIGHT NOW! Group members have often found themselves attempting to "get" their kids to begin eating only when hungry. "Get" is the diet word here, instead of, "I'd like to help my child move gently in the direction of eating from stomach hunger." Watch how quickly a child gobbles up a candy bar if she's asked, "Are you SURE you're hungry right now?"

  4. The "AS LONG AS I'M PRODUCTIVE WHO CARES WHAT I FEEL LIKE AT WORK?" Diet…

    As women put an end to body hatred and dieting, they often become more aware of how they function at work. Many of us are on a diet of expectations regarding how we should function at work, how we're supposed to feel, how we ought to use every second productively (or feel guilty if we don't.) This is the case if we work outside of our homes, or in. When we go off the work diet, it's much easier to identify what we like and don't like about our jobs and to set limits around what we can or cannot do. Many women discover that when self-nurturing becomes as important, if not more so, than productivity, they find ways to spend more time doing what they want to do rather than what they should.

  5. The "I HAVE TO BE A PERFECT MOTHER" Diet…

    This diet forbids any behavior that does not conform to what we believe constitutes a "good mother." When we yell at our children, are not as available as we might wish, or experience other "imperfections" in our mothering, we chastise ourselves as if we'd fallen off a diet in which we expect ourselves to be perfect all the time. Most often our concept of a "good mother" is one who is unfailingly loving and nurturing, rather than authentic and good enough. As with most of these diets, leaving this one behind is tricky because the Be a Perfect Mother diet is socially sanctioned. In order to abandon this diet, you need to ask yourself continuously, "Who Says?" that there is such a thing as a perfect mother? What do you enjoy and what do you want to change about your mothering? How can you contemplate changing something about your mothering without clobbering yourself for what you're doing now?

We hope you will be able to identify some of your own "diets"—whether they involve your work with the Overcoming Overeating approach or exist in other areas of your life. Our motto is: If it feels like a rule, it's a diet! (Even if it's a rule NOT to turn Overcoming Overeating into a diet!) When you discover yourself dieting in any area of your life, see if you can move from abstract rules back to your unique personality, set of wishes, and ways of working. As you unclench your fists and stop gritting your teeth (two other signs of dieting) try gently to move back into yourself with compassionate and non-judgmental language (and if you have trouble with this, don't yell!) Some suggestions for how to talk to yourself:

  • I'm interested in trying to…

  • It feels pleasurable to me to…

  • I'd like to…

  • Who Says???

Remember that working hard at not dieting does not make it a diet. There's a difference between being vigilant and striving for perfection. Confusing them is a natural by-product of living in a dieting culture. Ending body hatred and dieting is not a linear or smooth road; it is filled with many interesting learning experiences. Judging ourselves as we learn only holds us back. As one of our children commented one morning in response to a misinformed request to do his best when Mom felt he wasn't performing up to par: "Mom—my best is not the same every day!"

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