When Carol Munter and Jane Hirschmann published their groundbreaking book, Overcoming Overeating, women everywhere were just beginning to recognize the truth: diets don't work. In fact, diets turn us into compulsive eaters, driven to eat even when we are not hungry, spending our lives obsessed with food and weight. Yet, as all too many women also know, understanding that diets are counterproductive, and swearing them off forever, are two different matters entirely.
In this revolutionary follow-up book, Munter and Hirschmann explore the myriad reasons why women cling to diets despite overwhelming evidence of their ineffectiveness. They know that millions of women, of all shapes and sizes, wake up every morning, look in the mirror, and say "Yuck." Munter and Hirschmann call this syndrome "Bad Body Fever." They have discovered that dislike of their bodies is the single most pervasive reason women stay stuck in the diet/binge cycle. They also understand that when we say, "I feel fat," we are really speaking in code, disguising the true feelings and concerns that are vital to our lives.
Part I, "Reclaiming Your Body," describes Bad Body Fever and its resilience, and shows how our "bad body thoughts" are clues to our emotional lives. Part II, "Reclaiming Your Appetite," explores the difficulties women have when we stop dieting and reviews the Overcoming Overeating approach, which replaces dieting with demand feeding. Part III, "Reclaiming Yourself," teaches us how to think about our problems—rather than eat about them.
Most important, Munter and Hirschmann show us how to create an internal caretaker who can provide us with what we really need—unconditional acceptance, attention, and empowerment—so that food can resume its proper place in our lives. Based on the authors' research findings and more than twenty-five years of experience working with women who suffer from Bad Body Fever and compulsive eating, When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies is filled with workable solutions and compassionate support for total self acceptance—of our bodies, our eating, and ourselves.
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Introduction to the Book
When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies is a complete handbook for women who want to free themselves from body hatred and from the dieting it spawns. More precisely, it is a guide to overcoming the formidable opposition a woman encounters when she resolves to tackle the problem of Bad Body Fever.
For a woman to say "No more diets!" "No more self-contempt!" "No more efforts to make myself over in his (or anyone else's) image!" is nothing short of revolutionary. Her "No mores" are declarations of independence. They inevitably trigger reactions from the world around her and unsettle her own equilibrium as well.
In Overcoming Overeating, we urged women to stop renovating their bodies and to move into them with love and respect, precisely as they are. We explained how compulsive eating, a problem that plagues millions of women, is the inevitable legacy of dieting, and we prescribed "demand feeding" and abundance as the cure.
Many thousands of women have adopted our approach. They have stocked their homes with all kinds of food, including the most "forbidden", and they have begun feeding themselves when, what, and how much their bodies need. They have joined existing Overcoming Overeating support groups, formed groups of their own, or simply found the strength within themselves to say "No more." They have replaced self-reproach and body hatred with self-care and self-acceptance. They have abandoned their scales and bought clothes that they love—clothes that actually fit.
These women, whose names we have changed but whose stories we recount throughout this book, report extraordinary changes in themselves and in their lives. They no longer feel obsessed with food. They no longer hate their bodies. They no longer feel driven to eat when they are not hungry. And many of them have lost weight as a by-product of demand feeding.
These women also report that the struggle to free themselves from dieting and body hatred has been more difficult than they ever could have imagined. They had understood at the beginning that giving up dieting was a revolutionary act, but they had not understood the extent to which they had used dieting and body hatred to cope with the central issues of their lives.
Unfortunately, we live in a culture that accepts body hatred and dieting as normal components of femininity. Women are encouraged to expend enormous amounts of energy shaping their bodies rather than their lives. When a woman declares an end to dieting and body hatred, she is breaking rules—rules that have formed her sense of herself. She may feel exhilarated at her first taste of freedom, but as a dweller in this culture, she cannot help but worry about the consequences of her actions. Although Bad Body Fever causes a woman great pain, this pain has become an integral part of her entire emotional and psychological makeup; any attempt to heal it causes an inner reshuffling and understandable protest.
When women first hear that we recommend saying "No more" to diets, they smile with pleasure or giggle nervously. Very soon, however, they say, "I think you're absolutely correct, but…" These "yes, buts" are expressions of resistance. They are a way women have of saying, "We want to free ourselves from body hatred and dieting, but who will we be without them?"
When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies is a response to your "yes, buts." Each and every concern you have about abandoning body hatred and dieting deserves exploration. Each "yes, but" reveals something about how you have internalized the rules of the culture.
Although dieting and body hatred have made women miserable, they have also worked for us in a number of ways. For example, dieting and body hatred keep us in good standing as female citizens. We have done everything we have been told to do about eating and maintaining—or striving for—the "right" weight. When we think about saying "No more," we worry about standing apart from the cultural norm. We may love the idea of freedom but hesitate to jeopardize our "good girl" status.
We also worry about what we ourselves will think or feel if we are not directing so much energy toward condemning and fixing our bodies. Dieting and body hatred have distracted most of us from some of the central issues in our lives. Thinking about our problems rather than eating them into temporary oblivion is liberating but takes some getting used to. If instead of saying, "I feel fat," we tell the truth about what is bothering us, what will happen?
Finally, we wonder what will replace all the rules about food and the negative attention we have focused on ourselves. If we no longer live with the belief that, once we are thin, everything in our lives will fall into place, then we must start attending to our own needs very differently. We have no role models to follow in this area. We have not seen many women who take care of themselves and their bodies with love and respect. Many of us may never have known even one woman who could look in the mirror and say, "I'm fine just the way I am"—and truly mean it.
When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies explores all of the problems women encounter as they try to free themselves from body hatred and dieting. We suggest that you read the book through first. We have included a detailed index so that you can refer back to the book each time you are troubled by a particular "yes, but." Remember that giving up dieting and curing Bad Body Fever are revolutionary acts that require ongoing attention.
A NOTE TO MEN
We recognize that many men also suffer from the problem of body hatred and compulsive eating, and our approach works as well for men as it does for women. We have made a decision, however, to write about this problem from a woman's perspective. We did this for two reasons.
First, women are still very much defined by how they look and what they eat. The culture we live in continues to afford men more latitude when it comes to appetite and body size.
Second, it is clear to us that our culture's hatred of fat is inextricably linked to our cultural ambivalence about female strength and power. A woman's body hatred is her internalized version of cultural misogyny. She tells herself each and every day that her body is wrong and that she takes up too much space in the world.
In a society in which fat is associated with being female, a fat man is considered less male. When a man chastises himself for his large belly, for example, he is actually berating himself for not living up to the cultural standard of manliness. Men, too, must challenge the rules of the culture by asking such questions as "Who says that my body is not okay just the way it is?"
Many men experience enormous pain around the issues of body size and compulsive eating. Although our book is written about women, we believe that men can work well with this approach, applying it to their specific needs.
When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies is divided into three parts: Reclaiming Your Body, Reclaiming Your Appetite, and Reclaiming Yourself.
In Part I, Reclaiming Your Body, we describe Bad Body Fever, explore its unwanted resilience, and outline its cure. Much of this cure rests on your ability to challenge ideas you have taken for granted. For example, you must learn to ask "Who says that flat stomachs are the most attractive?" "Who says that we should all be thin?" We also explore our contention that a "bad body thought" is never about your body and teach you how to use your bad body thoughts as clues to your emotional life.
In Part 2, Reclaiming Your Appetite, we review our proposal to replace dieting with demand feeding and explore the difficulties, both external and internal, that come into play as you attempt to become attuned to your body's needs.
In Part 3, Reclaiming Yourself, we describe "mouth hunger," or psychological hunger; and discuss the steps you must take in order to get to a point where you can think about your problems rather than eat about them. What qualities do you need to develop in order to sit with your feelings and work them through?
The voices in this book come from the women who have attended our workshops in New York City and across the country. We are certain, however, that they echo the thoughts and feelings of the many women who have been working with the Overcoming Overeating approach on their own. These voices represent countless courageous women who have given up dieting and are well on their way to curing their Bad Body Fever. They are an inspiration to us, and we trust that they will be an inspiration to you, our readers, as well. Each of us is waging a private struggle, but there is great comfort in knowing that others are engaged in that same effort.
We believe that the time has come for women to tackle Bad Body Fever—a pivotal, deep manifestation of the problem of inequality between men and women. We hope to convince you that the time has come for you, personally, to reclaim your appetite, your body, and yourself.
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