Wednesday, January 22, 2014

I Feel Fat! - Making Peace With Your Body

I Feel Fat! - Making Peace With Your Body
Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC

“It just hits me out of the blue.  I start to feel fat and then I notice how much my stomach sticks out.  I’m so disgusted with my body, and I’m sure everyone feels it too.  It’s all I can think about.”

“As young as I can remember I’ve always felt too big.  My mom used to yell at me, and I would eat and feel fat.”
It doesn’t matter what size a woman wears, what she looks like, or how much she weighs, it is very difficult in our appearance-focused society with its size 0 actresses and daily changes in diet “rules” for a woman to be satisfied with her body.  Recently when reading a professional research study, I was appalled to hear that women were eliminated from the control group if they liked their bodies because having some degree of dissatisfaction with one’s appearance is considered the “norm”.  Think about it.  When women get together, where does the conversation inevitably turn?  To body dissatisfaction and diets.  Its been called “Anorexic Bonding” of women.

In order to give up an eating disorder and become a “normal eater” again, women must give up weight loss as a goal.  But it’s hard to give up weight loss when you have negative feelings about your body.  Usually, negative feelings about our bodies were the first symptom of our eating disorders.  Think back, why did you start your first diet?  Because you felt fat or too big.  And I hate to be the bearer of bad news, it’s often the last symptom to go.

When my clients say to me “I feel fat”, I remind them that “fat” is not an emotion. Feeling fat is almost always a bodily sensation of a displaced or unidentified emotion. Often women who have eating disorders are not aware of what they are feeling, and focusing their attention on their body gives an illusion of control.

As Jane Hirschman and Carol Munter point out in their books Overcoming Overeating and When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies, “Bad body thoughts are never, ever about your body...But the thing about a bad body thought is that it includes believing that it’s about your body. ” If you do not feel good about your body it is always about something else in your life.  If we listen to what we say about our bodies we get clues about what else needs our attention.

We’ll look at “Vanessa” for an example.  Let’s say in the middle of a particularly hectic weekday morning after she lost her keys, was late for an appointment, and just received a second notice on a bill she forgot to pay, Vanessa starts to “feel fat”. “My stomach is disgusting!  My abs are so flabby!”  So Vanessa goes to the health club and does a million sit-ups and works out on the ab-cruncher for a half hour.  Sweating and exhausted, she leaves, only to find that she has to return home because she left her briefcase in the kitchen.

The next day, Vanessa realizes that she never got around to returning those phone calls, and rather than doing the bookkeeping and billing, feeling totally out of control, she decides that her abs need another workout.
On the third day, she’s feeling flabbier than ever when she looks at the stacks of paper on her desk. She thinks to herself, “I’ll do it when I get back from the health club”. But day after day she continues to feel powerless against these “flabby feelings”.

As you can guess from this very simple example, when we focus solely on our body, the real issues which cause us to feel a certain way never get addressed.  We need to listen to the words we use to describe our body and ask ourselves, “If this isn’t about my body, what in my life feels flabby?”  In this example, Vanessa’s paperwork and bookkeeping are flabby.  Until she works on the underlying issues (in this case organizing her paperwork, and taking a mindful moment each day to make sure she has everything she needs before leaving home) Vanessa will continue to “feel flabby”.  If she makes steps to resolve the underlying issues, her life will change and she will grow, feeling more empowered with each change.

Now, I have nothing against working out. I believe in keeping our bodies healthy, and moving our bodies in enjoyable ways.  And if our bodies truly are asking for healthy movement, it is perfectly OK to heed that call. But when we go to the health club looking for something else, we are looking in the wrong place.  Linda Harper wrote about this in her book The Tao of Eating.  She advocates asking our soul what it is looking for when we want to engage in our eating disordered activities.  In the example above, maybe Vanessa’s soul was looking for a sense of control over her life and mistakenly thought that working out would give her that control. Maybe she was looking for a way to “work out” her frustrations caused by her disorganization.

Sometimes these feelings are deeply ingrained from messages we received almost all our lives, from when we were children.  Many of my clients have what I call a “zesty spunk” that I find enjoyable and very endearing.  But many of them, myself included, were given messages that in order to be loved and loveable, they needed to be different.  They were “too much, too loud, too big!”  As adults, we still translate these messages onto our bodies.  In Rebecca Wells book Divine Secrets of the YA YA Sisterhood, there’s a great example of this:

“Do I look too fat?” Vivi asked.

Sidda could not count the number of times her mother had asked her that question. Now, for the first time, she thought she heard what her mother was really asking: Is there too much of me? Do I need to trim myself back for you?

“No Mama,” Sidda said, “you don’t look fat. There is just enough of you. Not too little. Not too much. In fact, you look exactly right.”…..

….The next time you “feel fat” try asking yourself, “If this isn’t about my body what in my life feels like it needs changing. What is my soul asking for?” That is where you will find your answer.

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