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Candace's Story: Journey to Freedom and True Joy

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The realization that this issue deals with something way more significant than body dissatisfaction—challenging the impositions by our culture upon us as women—was the beginning of her journey to freedom and true joy in life.

Hello, my name is Candace, and I'd like to share my experience in unlearning dieting and learning—for the first time in my life—how to meet my needs. I am forty-two years old, the mother of one, and soon to be divorced. I work with young people, work I love and for which I am grateful. My story is so long and full of twists and turns that it's challenging to present a synopsis, but here goes…

When I was a child and visited Disneyland, there was an attraction called "Mr. Toad's Wild Ride," which I was too terrified to get on. Well, this journey through body hatred, weight gain, comfort and stress eating, starving, overexercising, etc., might well be called "Candace's Wild Ride." The inner growth I've experienced while working on "weight and food issues" has been very powerful and has touched my spirit. So all of you who feel belittled or frustrated by the mundane aspects of this work, take heart: I believe we are all onto something much more significant than diets or body dissatisfaction. What's at stake here is nothing less than our willingness to challenge, with both costs and rewards, the impositions of our culture upon us as women. This is why I love the OO approach.

For many years, I desperately longed to be the attractive, slim, smiling woman that was represented to me by the culture as the ideal. What I was, was a size-12, five-foot-three-inch woman with congenital deformities of the nose and teeth, and from a working-class background. Neither of my deformities were addressed by my parents, who were too self-absorbed to care. They were both very troubled and their problems ranged from my father's alcoholism to my mother's extreme narcissism and substance abuse. It will come as no surprise when I say I was abused by both of them, sexually by one. Back to the appearance issues… Being working class in the 1960's, it was assumed that I would just get on with my life and settle for a diminished lot because of my nose's appearance—that of a boxer, bulbous and somewhat collapsed in. I had no bridge, but no doctor pointed this out to me until I finally had it corrected two years ago. My teeth—crooked, and with a prounounced overbite—were also ignored. Orthodontics, after all, were for better off people. I also corrected this when I turned forty and had the means to do so.

To be blunt, and to quote another woman who turned to surgery to improve her appearance, I didn't have my ticket for life. I was less than attractive, poor, and actually spending much of my young adult life in a series of linked recoveries from the chaos surrounding me. However, I was gifted, and my teachers always embraced me. They knew, I realize now, that I would need my mind to get me through, and they encouraged me to apply myself in academics. However, at the age of eighteen, pursuant to me getting my first boyfriend, my parents kicked me out of the house and decided not to send me to college—despite my high IQ and demonstrated work ethic. (It was money from my waitressing job that helped them get into a better house in a better part of town.) Essentially, I was disowned because I refused to be my mother's slave; she had raised me to believe my less than stellar looks would keep me in spinster status and that she and I would have some sort of mother/daughter marriage situation. Dare I say she was infatuated with me? She "loved" me but only when I was being the quiet, religious, devoted daughter—preparing her meals, doing her laundry—yes, she raised me to be her maid! When I fell in love, her dream of owning me was over, and I was on my own.

A series of affairs with fun sex partners ensued. Every so often, the subject of my appearance would arise. A lover I dearly cherished one day looked into my face and pronounced, "You know, you're not the best looking girl in the world." I completely fell apart and asked what exactly he meant by that—to what was I being compared? He mentioned that he was more attracted to the women he saw in magazines. I'm not kidding, this was an actual conversation! We had had a spiritual bond, great sex, and now he was telling me I just didn't cut it in the looks department, so too bad for us. There were other conversations with other lovers that followed a similar theme. Eventually, I decided I would never get a man (oops, maybe mom was right, I feared), so I had a baby on my own and tried to face the world alone. I put myself through school and had a great time and along the way met a very kind, non-threatening man with whom to share life. He's been a wonderful stepfather, but not a great provider, so we didn't have any of our own children. And we've grown apart over the years. As I said, I corrected the nose and teeth problems, and now I think I'm actually pretty good looking. (Depends on the day.)

Okay, that's the "life" story. Now for the food and body story… My genetics have given me a size 12 body, and I spent many years in an enraged battle over this. I remember one time when I was a teenager, I mentioned that I weighed 135 pounds, and my grandfather said, with a raised eyebrow and a tone of warning, "That's too much." Thus began the first of perhaps thirty to fifty diets over the course of twenty-five years. Each time I lost weight, people I knew treated me as if I had just discovered the cure for cancer—oh happy day, I was good enough at last! Dreams did come true! And, each time I lost weight, I felt like a "good girl" but was newly scared of food in a way that I find hard to put into words. Eventually, despite healthy eating habits, the weight plus some would always come back. My most recent stint was a rigorous course of extreme portion control and obsessive exercise. I think I probably weigh around 135 pounds at this time (I lift weights, so lots of it is muscle). I have thyroid disease, and were I not eating and exercising very conscientiously, my body might weigh in the neighborhood of 180, which is what my mom and sister weigh. I'm a size eight, but I feel much bigger than that.

Now I come to the good part—discovering the principles of size acceptance and the demand feeding approach of Overcoming Overeating! All I can say is, THANK YOU! Through the work I have done with this program, I have come to realize that I was never fed appropriately as a child. Amazing as it sounds, I think of most foods as "yucky," and as the childlike terminology indicates, this probably dates back to my parents' inability to care for us and feed us with love. My mother's cooking was terrible. I remember that one of the weekly staples was a dinner of cow's tongue, unceremoniously thrown down on a platter with a bottle of ketchup as its companion. One time my parents fed us bear—at first not telling us it was bear—then they told us, then laughed as we spat it out in disgust. Another nightmare food was peas. Our family had them regularly, but their weird texture made me gag. I couldn't eat them, I told my dad when I was in kindergarten. "You and your likes and dislikes!" he boomed. (He was probably smashed if it was dinner time; they always had two vodka and O.J. doubles while whipping up the meal over drunken political debates.) One time he came over to my place at the table and held my jaw tightly shut while I was forced to swallow the peas I had just gagged up. These and similar "food abuses" were so common that all of us kids learned how to take food out of our mouths with a napkin and surreptitiously slide it down to the dog under the table. This became a relied-upon practice.

Okay, back to recovery. Yes, I'm doing it. Learning how to take care of myself is so profound. Just KNOWING that I don't have to eat one more "yucky" food for the rest of my life feels incredibly joyful and liberating. It almost feels like I've won a wonderful sweepstakes! And there is a sad part to it, too. The sadness is in realizing that I will never be as thin as I think I should be—or, should I say, as the "old me" thought I should be—because the foods that I enjoy eating are fresh fruit with half and half, chicken and rice in the Greek style, pasta with pine nuts and basil and garlic, chocolate cake at least 2 times a week, middle eastern wraps with olive oil… You get the idea—good tasting foods. I just plain refuse to eat anything less than delicious anymore! What it all boils down to for me is the realization and the acceptance that evidently my need for food—indeed perhaps all of my needs (for fun, love, laughter, world peace)—exceed the needs that the culture has deemed appropriate. I'm coming to consider the possibility that, despite the doctors' insistence that I weigh 125 and eat carrot sticks, my own body somehow needs the fat in that strawberry shortcake and that I'm just destined to walk through this life with an ample derriere. There is the heart-wrenching grief I feel for not having been "good enough/thin enough/pretty enough" to get a "good man" and the fact that I never had as many children as I really wanted as a direct result. Therefore, how are my body size and my loneliness in life related? Is it okay to want what I want—whether it's cookies or the practice of good boundaries in my work relationships? Do I JUST WANT TOO MUCH? I am exploring these questions with the loving guidance of my inner caretaker.

This is a life-changing development for me, and as I said earlier, there are costs and there are rewards. One of the costs has been that some of my relationships with women have suffered. When I do something really self-loving like eat all my favorite foods, I can feel certain people's envy of me—their outrage at my audacity to savor my life when others are suffering through theirs. One particular old friend verbally attacked me and said that I had become a "bitch"—when my gut tells me she's very angry at me for refusing to diet. Another thing is that in some funny way, I no longer feel "part of society." That's another feeling that's hard to put into words. Irrational as it sounds, I have a feeling that goes something like this: If I break all the rules, will I be treated like a criminal? If something terrible happened—say, a car accident—and I needed assistance from a stranger, would it be offered to me? Or could they see from the look on my face that I'm no longer "one of them" and turn the other way? Another cost is the grief I feel for the "lost years" of my life when I was focused on food-restricting rather than in living the richest life possible.

Then there are the rewards. Knowing that, despite any external circumstances, my inner mother is always there to care for me, is comforting. The connection I have to the little kid inside me helps me feel things more spontaneously—whether it's a beautiful sky at night, something I've accomplished and I want to swagger with pride over, my love of nature and animals. My instincts and intuition are highly developed and have kept me from entering some bad situations, as well as directed me to good ones. Even the lousy things are better when I face them with integrity and a commitment to my true self.

It's that connection to all the parts of my self that the OO method has helped me find. This work is not about losing (weight). It's about finding: finding an incredibly vital, loving, wise spirit within me as, patiently and sometimes trembling with uncertainty, I strip away years of self-rejection and self-contempt. The way I peel the pain away is by taking care of myself: eating the foods I want to eat, standing up for myself when I need to, and letting myself grieve for the waste of life that the connection between being "skinny" and "loved" has meant for so many of us. And my spirit within is so strong and loving that it will be okay if, on some days, it's "just the two of us." To be honest, it's most often a lonely road. But that's okay…

Thank you, Jane and Carol and all the wonderful people in this movement, for helping me on my path. I wish everyone who reads this the same joy and love that each of us can have from within.


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