Friday, June 30, 2006

This Has Absolutely Nothing To Do With Eating Disorders

But because it's Friday and because it's fun. . .

What Celebrity Do You Resemble?

Her Lovely Lady Lumps (yes, guilty as charged) recently posted pictures of Mena Suvari, snapped while she purchased gas for her car, in a feature entitled, “Mena’s Got Back.”

True, Mena’s still thinner than most American women (much thinner), but I am struck that in a town full of ultra-thin, bony celebrities, she’s held onto her rear. What I was most interested in, though, were readers’ comments—would we bash this starlet for not being stick-thin, or would we appreciate her subtle, feminine curves? Yes, a couple of comments were less than flattering (why, I ask, if you’re a woman, do you feel the need to comment negatively on her breasts or her face?) and others were overtly sexual/somewhat offensive, but the majority looked something like this:

“She looks great!”
“That is one nice ass!”
“Thank you Mena, for not following the latest Anorexic trend.”
“I never knew she had such a nice body, I must say I'm a little envious.”
“She looks AMAZING!!!”
“Most men love a little junk-in-the-trunk.”

Is this true? It seems, to me, at least, that men (and women, too, when discussing lesbian sex) would rather have sex with a body that is curvy and lush than one that is over-exercised, bony, or stick-thin. Women may chase after the Nicole-Richie ideal, but is this really what’s attractive to men?

Research has consistently illustrated that across cultures, men prefer one feature of a woman’s body over all others—that her waist-to-hip ratio hovers at .7. This means that the circumference of her waist measures approximately 70% the circumference of her hips. Now, before you take your tape measure out. . . think about all the medical and lifestyle contortions we undergo in order to appeal to men—breast implants, liposuction, excessive exercise, starvation diets, when, in reality, most of what it comes down to is that 70%.

It seems that this ratio is indicative of fertility, which is why, in an evolutionary sense, it’s so appealing to men. Other features of appearance that have shown to be universally appealing? Clear skin; large, white teeth; symmetrical features; thick, healthy hair; erect posture; and an upright gait. No research suggests that protruding clavicles, sternums, ribs, or hips are evenly remotely sexually attractive to men, unless, because of their own psychology, they’re looking for a little girl.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

See? Diets Don't Work! (Or, Why You Binge at Night)

As an AOL subscriber, it seems that every day, my welcome screen beckons with seductive weight-loss tips or diet plans. Yesterday’s headline was: “Plan to Boost Your Bottom Line,” and, for the record, this had absolutely nothing to do with finance.

Another encouraged us to, “Blast Away Your Female Fat Zones.” On other occasions, we’ve been invited to learn about “The Ultra-Metabolism Diet,” as well as to “Find Your Ideal Diet Plan.” (Note of curiosity to self: If we each have an ideal diet plan, then what’s with this ultra-metabolism diet?)

However, not long ago, I came across something a little bit different. At first glance, I was quite the skeptic. After all, the title of the piece was, “Tight Genes in Your DNA?” and the subject was Dr. Mark Hyman, author of the book, UltraMetabolism. In the article, Hyman discusses the starvation myth, the “idea that if we eat less and exercise more we will lose weight, and unfortunately, when we do that, when we starve ourselves or restrict our calories, we trigger a primitive survival response that drives us to compensate by overeating. We all have the experience, for example, of starving yourself all day, skipping breakfast, light lunch or maybe not at all, and then you get home and what happens? You clean out the refrigerator.

Hyman goes on to say: “And then you feel sick. Of course, we've done that over and over again. Now the first time you might do it you might think, 'Oh well, I shouldn't do this again because it's going to make me feel sick.' But how many times have all of us done that? Why? That's how our bodies are programmed. So if you eat less than your basic needs, if you starve yourself, you'll always backfire, you'll gain the weight back, and you'll probably gain back even a little bit more. People gain an average of five pounds for every diet they go on.

Wise man, I say (this review coming from a clinical psychologist, which, today, AOL revealed is the 22nd best job to have).

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

From Object to Subject

Feminist thought often fuels the way I think about women’s struggles with body image. Recently, it occurred to me that while men are appreciated for what they accomplish, women often find favor for how they appear. This certainly takes its toll in the way we feel about our bodies.

Men DO. Women ARE.

It seems to me that an important goal here would be to make the transition from body as object to body as subject—in other words, to figure out: What can your body DO?

Mine can:
1) Run, bike, and swim
2) Carry 10 bags of groceries from the car to the house in one trip
3) Hug you
4) Dance (for hours at a time)
5) Climb mountains
6) Revel in the warm sun after an ocean dip
7) Since I live in NYC, serve as my mode of transportation
8) Produce other bodies
9) (Egged on by a mind that makes dangerous, but exhilarating, decisions), rappel, zip-line, parasail, and fly on the trapeze

The more you think about what your body can DO, the less time you have to focus on its shape, it’s size, or simply how it IS.

What can your body DO?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

More on Kirstie Alley

Ms. Alley recently revealed that her weight loss has helped her to become a better mother. If, in fact you’ve been questioning your parenting skills, clearly you just need to drop some pounds. To celebrate her weight loss, Ms. Alley intends to visit the Oprah show. . . in a bikini.

I’m saddened that Oprah, who’s obviously struggled with her own body image issues over the years, is choosing to showcase Ms. Alley in this fashion. Although, I guess I shouldn’t expect any different from a woman who, several months ago, aired a show revealing even young children’s body image concerns, interspersed with commercials for Jenny Craig, L.A. Weight Loss, and Ritz 100-Calorie Snacks. I wrote the show (via web site) about the mixed messages, but received no response. Now that I think about it, I’m sure Ms. Alley’s Oprah visit is simply Jenny Craig’s idea of creative product placement.

Should Ms. Alley visit the Oprah show to talk about her next project? Sure! Might she visit to reveal how losing weight has helped her to feel healthier and get less winded when playing with her children? Of course! But, why are these two women colluding to further the notion that the superficial features of a woman’s weight loss are the most important aspects of her being? Ms. Alley should have worn a bikini on the Oprah show at her heaviest weight. Now, that would have been respectable.

In a recent issue of People magazine, Alley indicates, “I'm not emphasizing 'Thin is good.' I'm trying to teach my kids that you can't judge yourself on what other people think and that getting into a size 2 Chanel skirt isn't the be-all-end-all of life."

Of course it’s not. Wearing a bikini on national television is.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Geneen Roth Workshop Notes

This past weekend, I attended Geneen Roth’s “Take Back Your Life” workshop, which I highly anticipated after reading most of her work. The title was intriguing enough—I wondered who had taken my life and if I really wanted it back, for that matter.

About 200 (mostly) women piled into a large banquet hall, whose walls were covered with Pictionary-style paper, offering sentence completion exercises. Throughout the conference, women were able to add their associations to such leads as:

If I ate whatever I wanted. . .
Thin people. . .
Fat people. . .
I am keeping myself deprived by. . .
In the cafeteria of life, I. . .

Geneen began with (and came back to several times) the premise that “You eat the way you live.” In this way, food and your intake (or lack thereof) is a clear metaphor for the way you live your life. What do you deserve? What are your thoughts about abundance and pleasure and entitlement? With the help of some colleagues, she’s categorized all “emotional eaters” into two groups: restrictors and permitters.

According to Geneen, restrictors are those who like rules/structure, and fare pretty well on diets (at least for a while). They are typically able to recite the calorie/carbohydrate/etc. count of most foods they ingest, and their deprivation-driven motto is, “Less is more.” Permitters, on the other hand, detest/rebel against rules (including diets) and often “go past their hunger as a way of merging with chaos.” They allow, but they allow too much.

Which type resonates with you?

As Geneen correctly indicated, both are defense mechanisms, which we use to protect us from difficult feelings. And both are demonstrative of how you are in other parts of your life. As she describes it, “Your relationship with food is a doorway,” and examining this relationship can give insight into other struggles you have.

Most of Geneen’s work has focused on overeating, which she encourages us to meet with a kind and curious inquiry. Hmm. . . I wonder why I just ate beyond the point of fullness. I guess something must be bothering me—what could it be? Often, this is not our default reaction following a binge—instead, we judge, criticize, shame, reject, and promise (or threaten) to be “better” tomorrow. In this way, “We treat ourselves exactly the way we’ve been treated” in the past.

Early on in the conference, we divided into groups of four (all strangers) and were asked to tell our individual stories about food and our weight. I went last. It’s a powerful thing, having to summarize your entire history regarding eating and your body in just a few moments. . . and with people you’ve never met. Geneen’s personal history includes over 1000 pounds gained and lost (via dieting and bingeing) over the years and a bout of anorexia, in which her weight plummeted to 82 pounds, followed by a rebound weight-gain of 80 pounds in just two months.

Geneen’s eating philosophy is her personal variant of intuitive eating. Her seven eating guidelines include:
1) Eat when you are hungry.
2) Eat sitting down in a calm environment. This does not include the car.
3) Eat without distractions. Distractions include: radio, television, newspapers, books, intense or anxiety-producing conversations, and music.
4) Eat only what your body wants.
5) Eat until you are satisfied.
6) Eat (with the intention of being) in full view of others.
7) Eat with enjoyment, gusto, and pleasure.

At one point, we divided into groups of six and discussed the guidelines and why each might be difficult to employ. I’m comfortable with numbers 1, 4, 5, 6, and 7, though find myself arguing 2 and 3. Sometimes you get hungry. . . and you’re in the car (or another not-so-calm environment), and it’s my belief that to deprive yourself of food just because of the environment you’re in, conflicts with #1.

I also get stuck on #3. I’m not sure why it’s kosher to dine with family/friends, but not to sit down to eat with the radio or television on. I think, if you have to eat alone, doing so without any kind of background noise feels like punishment. It feels like a diet. Perhaps mindful eating can be approached less rigidly, by coming in and out of mindfulness, checking in with yourself periodically as you eat (“How is this tasting?” “Am I satisfied, yet?”) the same way you’d do when eating with company. I understand that eating should ideally be a calm, focused experience, but this isn’t life (or, at least, my life), and so for me, these guidelines feel a bit too rigid, at least in the way I conceptualize “making peace with food.”

Speaking of mindful eating, we did an eating exercise together. All 200 guests received a small paper cup containing a raisin, a tortilla chip, and a Hershey’s Kiss. Beginning with the raisin (and ending with the Kiss), we took the item out of the cup, held it up to the light, rolled it between our thumb and index finger, smelled it, rubbed it against our lips, sucked on it, chewed it, and eventually swallowed it. I mentioned to a friend that the workshop should be subtitled, “How to Make Love to a Raisin.” It was an interesting, and somewhat frustrating, exercise that came with an interesting moral. Geneen noted that so often (especially when we’re snacking or bingeing), each bite (or chip or piece of chocolate) only serves as a prelude to the next. Increasing awareness will likely return the focus to the present and break the spell, but it does so, I think, at the expense of interrupting the calming disassociation of overeating, thereby returning you to the very feelings you’re trying to avoid. If this were easy, you probably wouldn’t be turning to food in the first place.

Geneen spent a lot of time talking about feelings, attempting to locate feelings in the body, and recognizing, that while notable, feelings are not more powerful than we are. “When you inhabit a feeling, the paradox is that it opens and changes,” she says. It reminds me of behavioral psychology—so often, we avoid difficult feelings, and in this way, they actually gain momentum and power over us. To embrace the feeling, to expose ourselves to it, is actually what allows the feeling to defuse.

Other quotables:
“When we began eating emotionally, it was for exquisitely good reasons.”

“Diets, when they’re based on force, or the conviction that you have to change/restrict yourself do not work.”

“No change ever happens by force, guilt, shame, or punishment.”

“We live our lives following instructions from people in our history that we wouldn’t ask for street directions today.”

“If the goal of human life really is just to lose weight (or be thinner) and this is why we live our lives, we would not get to the end of our lives and leave our bodies behind.”

Overall, I enjoyed the conference, but think I would have been more moved had I not already read her books—I can see how coming across her principles for the first time in person could be an immensely powerful experience. Many of the women communicated that this was their last hope, that they were desperate, frightened, and sad. There were lots of therapists there, some food people (nutritionist/dietician types), thin people, fat people, and many who publicly admitted personal struggles with self-esteem, love, depression, parents, and life. I love Geneen’s focus on feelings (instead of weight). As she said, “It’s really easy to lose weight,” and if this were all you wanted to do, you could go on a diet and lose the weight. But, it doesn’t address the reasons that you’re overeating, and you’re likely to end up in the exact same place again. About her own process, she stated, “I wasn’t suffering because I was fat; I was fat because I was suffering.” Ultimately, I think the road to “making peace with food” is a uniquely individual one, and Geneen’s work, while not entirely palatable to me, has certainly contributed to the way I approach eating/body image issues both personally and professionally, and I enjoyed the opportunity to see her and to surround myself with women on the verge of discovery.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Road to American Idol

American Idol finalist Katharine McPhee, 22, recently went public with her struggle with bulimia. According to People magazine, Ms. McPhee has a history of bingeing, self-induced starvation and vomiting, as well as excessive exercise, beginning at age 17. After auditioning for Idol, she sought treatment at the Los Angeles Eating Disorder Center of California and now discusses her disorder in the past tense.

I’m so happy that Ms. McPhee has recovered from her illness and, even more so, that she’s willing to share with the public the depths of her disease. I do, however, have one small bone to pick.

Since her appearance on the show, Ms. McPhee has lost 30 pounds due to some variation of an “intuitive eating” approach, as reported by People. Interestingly, these types of approaches are the exact ones I espouse—eating what you want, when you want, and not depriving yourself. (See, it does lead to weight loss!)

But, it summarizes perfectly the dilemma I have regarding the work that I do. I realize that what people most want to hear (and what sells best) is how to lose weight. Even if I think the approach is healthier than a diet or, certainly, a disordered-eating ritual, the goal is still to help you shrink your size.

But, is this it?

Is this the ultimate goal, or should there be a larger and more psychologically adaptive one (the therapist in me is shrieking, “Yes, yes!”) that allows you to accept yourself for who you are, no matter what your size or what the scale reads?

There’s a part of me that wishes Ms. McPhee could have exited treatment and retained the 30 pounds. Wouldn’t that have represented a larger challenge, to give up her bingeing and purging as coping resources and become comfortable with who she was? Instead, the message seems to be that if you treat your bulimia, you can lose weight (which may happen), not that if you treat your eating disorder, you’ll improve your physical and psychological health and be a better person because of it. Ms. McPhee is a role model for girls and women around this country and, likely, beyond. Recovering from an illness and promoting self-acceptance at any weight would make her the greatest idol, yet.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Nestle and Jenny Craig: A Match Made in Heaven

If you haven’t yet heard, Nestle recently purchased Jenny Craig Inc. to the tune of $600 million (no, this is not a joke). What a perfect time for a post on what I call the “diet-world dichotomies.” We’re all familiar with the edible incarnations of good versus evil (carrot good, ice cream bad), on-plan versus off-plan (Monday versus weekends), and a host of other black-and-white depictions that define the diet world.

But, each extreme occurs only in relation to the other—diet Monday occurs after overeating weekend. Overeating weekend follows diet week. I’m reminded of one of main tenets espoused by Geneen Roth: “For every diet, there is an equal and opposite binge.” Call it Newton’s fourth law of (e)motion. It’s a cycle that fuels itself.

To add a psychological touch to this concept, I believe we are always acting out some part of the impulsive-compulsive spectrum. When we’re impulsive, we overeat, and when we’re compulsive, we restrict. As with most things, freedom from the struggle lies with moderation, a concept which Nestle will likely overlook.. It’s as if their marketing team will now cheer on your chocolate consumption, “More, more, more. . . oops, too much. . . go to Jenny Craig!” And, when you tire of/fail at Jenny Craig, which you inevitably will, there's a road paved with chocolate just ahead.

It’s an age-old battle:

Impulsive vs. compulsive
Id vs. superego
Jean Valjean vs. Inspector Javert

And, in its latest acquisition, Nestle has purchased the rights to the impulsive-compulsive spectrum. It has, as assets, the entire continuum of human behavior, related to food. Not bad for 600 million.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Less Than a Forkful

In US Weekly’s (via Life & Style) “How She Got So Thin” feature, describing Mariah Carey’s recent 32-pound weight-loss, staff writers encourage us to “Steal Mariah’s Mini-meal Menu.”

Mini-meals sound like a wonderful idea, unless, or course, they’re got the Carey spin: “I kind of invented it. . . . Basically you can have a tiny bit of everything you want—but it has to be less than a forkful.”

Less than a forkful?

I’m not going to steal her mini-meals. I’m going to steal her a plate, so that along with her fork, she can eat a decent-sized portion like the rest of us.

In all seriousness, my concern is that tips like this encourage disordered eating. Eating less than a forkful is a restrictive, compulsive way of enjoying one’s food. What starts out as a “diet secret” can easily morph into an eating disorder, as most e.d. sufferers will tell you. Typically, a disorder does not spring from out of the blue, but often results from a slow, insidious process that began with an “innocent” diet. Many eating disorder stories begin with some variation of, “I went on my first diet at nine years old.” Beginning with a diet that encourages eating less than a forkful of food is one sure way to hasten this process.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Hunger Pains

Ever think about your first thought following a hunger pang?

I can’t be hungry—I just ate.
I shouldn’t have any more calories today.

How about your first feeling?


I invite you to experiment with honoring your hunger. This is your body working as it was designed to do, and this is you, receiving a message.

I may have eaten recently, but I guess I could use something else.
Rather than counting calories, I’m going to try to attend to my body’s signals and have that be my eating guide.

It’s likely that you’ll eat more frequently throughout the day. It’s also likely that you’ll begin to eat less on each occasion. Because, with each “woo-hoo” experience, you’re learning to respect your hunger, which teaches you, among other things, how to respect your satiety.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Is Mother Nature Single Because She's Fat?

Not too long ago, Kirstie Alley signed on as the promotional spokesperson for Jenny Craig. I realize that I did not approach this ad campaign (and Ms. Alley’s involvement) with the greatest objectivity. Years ago, I remember reading that, as a Scientologist, Ms. Alley marched on Capitol Hill in protest of psychiatric medication. While I don’t prescribe medication and realize that everyone is entitled to her own opinion about its use, it worried me to think that people who might benefit from (or require) psychotropic medication might be swayed by Ms. Alley’s congressional protest.

Recently, her Jenny Craig commercial promotion features her slimmed down, dancing to the song, “It’s Raining Men.” The connotation here is simple—lose weight and attract men. A visit to the Jenny Craig corporate web site revealed:

The new campaign, which will launch nationally on December 26, 2005, continues to focus on Ms. Alley’s increased energy, Jenny Craig’s personalized program, and the wide variety of foods offered by Jenny Craig. The first commercial includes a splashy, music video-type dance production, in which Ms. Alley realizes her oft-expressed desire that her weight loss — and the associated boost in her self-confidence — will enhance her appeal to the opposite sex. She discovers that she’s not only finding men, but that “It’s Raining Men”! The ad concludes with a fanciful double somersault, a special effect that captures Ms. Alley’s new spirit.

I was wondering exactly how they might capture Kirstie’s “new spirit”—a double somersault! Of course!

It is possible that someone who loses 60-plus pounds may attract more male attention. It is also possible that a boost in self-confidence might be perceived as more attractive. But, of concern is the direct correlation posited here and the frightening alternative, which suggests that if you don’t lose weight (or you’re not thin enough), you won’t find love. It’s a message that, perhaps, as a consumer with an analytical eye, you can dispel and attempt to discard. But, imagine a little girl watching the same commercial—can she do the same? Or, will she internalize the concept that her weight will forever determine her plight with men?

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Did You Gain Weight, or Are You Just Pregnant?

(Murphy's and Aniston's "pregnancy" photos)

I’m pregnant.

So, apparently, are all of you.

It seems that celebrity gossip columnists are perennially on the lookout for stars with a bump. In this usage, a “bump” constitutes any abdomen that is not concave in form. The latest victims? Jennifer Aniston and Brittany Murphy. File this under reasons to be grateful you’re not a celebrity. True, bump sightings sometimes result in real-life embryos, but in their zeal to predict celebrity reproduction, reporters often jump the gun, creating a baby out of a hearty meal, a form-fitting dress, or, heavens forbid, some additional weight.

It reminds me of last year, when Sandra Bullock responded to a reporter’s query about a possible pregnancy: “It’s called weight gain.” I just loved her “get over it” response.

It’s funny how (in real life) social graces encourage us to avoid the pregnancy question like the plague. Nothing could be worse than identifying a false positive. I remember visiting my veterinarian one day, thinking she was pregnant, but being too afraid to ask (for the slight chance she wasn’t). Finally, my curiosity got the best of me. She was eight months in. I think we’ll know our culture’s settled into a healthy place regarding weight and shape when we’re able to ask the pregnancy question as easily as any other—did you cut your hair? Were you out in the sun?—because the potential connotation of weight gain won’t be the dagger it is today.

Congratulations to all of you—I’m having, as you can probably guess from the size of my bump, twins.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Another Beeping Rewrite

Conversation #2:

(overheard on a street in Manhattan between a little girl, maybe 5- or 6-years-old, and her father)

“Daddy, I’m hungry.”

“Well, that’s a shame, since you had ample opportunity to eat earlier.”

The rewrite of Dad’s response:

“I’m sorry I couldn’t design an eating environment in sync with your internal signals. I recognize, though, that hunger (especially at your age, when emotional eating hasn’t had much time to develop) is largely a biological process and that, often, your hunger will not coincide with the meals we, as your parents, provide. It’s important, though, to continue to honor your hunger (lest you develop an eating disorder later on), and for this reason, I think we should get you something to eat (we’re on the streets of Manhattan—this can’t be too difficult a task). Looking ahead, I’ll make a note to always bring snacks along so that you don’t feel so hungry again. In the future, I promise to validate your experiences (both physiological and emotional) and to avoid use of such erudite phrases as “ample opportunity” until you’re at least nine or ten.”

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


It’s amazing to me how frequently conversations about food and weight occur. Admittedly, I am more attuned to such talk nowadays, but I can barely get through a day without hearing women talk about what they should (not) be eating and how fat they feel.

I’m reminded of a roommate in college who studied education. As such, she was particularly sensitive to casual use of the word “retarded,” since to her, this was a psycho-educational designation, not a word to throw around when you meant “stupid” or “silly.” Every time someone slipped and used the r-word, (i.e., “That guy I met the other night was so retarded!”), she’d interrupt with a loud, “Beep!” It wasn’t long before I became conditioned and began to censor myself. In graduate school, as the professor of my psychopathology class discussed diagnostic criteria for mental retardation, all I could think of was, “Beep!”

I’m contemplating beeping conversations about food and body image, but I fear I’ll sound like a semi truck in reverse.

Recently, while standing in a restaurant entrance waiting for my party to join me for dinner one night, I overheard two women participate in the following exchange:

“Can we get spinach dip?”

“Yes! I’ve been really good lately.”

Instead of beeping these women, I immediately began to rewrite the dialogue:

“I’m in the mood for spinach dip. I realize I don’t need your permission to order some, but I’m wondering if you’d care to share it with me?”

“Sure! I’d love to. I’m aware that food choices really aren’t ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and that too often, intake is confused with morality. In addition, I’m in the mood for the dip not because I’ve been restricting and now feel deserving and not because I’ve been restricting and now feel rebellious, but because I’m simply in the mood for spinach dip.”

There. Much better.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Stages of Change

Prochaska & DiClemente’s (1983) Transtheoretical Model of Change proposes a theoretically rich sequence of stages involved in the process of behavioral change. In laymen’s terms, it’s a model that helps us understand how people make changes in their lives. The model predicts that there are five stages that people typically pass through:

1) Pre-contemplation: You have no intention of making a change, at least in the next six months or so.
2) Contemplation: You’re planning on making a change, sometime within the next six months. (Ready!)
3) Preparation: You’re going to make the change soon, sometime within in the next month. (Set!)
4) Action: You make the change. (Go!)
5) Maintenance: You continue to work on new behaviors and try to guard against relapse.

It’s a model that’s usually used when discussing health behaviors—getting rid of negative behaviors (cigarette smoking, alcohol/drug use) and integrating positive ones (exercising, using sunscreen). I think that we can easily apply this to our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors related to food and our bodies.

-Thinking about addressing your food restriction/obsession/compulsion?
-Willing to love yourself with 10, 20, etc. extra pounds?
-Do you want to give up the idea of dieting?
-Would you like to return food to its natural role (as sustenance) and remove its powers to alternately calm you down and stir up anxiety?
-Are you ready to accept your body the way it is right now?

Where are you?

And, what allows you to prepare for action? In my experience, it’s being fed up (no pun intended) with the alternative—thinking about food/what you’ll eat/your weight uncontrollably, compulsively eating/exercising/weighing yourself, and generally despising your body and yourself.

In a body image workshop I led a couple of years ago, one participant spoke about her self-hatred as a painful, but necessary process. She alluded to the fact that if she were to stop hating herself, she’d let herself go and, consequently, gain weight. The potential illogic of her argument aside, it was clear that in her case, her self-hatred was not as painful as the possibility of gaining some weight. When it does become painful, when it becomes absolutely unbearable, and when you realize that there’s so much more to you than what you eat and what you weigh, you might be ready to move.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Too Big to Be a Housewife

Former ER star, Alex Kingston, recently reported that she auditioned for the part of Desperate Housewives’, Lynette Scavo, but was rejected due to her size. Kingston revealed to the London Evening Standard: “I didn't get the part, and I know why: irrespective of acting ability, I'm just way too big.” Kingston goes on to say, “It drives me crazy; it's encouraging women to feel guilty about not looking like that.”

So, instead, the show selected Felicity Huffman, a talented actress, who, with a self-reported history of bulimia, more aptly fit the bill. This is, after all, an ensemble where Nicolette Sheridan might, bizarrely enough, be known as “The Fat One” and where Teri Hatcher’s gaunt-looking frame is camouflaged perfectly on Wisteria Lane.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

No Really, Do I?

Do I look fat in this? It’s one of the oldest questions in the book. It also, now, happens to be a book, penned by Jessica Weiner, whom I met at a conference several months ago.

As most recipients of this question can attest, there’s really no right answer. As a woman, what answer do you want to hear?

“No, you look fine.”

“Well, it’s not your most flattering outfit.”

Honesty or diplomacy? Fact or tact?

A social psychology theory, self-verification theory, gives us a hint. It posits that we actively seek out information consistent with our self-concept, the ideas we already have about ourselves. It explains why we might want “the truth” (according to us), even if it hurts. Incidentally, the theory also provides insight into self-mutilation, remaining with an abusive partner, and Stockholm syndrome.

We’re looking for confirmation, not affirmation.

If I believe I look fat, I urge you to join me, to see me how I do.

I’d rather feel right than good.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

A Call to Arms

Around the time of Katie Couric’s departure from The Today Show, a disc jockey at NYC’s 92.3 FM spoke about the famous co-host, making repeated mention of Couric’s “fat arms.”

I’d imagine that as broadcast journalists, DJs would admire Couric’s assent to the pinnacle of her field. For the first time in American history, a woman is poised to become the solo anchor of a primetime news program, and we’re talking about her body, or rather, the one thing that’s (arguably) wrong with her body.

Maybe you don’t like her interviewing style. Maybe you disagree with her politics. Maybe you think she’s just not that entertaining. Feel free to comment on any of these. But, please, leave her arms alone.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Feast or Famine?

Meet Callie, my canine love.

You could learn a lot from a dog about eating and appetite.

Well, not my dog. As many of you dog lovers know, you have a choice when it comes to feeding your pooch—you can go with regular meals or allow the dog to free feed, meaning she has constant access to food.

Callie’s on a meal plan—she eats two meals a day. She’s a healthy weight, but outside of mealtime, you’d think she was slowly starving to death. Luckily for her, the sidewalks of Manhattan provide ample opportunity for her to indulge her cravings. Despite my best efforts at leash control, Callie has dined on pizza, soft pretzels, French bread, and, on occasion, a whole chicken discarded outside a restaurant. She’ll even, outside the local bars, mop up vomit from the night before. I know, I must be so proud. . . .

If Callie were to free feed (and, at this point it may be too late, and I’m not really trying to cure her of an eating disorder), her food dish would remain full, and she’d graze throughout the day—a bite here, a nibble there, maybe even a full meal in the morning or after some rigorous play. Because the food would always be available, she wouldn’t feel the need to so desperately scavenge the sidewalk gutters. She’d follow her appetite, instead of relying on the external cues of mealtimes. She’d likely be less anxious and obsessive around food.

As a human, you may restrict your intake to designated mealtimes, and to certain foods at that (the hallmark of the diet). As a result, cravings develop and bingeing becomes your way of guaranteeing satisfaction within the realm of these restrictions. If you’re to remove the restrictions and free feed, the likelihood is (after some adjustment time), you’ll learn to follow your appetite, eat when you are hungry, and stop when you are full. . . because you’ll know that the food will always be there, and you won’t have to scramble on the sidewalk to retrieve it.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Weighing In: My Lunchtime Field Trip to a Weight Watchers Meeting

As some of you know, I’m a big proponent of the anti-diet movement. Weight Watchers, as flexible as the plan may be, still, in my mind, constitutes a diet. Before issuing my official stance on WW, however, I decided to attend a meeting.

A little bit of background: I was first introduced to WW through clients who’ve enrolled throughout the years. About five years ago, a client described her adherence to a WW food plan, as I listened intently:

“I get 24 points a day.”

“How many points are in a slice of pizza?” I asked, thinking of the smaller size slices typical of Domino’s, or Papa John’s, that I regularly enjoyed.


“Oh. . . So, what if you happen to have three slices of pizza for lunch?”

“That’s it.”

“You can’t eat the rest of the day?”

“Not technically.”

I began to think about the program’s restrictions and its tendency to promote alternate episodes of bingeing and fasting. Personally, I like to conceptualize what I eat as food, not points, and I can’t bear the possibility of restrictions. I’m the kind of person who, when visiting some friends in Ventura, CA and learning that there were no public bathrooms (I’m still perplexed!) immediately had to pee. Tell me not to eat, and you’d better clear the trajectory between the bag of Twizzlers and my mouth.

Nevertheless, I didn’t pursue a research degree for nothing, so it was only fair to gather some background data before I published my conclusions. This is how I ended up at a Manhattan WW meeting last week.

Just before noon, I entered the building and climbed the steps to the second floor, which opened to the meeting itself. The first thing I saw? The scales. (Cue the score to Jaws.) As those of you who know me are aware, I don’t believe in scales.

I completed a registration form and took my place on line. The card asked for my address. In anticipation of the upcoming, frequent mailings, I wondered, “What will the mailman think?” For the record, I’ve never before pondered the intricacies of my mail carrier’s mind. The form also inquired about any “disability” I might have that would require special consideration. I thought about the scales that lined the reception area. Yes, in fact, I have a condition that requires people to treat me with dignity and respect. It’s quite disabling. I also had to sign a waiver of damages, indicating that I would not hold WW responsible for any adverse health consequences. What, exactly, were they planning to do to me?

At the front of the line, I greeted the lady behind the counter, handed her my card, and stated that I was here to try out a meeting.

“$13, please.”

“Oh, I thought the first meeting was free.”

“No, it’s $13.”

“But, on the web site, it said the first meeting was free.”

“I’m not sure where you saw that.”

Probably on the specific web page entitled, “Visit a Weight Watchers Meeting for Free!” (See for yourself:

I scrounged through my bag for $13 and handed it to her, intent on not causing a scene, in a place where I’m already. . . out-of-place.

“How tall are you,” she asked.


“Ok, now, put down your bag, take off your shoes, and step on the scale.”

“Oh, I really don’t want to be weighed.” (part defiance, part personal philosophy)

“You have to be weighed. You don’t have to look, and I won’t tell you, but you have to be weighed in order to register.”

“Oh, you see, I don’t want to register. I just want to try out a meeting.”

She threw my $13 on the counter and said, “See me at the end if you’re interested in joining.”

Not off to such a good start.

I take a seat and survey the room. I notice a man from my gym. Terrific. What catches my attention is the preponderance of already-thin women. I wonder if they’re WW success stories, or if they’re just starting out, New York City’s take on “overweight.” Diaries, food planners, and boxes of Pretzel Thins, Smoothies, and Mini-Bars line the shelves that occupy the room’s perimeter. An older woman seated in front of me has a banana and a Diet Coke. (Lunch?) I later learn she’s been on the program for 40 years. 40 years?! I debate whether I’d rather go to WW or wander the desert for 40 years.

The meeting is facilitated by a woman I’ll call “Marilyn.” She’s 60-ish, and I believe she’s had work done on her face. Marilyn begins the discussion by focusing on “lapses,” when WW members fall off the wagon and eat in excess of their points. She mentions the tendency to overeat once you’ve already lapsed, rationalizing, “I’ll never be thin, anyway.” Her analysis is consistent with a cognitive therapy approach and focuses on the thought distortion known as “black-and-white” thinking. Nice work, Marilyn.

Marilyn continues by querying why a lapse occurs. People volunteer: stress, illness, missing meetings, attending dinner parties/special events. As solutions, members reiterate their commitment to plan their meals, come to meetings, and use their extra points. Marilyn also asks the group about their “last-straw incident,” the final push that brought them to WW (e.g., seeing themselves in a photo, doctor’s advice). She transitions to other ways people might handle their emotions, rather than reaching for food. Members offer: exercise, reading, talking to a friend. Here, Marilyn focuses on enhancing coping resources and self-soothing techniques. Not bad. Later on, she returns to the experience of emotions and, capturing the omnipresent legitimacy of what you feel, states, “You can’t take a feeling away from somebody.” That’s right.

Throughout the meeting, various members share their stories. Following one, Marilyn praises, “That’s a little bravo!” She hands out stickers as positive reinforcement. I suppose candy is out of the question. I don’t know what the stickers said. I didn’t get one.

It seems that in order to qualify for what’s called “lifetime membership,” you’re supposed to weigh below a certain amount. Marilyn points out that if there’s a bona fide reason you’re unable to attain this goal, “You can get a doctor’s note and Weight Watchers will accept that.” At one point, Marilyn notes, “Having a plan like this makes you feel happy.” I can understand secure, hopeful, in control, but I’m not sure I get “happy.”

Inadvertently, I learn a little bit about the food plan. It seems that, daily, you’re allowed two milks, two teaspoons of oil, five fruits, unlimited vegetables (mostly), a limited amount of grains and proteins at every meal, and “3-4 points a day for goodies.” I learn how to use “pointing” as a verb and that it has nothing to do with my index finger.

One woman reveals that following a meeting last week, she left and “immediately went out” and “was bad.” To me, there’s no such thing as “bad,” unless you’re hurting someone else, and it’s frustrating how commonly morality’s intertwined with food. I can, however, understand the need to rebel, particularly following a weigh-in (with consequent shame) and a discussion on restriction.

Marilyn closes the meeting by offering, “Think where you don’t want to be again and where you want to go.”

My answers arrive without pause (“here” and “home”), though, surprisingly, I’m not opposed to the program in its entirety. It seems to offer a bare bones approach to healthy eating, provides social support, incorporates a number of sound psychological principles, and is less restrictive than most diets I know. Still, it is a diet, forces (I believe) a fixation on counting and planning, and in its (even flexible) restrictions, can’t help but arouse rebellion—I’m not surprised when I hear how various members have yo-yoed as a result. Oh, and the scales? They really gotta go. . . .

Friday, June 02, 2006

Speaking of Celebrities. . .

As I was reading up on Jamie-Lynn Sigler, I came across this site:

Holding onto an Eating Disorder

One of the things that separates eating disorders from other diagnostic categories is their relative allure--while depression, anxiety, and psychosis, for example, are typically painful, intolerable states, driving people into treatment rather willingly, many who have eating problems are reluctant to seek help. If a friend had entered a depressive episode, I'd have no problem discussing it with her, recommending treatment, etc. It's a little bit different with an eating disorder. I'd probably dance around the topic (yes, this has happened several times before, particularly during my college days, when I first became exposed to the ubiquity of eating disorders), fear that the conversation might jeopardize our friendship, and proceed with calculated caution.

Eating disorders (and, by this, I mean, the clincal conditions of anorexia and bulimia, as well as the omnipresent sub-clinical manifestations of food/weight fixation. . . which, may also meet criteria for other diagnoses, such as Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified and Body Dysmorphic Disorder), in this way, look more like alcoholism and substance abuse, than other mental illnesses. Efforts at confrontation are often dismissed or met with failure.

So, why would a woman be so consumed with holding onto her eating disorder? Surely, having an eating problem is not a comfortable way of being in the world. (For just how uncomfortable anorexia can be, read Marya Hornbacher's, Wasted. The author, through her personal memoir, rips every little last ounce of glamour from an eating disorder and hangs it out to dry.)

What comes to mind is the psychological distinction between ego-syntonic versus ego-dystonic conditions. An ego-syntonic disorder is viewed as somehow acceptable and compatible with one's overall self-concept. Ego-dystonic conditions, on the other hand, are behavioral constellations that are inconsistent with your general views about yourself.

Despite the intense pain, secrecy, and obessive quality associated with an eating problem, it's basically ego-syntonic, consistent with a self-image that is negative, punishing, and often quite empty. While treating the eating problem on its own likely will not be met with success, addressing self-esteem concerns may allow a woman to arrive at a place where her eating disorder becomes obsolete.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


In The Body Image Workbook: An 8-Step Program for Learning to Like Your Looks, Thomas Cash discusses 10 arguable "appearance assumptions" that lead to problems with body image:

1) Physically attractive people have it all.
2) The first thing that people will notice about me is what's wrong with my appearance.
3) One's outward physical appearance is a sign of the inner person.
4) If I could look just as I wish, my life would be much happier.
5) If people knew how I really look, they would like me less.
6) By controlling my appearance, I can control my social and emotional life.
7) My appearance is responsible for much of what has happened to me in my life.
8) I should always do whatever I can to look my best.
9) The media's messages makes it impossible for me to satisfied with my appearance.
10)The only way I could ever like my looks would be to change them.

How many of these statements do you endorse?

With the help of Dr. Cash, I'm available to argue them all, but for now, I'd like to focus on #s 9 and 10. I've been writing a lot lately about the media's messages and how they affect how we feel about ourselves. I think #9 is partially true, but the sticking point is the word "impossible." Difficult? Frustrating? Hard to master? YES! But, it's not impossible. Mastering #9 ultimately requires a shift from desire (to emulate Hollywood) to anger (about the unnatural portrayal of women's bodies in the media). It starts with awareness, questioning, and a healthy dose of outrage.

With regard to #10, I flash back to another therapist's question I heard years ago. If you're dissatisfied with your body, which would be easier--to lose weight or to work on your dissatisfaction? Well, clearly, if the first option were easy, you would have done it already. The second, too, may seem impossible (and likely, undesirable), from where you are. But, this is it. These are your two options.

One will last you in the long-run. One will help you pass on body-positive images to your children. One will move you from a place of self-hatred, anger, and depression, to a warmer, happier place. One will not.

Letter from a Fan

Dear E! Entertainment Television,

I've watched The Girls Next Door.

I've watched The Gastineau Girls.

I even watched (readers, please feel free to click the "next blog" icon at the top of your browser now). . . Taradise.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I'm a loyal viewer, and I'm hoping you'll give this some thought. 101 Celebrity Slimdowns--professionally, I have some doubts, but as a consumer, I get it. We love to see how stars got skinny, the before-and-after shots, the glamour of it all. It's entertaining. It's good television.

Sure, we might quibble over some finer points (like how thin Jennifer Aniston should be), but I'm willing to choose my battles. I'll even let the comedienne's bulimia joke fly. That's the kind of loving fan I am.

But. . .

Could you please remove Jamie-Lynn Sigler from the list?

Ms. Sigler (#50 on your list) has publicly admitted she suffered from an eating disorder. In fact, she's now a spokesperson for the National Eating Disorders Association and doing her best to help others in a similar place.

The other celebrities on your countdown? Sure, they, too, might have their own eating disorders. But, that's ultimately speculation. This is not.

Please do not celebrate the mental illness of a star.