Body Image and Men:The Man on the Chicken Diet

 

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(NOTE:  All characters in this blog and book are fictitious. )

I wasn’t sure I had heard him right.  A physician came into counseling to get help with anxiety and depression, and told me during one of our first sessions that he was going on a chicken diet.

“A chicken diet?”  I asked.

“Yeah.  I think chicken is the perfect food, in lots of ways.  If I eat mostly chicken and drink water, then I can lose some of this.”  He grabbed a glob of excess fat around his belly.  Although he could afford to lose a few pounds, Ben definitely was not obese.  He looked as though he had once been athletic, and wore a crisp blue shirt that brought attention to his blue eyes.  Crossing his legs, Ben  placed a few stray strands of his dark hair behind his ear.

I asked if he was kidding or not.  I had taken a number of nutrition classes in college, and this chicken and water diet did not sound balanced, especially for a physician.  Maybe there was more to it.

“Nope.  I’ve already done a lot of research on it, and I know I can get down to my goal in two months at the normal recommended 2 pounds a week pace.   I’ll have chicken for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and I’ll drop the weight like a woman with PMS drops her boyfriends.”  We both laughed.

“So you’ll have chicken shakes for breakfast, baked chicken nuggets for lunch, and a slab of chicken breast for dinner?”  I smiled, thankful it was not me that would be on the chicken diet.  I like chicken, but just can’t imagine eating it all by itself for even one day, let alone three months.  Chocolate – sure. But chicken?  Never.

Ben started to unknowingly pick up and set down his empty Starbucks cup repeatedly, so I could tell he was anxious.  Even though he probably felt nervous because he had never been to counseling before, he seemed especially anxious talking about his magical chicken diet because he knew I would have questions.  And of course he was right.

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“It’s gonna be so great – I’ll drop that extra weight, and then I can wear cool, manly clothes.  Then the women will be really into me.”  He smiled and looked out the window as though he had found the answer to all of life’s problems. The Great Fix.  The Magical Cure.

“So then you’ll have the perfect life, huh?”  I asked.  I had heard different versions of this magical thinking many times before.  Countless women in their twenties and thirties – and sometimes women in their forties and fifties – told me that when they got “skinny,” they would start to buy cute clothes.

I usually asked them why they wouldn’t buy cute clothes until they were skinny, but they usually scrunched up their noses and thought it was absurd.  In fact, many people use the word “skinny” as a magical word.  They get so excited about their little pet word, their mouths automatically form into broad smiles when saying it.

Once they are “skinny,” their lives will suddenly become supremely enjoyable, but not one minute before.   They realize cute clothes are available in larger sizes now, but they have no interest in spending money on them until they were – drum roll please – skinny.

The magical thinking never stops.  Once they get skinny, they can get a fun wardrobe.  Then guys will want to date them, and that will help them to get a boyfriend.  Not just any boyfriend, but a perfect- or almost perfect boyfriend, which would open the golden door to the Perfect Life.

Once the door opened, they got the successful and cute boyfriend, then had the perfect wedding, and then bought a beautiful home.  Finally they had children, and as long as they stay skinny, their lives will be flawless, dreamy, and perfect.  Because of course their marriages and children would be perfect!

Magical thinking comes in many different flavors:  Once I get a college degree, life will be perfect.  Or once I get married, life will be perfect.  Or once I have a house or a larger house, life will be perfect.

Or a very popular version:  Once I move to _______, life will be perfect.  The interesting part of the last one is that if the person lives in the Pacific Northwest, they want to move to Hawaii or somewhere warm.

(Yet the same people would often complain like men with their wives at the mall if the weather got too hot in the summer for them.)  If the person lives in Hawaii, he believes that moving to the Mainland will be the answer to life’s problems. 

When I lived in southern California and people found out I was originally from Washington state, they often said, “Why would you ever leave such a beautiful state?”

Because of the popularity of the statement, “If I move to ______, life will be perfect (or much improved),” many 12-step recovery programs call it “the geographical cure” as a sarcastic joke.   This kind of thinking is labeled as another type of “stinkin’ thinkin’ “.

Often people think that if they get their child or spouse to move to _____ to “get a fresh start,” they are going to be different and make better choices.  But it almost never works because everywhere you go, there you are. 

That means you will still have your personality, your likes, dislikes, and your style of relating (personality).  We will continue to attract the same kinds of people for friends and romantic interests unless we change.

So once again I found myself talking to a man with a mission to change his whole world – this time through the chicken diet.  That was definitely one I had not heard of.  “Will you eat anything besides chicken, or just chicken?”  I asked.

He bent his elbow, locked his hands, and placed them in back of his head, which often happens when men (and sometimes women) are feeling out of control. “Well, I’ll eat mostly chicken, and take a supplement liquid diet to get some more nutrients, with maybe a salad or piece of fruit once in a while.”

He began to lightly bounce his leg, which told me he was quite anxious.  Ben felt uncomfortable talking about this because he probably was beginning to wonder if the chicken diet really would make his life a trip to Disneyland.

“I want to lose weight fast so I can lose it all before summer.  Then I can get a gorgeous girlfriend and we can enjoy ourselves kayaking and hiking and stuff.  I mean she has to be smart too and funny and all, but anyway then I can have an awesome summer.”

“Do you think people usually keep weight off when they lose it quickly on a diet?”

He laughed, but it was a nervous laugh and not a funny laugh.  “Well, usually diets don’t work anyway.  But research shows that the slower you lose weight, the longer you usually keep it off.”

We both laughed because we realized that he was about to contradict his own beliefs by going on a diet.  And not just any diet – a chicken diet.

“So are you telling me that you don’t really believe in what you are about to do?” I asked.

He started to rub the part of the couch where his hand had been resting, which is another sign of anxiety.

“Yeah, I guess so.”  He looked at the floor and then out the window.

“When did you first start to gain weight?”  I asked.  The all-important question that most naturopaths, physicians, and nutritionists never ask.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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Body Image and the Perfect Size

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img_1771I finally began to understand that dieting becomes an undertow like the momentum of the ocean when it decides to roll out another glorious wave.  First it gets psyched up by gathering thousands of gallons of water.  Once it has collected bountiful rows of water, the wave curls upon itself and throws the water back to shore with magnificent power.

The same holds true with dieting.  You invest a great deal of time and energy into counting calories or carbohydrates and studying information about food.  On a Monday you start the diet that is going to make you “skinny” and have the perfect life.  So you pork out until you’ve almost outgrown all of your jeans because you’re a free woman or man until Monday.  Then on Monday your all-or-nothing thinking kicks into turbo mode and you have a “good” (perfect or close to perfect) dieting day.  You think you’re on your way to skinnihood, and you will have the perfect life because of your new skinny body.

But by Thursday or Friday, the cravings build up until you crave and eat everything not nailed down.  You pack your gut with all the foods you craved.  The binge is a violent experience in which you shove the food in like an abandoned dog that hasn’t eaten in a week.  You do this either alone or with one or more of your dieting buddies who have also bought into the cultural lie:  “If I am skinny, I will have the perfect life.”  Once again, you are scared that if you don’t stop this pattern, your weight will double and you will grow sad and lonely.

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And so you hop back on the diet train, but all you can think about is food and the tiny jeans you will buy.  Once again, your brain gets saturated with thoughts about food, fat, and rearends.   You go to stores, restaurants, your cupboards, and graze your way through Costco again and again until they figure out you’ve devoured all the samples and kick your rear end out.

Body Image and The Biggest Loser: Meet a Two Decade Loser!

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“Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I’ve done it thousands of times,” Mark Twain said. And I know this applies to weight loss. How many people have lost pounds upon pounds of weight only to gain it all back again? Usually they gain back even more. Many of them are career dieters who continue dieting again and again, always expecting different results. But research shows that almost never happens.

Most “dieters” are not dealing with the underlying current. That is, the reasons they became addicted to food in the first place. Most weight loss programs are focused only on the symptoms, and so they will not work over the long haul. So show me something different. Rather, show me someone different – someone who has lost the weight and kept it off for almost two decades. Show me Michael Prager, author of Fat Boy, Thin Man. Prager describes his food addiction, his love affair with food, and his profound and real recovery for almost twenty years.

Now that is certainly a story worth reading – almost twenty years of success. That is worthy of sharing because it gives true hope rather than false hope. That is certainly a future filled not with malt balls and cookie dough and a mountain of chips, but of pure, real, true 100% hope. That is a beautiful, glorious story and one to shout about from the top of the Space Needle to the Statue of Liberty.

I am in the process of reading Michael’s book, and am looking forward to crossing the life-changing finish line. If you or anyone you know struggles with obesity or emotional eating, Michael’s book is certainly worth a million times its weight in gold. So turn off “The Biggest Loser”, kick up your feet and delight yourself in a true story of success in the arena of long-term weight loss. Although I am not finished with the book yet, I know it will help anyone who struggles with binge eating disorder, compulsive overeating, and/or food addiction. Check out Michael’s book and blog at http://www.fatboythinman.com. It click could be the click that changed your life.

Male Body Image: The Man on the Chicken Diet, Part 2

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“When did you first start to gain weight?”  I asked.  The all-important question that most naturopaths, physicians, and nutritionists never ask.  (Note:  The same question must be asked if someone has issues with purging, bingeing, or over-exercising.)

“Hmmm…I think it was my second year of med school.  Before that I was pretty buff and worked out a lot.  I kept working out, but started packing on the pounds.

“So what happened in your life the second year of med school?”

“Oh, nothing really.  I mean it was brutal and agonizing, but nothing really happened that year.  I did well in all my classes, and had some good friends I hung out with.”

“So nothing else really happened that was significant?”  I wondered if maybe the stress had caused him to turn to food as his drug of choice, but my work is like detective work in that sometimes I have to dig hard for clues.  I got the feeling that something else of significance had happened during that time.

“Nope.  Everything stayed the same.  I mean, a girl dumped me for someone else, but we hadn’t really been together that long.”  People often drop bombs like this in therapy, not realizing the tremendous impact the bomb made on their lives.  Denial is definitely alive and well in America.

I sensed that he had cared deeply for her, even though the relationship had not lasted long.  “What was her name?”  I asked.

“Brenda,” he said, in a quiet voice that spoke volumes.

“What was she like?”  People often think that if they talk about painful situations, they will feel worse.  But usually the opposite is true.  Yet it is a tightrope because if they get overwhelmed, they may get flooded sort of like a car.  Then they can’t function.  But if they continue to stuff it, it is like trying to hold a beach ball underwater.  It’s only a matter of time before the pressure causes it to pop out of the water with a burst of power.  Stuffing, I tell my clients, is only for turkeys and teddy bears.  If we stuff our feelings, it leads to self-medication with excessive food, drugs, computer time, shopping, working out, alcohol, or even reading excessively as a form of escape.  (Not that books are bad, but using them – or TV or the computer – to avoid dealing with our feelings leads to trouble.)  We are created for relationship – with God and with people – and when our relationships crumble, our hearts radically shift into despair.  So living in community means that we share our stories of struggle and pain with safe people who will validate us and offer us hoope.

“She was really smart – another med student, actually.  And so pretty, but not in a model sort of way.   More of the natural, girl-next-door type.  She had this auburn hair that was curly, and she hated it.  But it’s one of the things that made her special.  And she had a laugh that you could hear from here to Singapore.”  He smiled quickly, then it vanished like a light switch that was flicked on for a millisecond.

“She sounds like an amazing woman,” I said.

He sighed, which I learned years ago usually means that something monumental is about to be said.  “Then she became lab partners with my roommate – the lab partners were assigned to us – and they gradually went from lab partners to life partners.”  He looked at the floor as though his eyes could bore a hole clear to China.

“Oh man, I am so sorry,” I said.  I could feel the tears welling up in my own heart and saw one of his flowing down his cheek.  We continued to talk gently about Brenda, and I acknowledged that it was very hard to do, but told him that he couldn’t get through it unless he was willing to go through the dark valley to get to the other side.

After a while I tried to lighten it up so he would not leave flooded and decide not  to come back.  “Hey, I have a question,”  I said.

“Oh brother – you always have a question, don’t you?”  We both laughed.

“What’s that?”  he asked.

“Well, you said you were pretty buff during that time in your life.  But even so, it didn’t get you the perfect life.  What’s that about?”

He laughed, this time a funny laugh.  “Sheesh – you always nail me, don’t you?  Okay, okay, I’ll admit that even though I was in great shape, it wasn’t the magic cure-all.”  We talked a bit more about some things in his life he was looking forward to because I wanted him to feel grounded before leaving.  If people leave when they are flooded with sadness, they can spiral downward, which can lead to more depression and/or self-medication.

Then next week, to my surprise, Ben said, “Hey, I brought you something.”  He handed me a brown paper bag.  I opened it up, and inside was a rubber chicken, about six inches long.  “That’s to show your clients that if they have magical thinking – with diets or anything else – it’s like putting their faith in a rubber chicken.”  He shared that he decided not to go on a chicken diet after all, but that he wanted to continue working through his issueswhich caused him to gain extra weight, even though it was hard and at times felt like throwing in the towel.  He knew it would not be easy, but he also knew that the price of not getting better would be much more costly.

Body Image and Men:The Man on the Chicken Diet

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(NOTE:  All characters in this blog and book are fictitious. )

I wasn’t sure I had heard him right.  A physician came into counseling to get help with anxiety and depression, and told me during one of our first sessions that he was going on a chicken diet.

“A chicken diet?”  I asked.

“Yeah.  I think chicken is the perfect food, in lots of ways.  If I eat mostly chicken and drink water, then I can lose some of this.”  He grabbed a glob of excess fat around his belly.  Although he could afford to lose a few pounds, Ben definitely was not obese.  He looked as though he had once been athletic, and wore a crisp blue shirt that brought attention to his blue eyes.  Crossing his legs, Ben  placed a few stray strands of his dark hair behind his ear.

I asked if he was kidding or not.  I had taken a number of nutrition classes in college, and this chicken and water diet did not sound balanced, especially for a physician.  Maybe there was more to it.

“Nope.  I’ve already done a lot of research on it, and I know I can get down to my goal in two months at the normal recommended 2 pounds a week pace.   I’ll have chicken for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and I’ll drop the weight like a woman with PMS drops her boyfriends.”  We both laughed.

“So you’ll have chicken shakes for breakfast, baked chicken nuggets for lunch, and a slab of chicken breast for dinner?”  I smiled, thankful it was not me that would be on the chicken diet.  I like chicken, but just can’t imagine eating it all by itself for even one day, let alone three months.  Chocolate – sure. But chicken?  Never.

Ben started to unknowingly pick up and set down his empty Starbucks cup repeatedly, so I could tell he was anxious.  Even though he probably felt nervous because he had never been to counseling before, he seemed especially anxious talking about his magical chicken diet because he knew I would have questions.  And of course he was right.

“It’s gonna be so great – I’ll drop that extra weight, and then I can wear cool, manly clothes.  Then the women will be really into me.”  He smiled and looked out the window as though he had found the answer to all of life’s problems. The Great Fix.  The Magical Cure.

“So then you’ll have the perfect life, huh?”  I asked.  I had heard different versions of this magical thinking many times before.  Countless women in their twenties and thirties – and sometimes women in their forties and fifties – told me that when they got “skinny,” they would start to buy cute clothes.

I usually asked them why they wouldn’t buy cute clothes until they were skinny, but they usually scrunched up their noses and thought it was absurd.  In fact, many people use the word “skinny” as a magical word.  They get so excited about their little pet word, their mouths automatically form into broad smiles when saying it. 

Once they are “skinny,” their lives will suddenly become supremely enjoyable, but not one minute before.   They realize cute clothes are available in larger sizes now, but they have no interest in spending money on them until they were – drum roll please – skinny.

The magical thinking never stops.  Once they get skinny, they can get a fun wardrobe.  Then guys will want to date them, and that will help them to get a boyfriend.  Not just any boyfriend, but a perfect- or almost perfect boyfriend, which would open the golden door to the Perfect Life.

Once the door opened, they got the successful and cute boyfriend, then had the perfect wedding, and then bought a beautiful home.  Finally they had children, and as long as they stay skinny, their lives will be flawless, dreamy, and perfect.  Because of course their marriages and children would be perfect!

Magical thinking comes in many different flavors:  Once I get a college degree, life will be perfect.  Or once I get married, life will be perfect.  Or once I have a house or a larger house, life will be perfect.

Or a very popular version:  Once I move to _______, life will be perfect.  The interesting part of the last one is that if the person lives in the Pacific Northwest, they want to move to Hawaii or somewhere warm.

(Yet the same people would often complain like men with their wives at the mall if the weather got too hot in the summer for them.)  If the person lives in Hawaii, he believes that moving to the Mainland will be the answer to life’s problems. 

When I lived in southern California and people found out I was originally from Washington state, they often said, “Why would you ever leave such a beautiful state?”

Because of the popularity of the statement, “If I move to ______, life will be perfect (or much improved),” many 12-step recovery programs call it “the geographical cure” as a sarcastic joke.   This kind of thinking is labeled as another type of “stinkin’ thinkin’ “.

Often people think that if they get their child or spouse to move to _____ to “get a fresh start,” they are going to be different and make better choices.  But it almost never works because everywhere you go, there you are. 

That means you will still have your personality, your likes, dislikes, and your style of relating (personality).  We will continue to attract the same kinds of people for friends and romantic interests unless we change.

So once again I found myself talking to a man with a mission to change his whole world – this time through the chicken diet.  That was definitely one I had not heard of.  “Will you eat anything besides chicken, or just chicken?”  I asked.

He bent his elbow, locked his hands, and placed them in back of his head, which often happens when men (and sometimes women) are feeling out of control. “Well, I’ll eat mostly chicken, and take a supplement liquid diet to get some more nutrients, with maybe a salad or piece of fruit once in a while.”

He began to lightly bounce his leg, which told me he was quite anxious.  Ben felt uncomfortable talking about this because he probably was beginning to wonder if the chicken diet really would make his life a trip to Disneyland.

“I want to lose weight fast so I can lose it all before summer.  Then I can get a gorgeous girlfriend and we can enjoy ourselves kayaking and hiking and stuff.  I mean she has to be smart too and funny and all, but anyway then I can have an awesome summer.”

“Do you think people usually keep weight off when they lose it quickly on a diet?”

He laughed, but it was a nervous laugh and not a funny laugh.  “Well, usually diets don’t work anyway.  But research shows that the slower you lose weight, the longer you usually keep it off.”

We both laughed because we realized that he was about to contradict his own beliefs by going on a diet.  And not just any diet – a chicken diet.

“So are you telling me that you don’t really believe in what you are about to do?” I asked.

He started to rub the part of the couch where his hand had been resting, which is another sign of anxiety.

“Yeah, I guess so.”  He looked at the floor and then out the window.

“When did you first start to gain weight?”  I asked.  The all-important question that most naturopaths, physicians, and nutritionists never ask.

TO BE CONTINUED…

The Ferocious Foursome?Bingeing, Dieting, Purging, and Overexercising

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Women in developed nations tend to be brutally hard on themselves in regards to body image issues.  They battle a gnawing desire to be thin.   If you notice how often you hear women talking about food, fat, working out, sizes, diets, calories, and their bodies, you will begin to understand how deeply entrenched this desire to be thin is.  Make a note of each time you hear a woman talk about wanting to lose weight, or her size, or her dissatisfaction with her body.  You may not be able to get through a week – let alone a day or two – without hearing one talk of topics about food, fat, or fannies (especially in regards to how certain foods are “bad”).

This hyper-focus on thinness causes women to develop monumental amounts of shame and self-contempt for their bodies.  Usually this self-contempt starts when they experience some type of traumatic experience, such as the divorce of their parents, a breakup with a boyfriend, or moving.  This causes them to leap into the arms of their drug of choice for comfort.  Often, this is food.  This means that many children, teens, and adults go to food as their drug of choice.    This results in weight gain, which leads them to dislike their bodies at a deeper level since thin bodies are idolized in developed nations.

Many women (and more and more men) are addicted to beating themselves up with the message that they don’t measure up.  Some people are told this as children, whether it’s about school work, lack of athletic ability, looks, or other aspects of their lives.  Then it spills over to the point that if nobody expresses disdain, the thoughts and comments continue in her head.  This happens because she is so comfortable with the shame that she feels naked without it.

This shame and self-contempt leads girls and women into the contemptuous cycle I call the Ferocious Foursome.  The Ferocious Foursome includes the monsters of dieting, binging, purging, and excessive exercising.  The cycle generally starts with dieting, but can begin with any of the Ferocious Foursome.

Typically, the girl feels fat, even though she may be within the normal weight or body composition limits.  This is important because many of the girls do not actually qualify as overweight to begin with.  They have been brainwashed by the media into thinking that thinness is their ticket to a perfect life.  So they begin scrutinizing their bodies and find excess fat, or what they think is excess fat.  By the age of four or five, most girls already feel that any fat is bad.  Sadly, the media fails to mention that a certain percentage of fat is normal and will enable them to have babies much later, as well as nurse their children and carry them on their hips.  Without fat, all those activities would be impossible.  Another fact the media fails to mention is that breast tissue naturally contains a large percentage of fat.  Sometimes women express a desire to wear a tiny size and have relatively large breasts at the same time.  I explain to them that does not usually happen naturally because the breast tissue contains a great deal of fat.

The end result of the brainwashing – as well as photoshopping and airbrushing – of the media is that little girls end up feeling that all fat is bad, whether it is on their bodies or in food.  Many girls and young women fear getting fat more than almost anything else, including terrorism.  So of course they naturally fall prey to the first phase of the Ferocious Foursome, which is dieting.

Dieting has become a rite of passage for teen girls.  I challenge you to find a teenaged girl who has not tried to diet or lose weight.  It will be a difficult task, as few girls in our society have not tried to diet.  Sometimes they are successful, and other times they are not.  Either way, they tend to hurl themselves onto a path of life-long roller-coaster dieting.  Whether the first attempt ends in success or failure, it likely gives them a taste where they long for more.  If they lose weight, they become believers, and if not, they profess to try again and again until they get it “right”.

Just when they begin to feel sure-footed from the triumph of dieting, the ground shifts beneath them, bumping them onto the merry-go-round of self-contempt.   They feel completely deprived, and begin to crave what they have started to call bad foods.  This turns them into eating machines.  The hunger wells up within them like a hurricane ready to ravage everything in its path.  Suddenly they want tons of fatty foods and sweet foods and salty foods.  They cannot get enough and feel as though they must eat everything because hunger consumes them.  Food, food, food, is on their minds a great majority of their waking hours and sometimes in their dreams as well.  They have opened the floodgates of eternal hunger and will never be the same.  They crave foods that they love, as well as foods that they did not used to like before they felt deprived from dieting.

They now feel insatiably starved, which leads to the first all-out binge.  The binge fools their hearts into happiness, but only briefly.  This leads to a free-fall into the shaft of despair and depression, with waves of guilt and shame knocking them into the heart of hopelessness.  Around and around they spin on the merry-go-round of self-contempt, dizzy and depressed from a level of hopelessness they never knew possible.

Next:  Purging and Over-exercising, the other two stars of the Ferocious Foursome.

The Million-Dollar Question about Body Image

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The sad part of the New Year’s resolution frenzy is that it will be over by Valentines Day. Most of the people will fizzle out on their resolutions of losing weight and working out. That is, unless they are willing to take off their masks and ask a heart-wrenching question. That question, you have probably already guessed (if you have been following this blog) has absolutely nothing to do with food, fat, or fannies. It is a question that has to do with your heart and your story. By now you have probably learned that food and body image issues are really not about food or your body, but about deeper issues of the heart. If you don’t address these deeper issues of the heart, you will continue to lose in your fight against the body image bandit. This is the reason why most winners on “The Biggest Loser” gain all of their weight back. It is also why others continue to lose the battle of the bulge, or anorexia, or purgeing, or obsessing about their bodies.

So what is the million dollar body image question? Here it is: What was happening in your life when you first started to have a bad relationship with food and/or your body image? But remember, “nothing” is not the answer. This requires a much deeper thought process. You have to have the courage to ponder and think about what really happened. Most people are tempted to say, “Oh nothing, really. ________happened, but it really was not that big of a deal. I’m soooooo over that!” But if you started your journey into a bad relationship with food during that time, it affected you more profoundly than you realized. If it brought you through the door of eating disorders (including bingeing, purging, over-exercising, or yo-yo dieting) and/or other addictions, the wound has gashed a larger part of your soul than you have begun to imagine.

Maybe you feel that you have already worked through this part of your story. You may have done a lot of work on it, which is to be celebrated. But if you are still on the sick cycle of bingeing, dieting, or obsessing about your body image, perhaps you have more work to do. If you are an American, you have seen 250,000 ads by the time you are 17, and most of the ads scream, “To be thin is to be beautiful, and beauty is everything.” Of course this is a gnawing monster in our culture that we need to beat. I have written several other posts discussing how we can do this, as well as how we can protect our kids from developing eating disorders.

Once you answer the first question, you can continue to draw a time line of your life and put marks next to the times when you most struggled with food/body image issues. Perhaps you have worked through the first issue, but our lives are complex. You probably fell back into into unhealthy relationship with food/body image at other points in your life, when your heart was sick because of what was happening in your life. So of course there is much more to work through. I hope that you will consider working on your real, underlying issues that caused you to develop an unhealthy relationship with food. Then – and only then- will you have the greatest chance of fighting the body image bandit and winning. After all, the truth will set you free, and the truth is that food/body image issues are much more about our hearts and our stories than anything else.

© Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Tooshie: Defeating the Body Image Bandit, (c) 2007-20014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Tooshie: Defeating the Body Image Bandit with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

7 Ways to Protect Your Daughter (or Son) from Eating Disorders

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After her brother said she was fat, Karen (not her real name) vowed to do whatever it took to get into a pair of size 6 Calvin Klein jeans.  Most women who struggle with eating disorders remember this type of significant moment in their stories.  This vow included starving herself to the point that she passed out on a beach.

When she regained consciousness, the EMT asked her, “What can I do to prevent this from happening to my daughter?”  With tears in her eyes, she answered, “You can love her unconditionally.” 

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“Oh my gosh, I can’t believe these elephant thighs,” you remark in front of the mirror as you try on a new pair of jeans.

“Maybe I have elephantitis, and my doctor hasn’t diagnosed me yet.”  Your daughter hears this, and you both laugh.

But the problem with these types of negative body image statements is that they cut deeply into her soul, doing much more harm than you realize.  Such comments, even if said in jest, reinforce the belief in our culture which screams, “If you’re not toothpick thin, you are ugly.”

This spurs girls, sometimes starting before age five, into dieting.  Then they begin the roller coaster ride of dieting and later bingeing because they feel so starved.

This leads to shame, which leads back to dieting again.  Even if they get down to a normal size, they still feel fat.  If they have people-pleasing, perfectionistic personalities, they often get swallowed up with anorexia.

If they are not people-pleasers, they often flirt with throwing up until it develops into full-blown bulimia.  But when they throw up, they are actually trying to purge all the hurtful feelings stored in their hearts.

This is why learning to express true feelings is so important.  (I will write more about this in another blog.)

Here are some ways you can protect your daughter (or son, as more and more boys are developing eating disorders) from eating disorders:

  • Avoid talking about dieting, fat, or your fanny.  Whenever you do this, your daughter is getting the message that her value rests on how thin she is
  • Discourage dieting, as it usually leads to a lifelong obsession with black-and-white thinking in regards to food
  • Discourage your daughter from looking at beauty and fashion magazines.  Research shows this leads to depression
  • Stop praising girls for their beauty.  Instead, focus on their other strengths and accomplishments, When we praise girls for their appearance, we reinforce the cultural tsunami of lies that drown girls in feelings that they are only valued for their appearance.
  • Be aware that certain activities such as ballet, modeling, gymnastics, and wrestling often emphasize thinness, which puts your child more at risk for developing an eating disorder
  • Encourage your child find out which physical activities he or she enjoys, so they can have fun while getting exercise
  • Promote a healthy lifestyle.  Research shows that kids tend to pick up their parents’ lifestyle habits, whether they are smoking, exercising, obsessing about dieting, or eating lots of sweets.  Work toward moderation so that they don’t feel deprived, yet get the benefits of a well-rounded eating pattern

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Of course there are no guarantees, but these suggestions will help your child to feel good about himself or herself, appreciating the unique characteristics that God has given them.   Also keep in mind that many more boys and men are now falling prey to eating disorders.

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© Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Fannies:  Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere and Fannies:  Reclaiming the Plunder of the Body Image Bandit, 2007 – 2047. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Fannies:  Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

This article is taken from a newsletter on my web site:  www.notjustsymptoms.com.  Click on Newsletters on the right side of the home page.

Body Image and Dieting: Why Diets Don’t Work

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Note:  This article is for people who need to lose weight for health reasons – not those who want to “get skinny” so they will have perfect lives.  We will address that later. 

Face it.  You are more likely to get run over by a truck full of PMSing women going on a Dairy Queen binge than losing weight – and keeping it off – on a diet.  Statistics show that when you go on a diet, you will most likely gain all the weight back – plus more. It may take months or a few years, but that is what almost always happens.
The reason for this is that food issues are about our hearts and stories. So whenever you go on a diet, you are treating the symptoms only. This is somewhat like having an injury and treating only the pain without finding out what is causing it.

A few years ago I ran into a former client at a grocery store.  I did a double-take because I didn’t recognize her.  She told me she had lost eighty pounds, and I asked how she did it (nobody was around, or else I would not have done so).  She said it was mostly from the counseling we did.  “I’m no longer self-medicating with food because you really helped me work through my issues.  And now whenever something is bothering me, I let myself feel it and then work through it instead of running to the fridge.”  We had worked on some difficult events in her life, and I had asked her when she first started to gain weight.  The last time she walked out the door of my office, she had a whole bag of tricks to help her deal with the difficulties in life.  Plus, she had worked through many of the important events that had caused her to use food to feel better.  (Of course, this side of heaven, we will all have issues to some extent.  But I imagine you’ve already figured that one out.  And if you think you have no issues, then we really need to talk!)

“When did you first start to gain weight?” is the million-dollar question that most people never address.  Usually something of significance happened at that time, such as a parent’s divorce, moving, the loss of a relationship, sexual abuse (defined as anything a child experiences which is inappropriate, even if no touching or penetration is involved), a death, the rejection of a good friend, etc.  In other words, just about anything that made you sad or changed your world.   If you can’t figure out what that is, look harder and get professional help.

After we worked through this particular issue, we continued to work on her other issues of the heart.  Essentially, many of the other bumps in the road of her life, from early childhood on throughout her life.  I had noticed that it looked as though she was losing weight at the time, but did not focus on it.  Then she finished her therapy, and I hadn’t seen her in a few years.

If you continue to go on and off diets, you will continue to treat the symptom and not the actual problem.  If you truly have a problem, you are facing an addiction.  Yes – a food addiction.  You are self-medicating with food, just as many people self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, pornography, shopping, reading (if you use reading to escape and to avoid your problems), computer addiction, exercise addiction, etc.

And the cherry on top is that the more diets you go on, the more weight you will gain in the long run unless you are one of the tiny percentage of people who actually lose weight and keep it off.  Hmmmm…I wonder how many of those people actually dealt with the issues that brought them through the door of food addiction?  I’ll bet you a hot fudge sundae that most of them did.

© Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Fannies:  Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere and Fannies:  Reclaiming the Plunder of the Body Image Bandit, 2007 – 2047. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Fannies:  Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Body Image: Making Peace with Your Body

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What if you and your fanny could finally make peace?  You have dieted, exercised, and poured your fanny into a pair of jeans three sizes too small.  Maybe you – like me – bought a pair of plastic bloomers designed to hook up to your vacuum cleaner and suck the fat off your hiney.  Unfortunately, the Girl Scouts showed up during the procedure, seeing you through the window.  They were traumatized for life, but you waddled to the door anyway in yellow plastic bloomers to buy a year’s supply of chocolate mint cookies.

Face it.  Many of us spend enormous amounts of time dwelling on our derierres.  On some level, we believe the world actually cares about them, but in reality most people don’t have time to ponder our plunder.

I imagine our love-hate relationship with food started in the Garden of Eden.  Eve’s hormones whacked out and she had a craving for chocolate that wouldn’t quit, even though she had never tasted it.  I don’t think it was an apple.  Most likely, it was a large handful of chocolate beans, coffee beans, or hybrid chocolate-coffee beans that tasted like a Starbucks mocha.  Now that would certainly be tempting.

And so began women’s preoccupation with the conceptual size of their fannies and other unassorted body parts.  Now don’t pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about, because I know you do.  You’ve exercised, dieted, and some of you have binged, purged, and/or starved yourself – all in search of the perfect body, or a skinnier one or perhaps a less expansive model.

But if you actually succeeded in molding yourself into the dimensions you had always dreamed, bizarre men started clinging to you like chocolate on chocolate-covered raisins.  The fabulous fanny acted like a creep magnet, and wacky weirdos came from everywhere to meet you because they loved your packaging.  You resented this, which led you to drive through all the fast-food places in town and gorge yourself with sugary, fatty foods until you thought you would pop.  The bottom like is the more you obsessed about having the perfect packaging, the more you attracted guys who wanted you for your looks and not your heart.

Perhaps you have obsessed about other body parts, and how  they measure up to photoshopped standards of models and movie stars who are being eaten from within by the beasts of bulimia and anorexia.  Eating disorders create an imploding black hole that always ends in darkness and has swallowed up many lives due to heart failure and other complications.

Tooshie: Defeating the Body Image Bandit is for anyone who has been weighed down with feelings about food, fat, and fannies.  (The ebook will be out Summer of 2014, Lord willing). You will experience resounding joy when you completely grasp that God is much more concerned about your heart than your fanny.  Of course you know this in your head, but when you truly feel it in every cell of your body, you will wrestle with the Body Image Bandit and win.  Finally, you will be protected from the Body Image Bandit  – the Enemy, the Accuser, and the Father of Lies, who continually works to convince you that your value comes from outer beauty as opposed to inner beauty.  The answer to the cultural lie of, “To be thin is to be beautiful and beauty is everything,” is the truth:  “Man looks at outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.”

© Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Fannies:  Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere and Fannies:  Reclaiming the Plunder of the Body Image Bandit, 2007 – 2047. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Fannies:  Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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