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Summer Workshop Highlights

A Message from Carol Munter and Jane Hirschmann

Dear Reader,

Once again, the June workshop at Lake Austin Resort was a great experience. From year to year, we forget how powerful it is to live in a changed cultural environment—even for a week. For starters, there are no food rules and no fat phobia in this new environment. Add to the picture, lots of food available on demand, no need to shop or cook. Then go on to the details: hikes, swimming, movement classes, and as much discussion as you could possibly want about bad body feelings, fatness, thinness, food, and eating. Add in the reassuring presence of 13 returnees, great weather, and a splendid group of 35 women to create a superb week.

At our final workshop session of the week, we brainstormed about how to make this experience available for less money. We talked about places that might be able to provide food on demand—a large resort, a cruise—but as one woman pointed out, it is doubtful that we'd have such a place to ourselves. Being able to participate in all kinds of activities without worry about size prejudices is a lifetime first for many participants. What freedom! So, we've set the dates for next year: June 8-13, 1996. A little shorter, a little less expensive. Register by January 1st and the spa will give you an extra night at no charge (see box on page 8). But we are going to heed your requests for shorter, less expensive workshops in different parts of the country. As the California subscribers know, there was an advanced, 2-day workshop in Cambria in September.

Thinking back on the week at the Spa, here are some highlights:

The annual fashion show, coordinated by Freda Rosenberg, was held at the end of the week when our models were nothing short of radiant. This year, Freda talked with us all about the state of our closets [see her column in this newsletter] and what we can learn about ourselves from what's in there.

For the first time, our annual evening workshop in the pool was held outdoors. With candles and flowers everywhere, it was quite magical. As one woman said, watching her co-participants descend into the water, "It's like a painting of magnificent nymphs or goddesses descending into the bath."

This year, by popular request, we finally had those discussions about sex that we never seem to have time for. Sex and fat; and just sex. So far, we've heard from several participants that their significant others were impressed by the liberating results of our discussions.

We had asked this year's group to bring pictures of different generations of their families so that we could do some work tracing our genetic herstories vis-à-vis body type. A good look at the photos helps place your body in an herstorical context. Several women realized that some of their bad body feelings stem from the fact that they look a lot like their mothers; they've displaced negative feelings about the relationship between them onto their mother's body and their own.

Of course, for the two of us, the most exciting aspect of a weeklong workshop is having the time to deepen the work. We spend the first part of the week helping the beginners catch up and pinpointing where more advanced participants feel stuck. Then we can all go further. With so many participants getting good at handling their bad body thoughts and mouth hunger, this year we were able to move into a discussion about handling the feelings that continue to fuel body hatred and/or propel us toward food. That discussion in brief:

By working to cure our compulsive eating, we have all had a most unusual experience: we have actually changed something we thought would never change. How did we do it? By offering ourselves unconditional acceptance about our bodies and our eating and by feeding ourselves on demand; i.e., by becoming reliable caretakers of ourselves in this area, responding to ourselves in an attuned, loving way. (Just think about all those food bags you've packed, all that shopping you've done, all that patience you've had. In fact, if you're so inclined, make a list of everything you've done that's contributed to your current sense of well-being around food and eating.)

As you know, legalizing makes it possible to relax around food. The more relaxed you are, the easier it is to distinguish stomach from mouth hunger. As you respond more consistently to stomach hunger, your mouth hunger starts to fade. However, for most people, at a certain point, an end to mouth hunger requires taking a look at those issues that continue to trigger it. At that point, it helps to remember that you are a person who has now had a rewarding experience solving an extremely difficult problem.

We asked people to think about a particularly difficult feeling they'd felt most of their lives that continues to trigger mouth hunger. "If you were determined to get to a point where you rarely felt that way anymore, what would you need to do?" In other words, how could you take care of yourself/talk to yourself/problem solve about that feeling so that eventually, you won't feel that way?

Of course, the feelings we each find problematic vary: a sense of inadequacy, loneliness, envy, to name a few. None of these feelings fades easily. But from our discussion, it was clear that even thinking about working on an old, uncomfortable feeling is relieving and a step forward. Being able to name a problem, take it out, look at it, and begin to speak to yourself about it in a patient, gentle, and loving way makes the feeling a lot less toxic.

One woman's story was particularly moving and instructive. She told us about a shift she'd made that is probably a universal first step in establishing a caretaking, problem-solving relationship with oneself. She told us that it had taken a very long time, but that she had finally come to terms with the realization that she was the only one who could change her old and painful feelings. Although that may seem like a "what else is new" statement, it was clear to all of us that Barbara had done something very difficult. Despite a very traumatic history, she had gotten to a point where she was willing to become a good self-caretaker—without resentment for what had not been given to her when it should have been. From the dialogue with herself that she shared with us, it was clear that Barbara has learned to address the deepest, oldest, most personal and saddest part of herself in an unconditionally loving and respectful way. She reassures the old, sad part about the very deep love she has for her and reassures her that she will do everything in her power to make her feel safe and nourished.

If you can cure your compulsive eating, maybe anything is possible!

Hearty Appetites!

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