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Notes From Chicago

Carol Coven Grannick
Judith Matz

Directors, Chicago Center for Overcoming Overeating

Women come to the Overcoming Overeating approach because they want to end their preoccupation with eating and body size. Yet many have difficulty putting aside their weight loss goals. As you know, focusing on weight loss exacerbates compulsive eating and body hatred.

Although the three major components of Overcoming Overeating—legalizing, demand feeding and self-acceptance—all present challenges, acceptance of one's own body shape and size is often a stubborn and recurring struggle. The desire to "fit in" to the culture that idealizes ultra-thin body types is powerful. As you know through your work with Overcoming Overeating, challenging body hatred and decoding bad body thoughts help you in your personal struggle to feel better about yourself. These techniques also help create a culture in which size diversity is celebrated.

In her new book, Nothing To Lose, our colleague, Dr. Cheri Erdman, provides additional encouragement and support for moving you along on the path toward ending body hatred and dieting. She offers ways to find the necessary internal and external supports for full self-acceptance that we think you will find useful.

Erdman's research is based on her interviews with non-dieting women at least 30 years old who were fat by society's standards but accept their size and lead meaningful and well-adjusted lives independent of cultural values. On the basis of her findings, she developed what she calls a "spiral of size acceptance." Erdman emphasizes that the phases she delineates are fluid rather than occurring in a linear path.

According to Erdman, if you are in the preacceptance phase, you have stopped dieting, but dislike your own body and other large bodies. You may diet again or spiral into initial acceptance in which you no longer see dieting as a viable option, although issues around food and eating still exist. This stage is also characterized by living in the present, tossing out the scale, using a support network and developing a creative body image in which you see your body as smaller than it actually is, which Erdman views as a healthy adaptation to a fat-phobic culture. As you reach midpoint acceptance, you move toward eating and exercising from the inside out, develop greater self esteem which results in more assertive behavior about your body when confronted by the culture.You also become involved in something larger than yourself, such as being a role model for others. Finally, if you are in the phase of decisive acceptance you are no longer fixated on food or eating, your body image reflects your true body size which is now seen as something positive, and you become active around the issue of size-esteem.

This spiral of acceptance is not meant to be used in a judgmental way; i.e. one phase is no better than another. Nor are the phases pure categories. Women using the Overcoming Overeating approach may find themselves anywhere on this spiral. Some women will begin their journey by focusing on body acceptance rather than on ending overeating.

Erdman recommends that women starting on the road to size acceptance stop dieting and begin "eating healthfully." Initially, we found this definition problematic because many people associate healthful eating with low-fat eating, thereby perpetuating the concepts of good and bad foods. However, Erdman eventually defines healthful eating as a process of "stabilizing your relationship with food" which implies that all foods are fine.

Throughout her book, Erdman emphasizes the need for support to move toward nondieting and size acceptance. She offers numerous concrete suggestions for creating a strong network including reading non-diet literature and research, subscribing to magazines for larger women such as Radiance and joining a group that focuses on ending dieting and promoting acceptance. However, in and of itself, Erdman's book is also a means of providing support for yourself! In terms of standing up to a culture that still sees size as a moral issue, we feel more vulnerable if we are isolated from one another and stronger when we join together. Reading Nothing To Lose makes you feel that you belong to a group of strong, confident women with whom you would be honored to identify.

While this book addresses the experiences of large women, (although we know that women of all sizes may see themselves as fat) at its core is the belief in size diversity. Erdman writes, "Appreciating the diversity and beauty in all body types—valuing difference—is an important key to our self-acceptance."

The concepts of Overcoming Overeating and Nothing To Lose overlap and complement each other. Starting at different points, they lead to a similar destination. No matter which door we enter, and at what size we arrive, together we can build a nondieting, size-accepting community.

Nothing to Lose: A Guide to Sane Living in a Larger Body by Dr. Cheri Erdman is published by Harper San Francisco (1995).

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