Thursday, March 28, 2013

Bad Body Thoughts

Bad Body Thoughts 
Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC

“It just hits me out of the blue. I start to feel fat and disgusting and then 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 go eat cookies and feel fat.”
In order to give up an eating disorder and become a “normal eater” again, women must give up weight loss as a goal. But its hard to give up weight loss when you have negative feelings about your body. Often 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.
In our society, with its size 0 supermodels, it is very hard not to have negative body image. In fact having some degree of dissatisfaction with one’s appearance is considered the “norm”. When women get together, where does the conversation inevitably turn? body dissatisfaction and diets. Its been called “Anorexic Bonding” of women.
When my clients say to me “I feel fat”, I remind them that “fat” is not a 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 our attention on our 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.
For example: Let’s say that I’m a 40ish professional woman with two children and a bourgeoning business to run. (Hmmmmm, sounds familiar.) In the middle of a particularly hectic weekday morning after I’ve lost my keys, was late for an appointment, and just received a second notice on a bill I forgot to pay, I start to “feel fat”. “My abs are flabby!”, I think to myself. So I go to the health club and do a million sit-ups and workout on the abcruncher for a half hour. Sweating and exhausted, I leave, only to find that I have to return home because I left my briefcase in the kitchen and forgot to pack myself a lunch for work.
The next day, I realize that I never got around to returning those phone calls, and rather than doing the bookkeeping and billing, I decide that my flabby abs need another workout.
On the third day, I’m feeling flabbier than ever when I look at the stacks of paper on my desk. I think to myself, “I’ll do it when I get back from the health club”. But day after day I will continue to feel powerless against these “flabby feelings”.
As you can guess from my 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, my paperwork and bookkeeping are flabby. If I work on organizing my paperwork, scheduling a bookkeeping system, become disciplined to return phone calls promptly, and take a mindful moment each day to make sure I have everything I need before leaving home, my life will not “feel so flabby”. My life will change and I will grow, feeling more empowered with each change.
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.”
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 my example above, maybe my soul was looking for a sense of control over my life and mistakenly thought that working out my abs would give me that control. Maybe I was looking for a way to “work out” my frustrations caused by my disorganization.
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.
I am currently working on a book about recovery, eating disorders and body image. In this book I will use anecdotes from women in various stages of the recovery process. As I write the book, I will ask a question at the end of my newsletter articles which you may respond to. This issue’s question: When was the first time you felt dissatisfied with your body? When you were growing up what messages did you receive (verbally or nonverbally) about your body? What happens in your current life that makes you feel that body dissatisfaction all over again?