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Greetings!Notes From Chicago

Stopping, challenging, and changing bad body thoughts is an essential part of Overcoming Overeating. But changing bad body thoughts into accepting and loving body observations and feelings is a long, hard struggle for most women using the approach. Clearly, our fat-phobic society promotes body hatred in women at every turn and it is no wonder that freeing ourselves from bad body thoughts feels like such an uphill battle. However, we all know that the discomfort and anxiety created by our bad body thoughts prompt us to seek comfort from food. We also know that these negative thoughts have never helped us lose weight. Therefore, based on our own experiences, we have a good, logical argument to combat the social pressure to stay mired in bad body thoughts: If they don't work, why bother entertaining them? Yet bad body thoughts continue to plague us.

We propose that in addition to challenging and changing bad body thoughts, a process of "collecting good body experiences" will enhance size and shape acceptance and decrease the frequency of these negative thoughts. We would like to elaborate on this idea and suggest ways to accumulate these experiences…

The process of achieving self- and size acceptance is not a linear one, moving from one step to the next in an organized fashion. As researcher and educator Cheri Erdman describes, the process is more like a spiral. Think of juggling a "slinky" toy from one hand to the other, with ups and downs, ins and outs, and an unpredictable shakiness.

Think about how you've made progress with your eating. If you're like most of us, "ups and downs with an unpredictable shakiness" probably describes your experience of moving from mouth hunger eating to stomach hunger eating. In fact, the work you've done on your eating can teach you a lot about developing a different feeling about your body.

How about collecting good body experiences in much the same way you collected stomach hunger experiences when you first learned about demand feeding? As you know, the more experiences of feeding stomach hunger you collect, the more secure you feel; feeling secure or less anxious leads to a decrease in your mouth hunger. The more good body experiences you collect, the more self-accepting you will feel; feeling accepting and loving towards your body will lead to a decrease in bad body thoughts.

Focus on any accepting, loving, exciting experiences you have or create about your body. The chances are that these will involve times when you become aware that even though your body does not meet the current societal ideal, you are liking it and enjoying it. Welcome good body experiences the way you try to welcome stomach hunger—"Hey! This is great!" Once you have a stock of good body experiences, no one can take them away. Even when you turn a corner and are bombarded by a fat-phobic advertisement, your reserve of positive feelings will help you challenge the message. Remind yourself that what you're seeing is a cultural bad body thought. Eventually you will notice that the grudging acceptance you granted yourself initially—"I accept my body but I still really hate it"—has given way to a genuine appreciation for all that's yours.

What are these good body experiences? Do you ever feel great wearing something that's particularly comfortable and that you like a lot? Are you ever pleasantly surprised when you try on something in a color or style that's atypical for you? Do you ever look in the mirror and find yourself seeing a part of your body in a new, more loving way? What about a sudden feeling of enjoyment as you're out walking? Do you ever stretch your muscles in a big body yawn and feel great? Move in some way that feels energizing, strong, or soothing? What about how wonderful your body feels relaxed in a warm tub? Do you appreciate your body when it provides you with sexual pleasure? How about those times when you just feel snug all over?

These delightful moments of good body experiences often get lost amidst lots of bad body noise. We encourage you to hold on to the pleasure of these moments. You have experienced them and they are real. They cannot be taken away from you just because a magazine that idealizes unnaturally thin women catches your eye, or a radio commercial for a new diet program catches your ear. If you find yourself having difficulties collecting good body experiences, try to see the difficulty as an opportunity to gather information about what's in your way. Just as some people have difficulty allowing themselves to be hungry because the sensation frightens them, others have trouble allowing themselves to buy clothes, or look in the mirror, or move in the ways their bodies might like. Do you need some help in sorting out some of the issues? Or can you nudge yourself gently along by yourself or with the support of friends?

It is inevitable that your attempt to gather good body experiences will be constantly disrupted. This happens because you see pictures in magazines promoting body-shaping remedies "that really work." Or you gain some weight as you legalize foods and have a hard time adjusting to your new size. Or you feel pressure about your size from family or friends. Because of this constant interference from the outside world, every good body experience counts for a lot. Welcoming and "playing up" good body experiences ("Hey, this is terrific! I'm feeling really wonderful/loose/fit/sexy right now!") builds internal strength and confidence in your just-fine-at-any-size body. The more confidence you feel, the more prepared you'll be to deal with bad body thoughts.

Bad body thoughts are like mouth hunger. In the past, when you ate compulsively, you would say, "My problem is food. I am bad for eating." You made a translation from the language of feelings, through food, to the language of food and fat. Bad body thoughts work the same way. They occur when something else is going on that is hard to deal with. Instead of naming the problem you're having at the moment, you turn to your body and call it fat, ugly, too big, awful, or any other epithet.

As you collect experiences of feeding stomach hunger, your mouth hunger becomes more sporadic and as it does, you are able to use it to learn about yourself. Your mouth hunger becomes a signal that something is bothering you. As you collect good body experiences, your bad body thoughts can also function as clues to your emotional life. In both cases, stopping the yelling is key. If you're tempted to beat up on your body, try to be gentle with yourself and then try to understand what you're feeling that you're tempted to deflect onto your body. Explore your bad body thoughts as translations without judging them, just as with mouth hunger you attempt to understand what else is bothering you in a compassionate way.

What is a "normal" body size? One group of women lamenting how much they wished to be thinner, realized that if this were 1950, their bodies would have been right in there with Marilyn Monroe's or Jane Mansfield's. If the dress doesn't fit, the dress should be altered. If the cultural ideal doesn't fit, it's the ideal that needs changing. It is our hope that one day, size diversity will be as common a term as ethnic, racial, and religious diversity. Seeking out good body experiences and sharing them with others lead us all in the right direction.

Judith Matz and Carol Coven Grannick

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