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Overcoming Overeating Newsletter

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

Dear Reader,

We are delighted to announce that our new book, When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies, will be published by Ballantine Books in March 1995. In honor of the new book, the National Center for Overcoming Overeating will launch The Women's Campaign to End Body Hatred and Dieting. Starting in March, we plan to hold speakouts in various cities where women can talk about their experiences and join together to work on this issue in an ongoing way. As part of the campaign, on International No-Diet Day next year (May 6), we will call upon women across the country to clean their closets of all the clothes that no longer fit and donate them to the homeless. We plan to develop materials that will describe many ways for women to join this grass roots, ongoing campaign; the newsletter will document the progress of the campaign. We're sure you agree that the time has come to end body hatred and put the diet industry out of business. The initial speakouts will be sponsored mainly by local bookstores, but we are open to all suggestions. Please, please get in touch with us and let us know your ideas for the campaign.

Much of our new book is about life beyond mouth hunger—in other words, handling feelings in new ways. As you know, the more you feed yourself in response to stomach hunger, the less mouth hunger you experience. That's because reparenting yourself by feeding yourself on demand makes you feel more secure, less anxious, and more prepared to address your anxiety directly when it occurs. But it's not always easy to know what to do about intense feelings when you no longer feel such a strong need to eat in response to them.

Recently, in our New York weekly workshop, Donna, an old hand at this approach, told the following story:

"I don't experience much mouth hunger anymore, but there's a certain state I get into that invariably makes me want to eat. I'm often very behind at work and I feel enormous pressure about it. I'm sure I'm going to be late getting something done and that the client will blame me for the consequences. I get so frightened that all I can think about is eating. I really don't want the food, it doesn't help me in any real way to eat it, but I can't come up with an alternative."

We asked if anyone had a response to Donna's predicament and several women reported being stymied by similar situations. It seems that as mouth hunger begins to fade, certain feeling states continue to trigger thoughts about food. We asked Donna what she thought she was looking for when she turned to food.

"It doesn't make any logical sense," she replied. "I guess I want comfort, calming down, all the things that are associated with food early in life. The less mouth hunger I have, the crazier the idea seems that putting a cookie in my mouth could alter the fact that I feel like my job and my life are on the line."

It is true that when any of us reach for food when we are not hungry, we are reaching back in time to a symbol of early comfort and nurturance. It is also true that as Donna continues to feed herself when she's hungry and to take good care of herself in many other ways, increasingly she will be able to calm herself down in situations that are difficult for her. However, it would help if she understood more precisely what she is seeking from food when she has mouth hunger.

We make an assumption that when you need to reach for food and you are not hungry, something is up that you feel unprepared to deal with internally. In other words, you need some kind of caretaking that you cannot find within yourself so you look for it in food. What precisely was Donna unable to do for herself that left her vulnerable to mouth hunger?

We talked with her more and focused in on her fear of punishment in the situation at work. She was afraid that she would do something wrong and be blamed for her mistake; clients would be angry and that would jeopardize her job. Donna felt unable to do anything for herself in the face of this imagined danger. She did not have a counterproposal when she imagined herself accused of not being good enough. Or did she?

When Donna imagined herself accused, she did have a thought—to eat! Think about it. In your dieting days, what were you saying when, defiantly, you approached the cupboard or the refrigerator? "To hell with it! Who says I shouldn't have this? I want it, I need it, and I'm going to eat it!" Even when you give yourself permission to eat in response to mouth hunger, the message is similar: "I need to eat. I deserve to give to myself." Eating is always an assertion of basic entitlement. Being fed or providing food for yourself implies "I am entitled to be here."

In the situation at work, Donna was struggling against the idea that there was something wrong with her for being behind in her work. She was unable to say to herself, "Okay. Even if everyone gets mad at me, I'm not going to go along with them and get down on myself. Realistically, there's an enormous amount of work to do. Maybe there are ways I could learn to be more efficient and I'd like to work on that, but whether or not I measure up to their expectations in this particular instance, I refuse to trash myself." Because Donna's self-regard was wavering, she needed to go to food to assert secretly what she was unable to assert openly: "Regardless of my behavior in this particular circumstance, I deserve self-love and respect—I deserve to have and to exist!"

Hearty appetite!

Carol and Jane

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