Next Month, You’ll Eat Everything but the TV ;)

Status

img_2075

Face it. Dieting almost ALWAYS leads to losing – then gaining back – all the weight you’ve lost – plus MORE. A meta-analysis from UCLA showed that almost 100% of dieters end up gaining weight over the long-haul. (Scientific American, April 5, 2007)

So yes, you’ll be eating everything not nailed down within a month, right? (Isn’t there a crow bar in your garage?) And the TV might not be safe, either. After all, who knows if a bottle of chocololate sauce might make it taste better.

Learn from a licensed therapist why our dysfunctional relationship with food and body image stem much more from our stories than most people realize. The truth is – your personal life story creates the chaos of the soul which results in a Big Mac Attack.

  

As a former competitive swimmer and frequent runner, I learned a lifetime of truths about body image when illness robbed me of my ability to walk. At the apex of my journey with lupus and ankylosing spondylitis, I couldn’t walk one step. I rolled off the couch and crawled down the hall to use the restroom.

During those tragic times, I would have given anything to regain my ability to walk. I thought about all the time I’d wasted obsessing about my body, and wished I could regain every last second.

IMG_1774

Nowadays, I’m able to walk and breathe (I’m addicted to breathing, what can I say?) without trouble most days, and am so utterly grateful. I’ve enjoyed speaking on radio shows and at conferences about my story, the underlying roots of food/body image issues, and how people can set themselves free from the lies of the Body Image Bandit.

So before you eat your TV, read my book that explains how your heart and life story intersect as a catalyst for a positive or negative body image. This week only, the kindle version is on sale for $.99.

My hope for you in 2017 is that you learn to work on the roots of your issues, and that you kiss dieting goodbye.

perfect blog picture 3-19-12 calling

Chasing after health is one thing, and of course this is an honorable goal. But you know dieting virtually always leads to gaining the weight back. Plus more. So learn how to work on the true underlying causes.

Happy New Year. Do the dance differently in 2017. You’re worth it. ~

Tooshie: Defeating the Body Image Bandit

(Click on blue link to download.)

Kindle version on sale for $.99 the first week of January, 2017.

TooshieFinal (1)

 

 

Body Image and Men:The Man on the Chicken Diet

 

man at sunset nice

(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.

IMG_0578

“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…

Copy (1) of IMG_0070.JPG

Body Image and Size: My Life Will be Perfect when I’m a Size ___ (Yeah, right!)

Want to be Skinny

(Note:  All names and identifying information throughout my blog have been changed to protect individuals.)

I wasn’t sure I’d heard him right.  A physician came in for help with anxiety and depression, and told me during one of our sessions he was going on a chicken diet.

“A chicken diet?”  I asked.

“Yeah.  Chicken is the perfect food.

If I eat mostly chicken and drink water, I can lose some of this.”  He grabbed some excess fat around his middle.

“I’ve researched it, and I can hit my goal in three months at the normal recommended 2 pounds a week pace.   I’ll have chicken for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and I’ll drop the extra weight.  Then I can wear cool, manly clothes.  And the best part is women will be really into me.”

He smiled and looked out the window as though he’d discovered the answer to all life’s problems.

“So then you’ll have a perfect life?”  I asked.  I’ve heard this magical thinking from many people.  Countless women mentioned that when they became “skinny,” they would buy cute clothes.  I usually asked why they couldn’t buy them now, but they generally scrunched up their noses and thought that was crazy.  They insisted they had to wait until they were “skinny” to buy fun clothes.

In fact, many people use the word “skinny” as a magical word.  Once they are “skinny,” their lives will become enjoyable, but not one minute sooner.   They realized they can find attractive  clothes in larger sizes now, but had no interest until they were – drum roll please – skinny.

The magical thinking continues: Once they get skinny, they can dress better.  Then guys will want to date them, which will lead to a perfect  boyfriend, which will open the golden door to the perfect life.  Once the door opens, they get the successful, attractive boyfriend, the perfect wedding, and then buy a beautiful home.

Finally they have children, and as long as they stayed skinny, their lives will be flawless, dreamy, and perfect.  So goes the beast of

Magical thinking comes in many 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.  But the truth is, once we rid ourselves of such magical thinking, we will be much more comfortable in our own skin. Life won’t be perfect this side of glory, but once we can rid ourselves of magical thinking, we will be much more at peace.

© Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Reclaiming the Plunder of the Body Image Bandit, 2007 – 2017. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA,  LMHC appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

Body Image and Purging: Confessions of a Purging Flunky

IMG_1221-0

I was a purging flunky.  I remember in high school when I first got whirled onto the merry-go-round called the Ferocious Foursome.

Ferocious Foursome are the gang of dieting, Bingeing, Purging, and Over-exercising.

I had been on a diet (even though looking back I didn’t need to lose weight) and the feelings of deprivation consumed me.  This led to an all-out binge, in which I ate everything except the TV.

I figured there was only one thing I could do –  throw up.  Of course!  The perfect cure-all.  I tried, but was unable able to accomplish the mighty feat.

So I tried again, and instantly remembered why I hated getting sick.

IMG_3651

At first I got mad at myself for not being able to hack the act of hacking up. It seemed like quite a few people were doing it. At the time I didn’t know that 18-20% of people with eating disorders would die within twenty years. 

I thought purging was the new ‘magic weight-loss answer’. I had no idea that years later statistics would flood in about the life-threatening health risks of bulimia.

Many would end up accidentally killing themselves due to the horrific damage on their bodies.  Bulimia would eat up the lives of many girls and women, leaving behind families drowning in tears.

As a purging flunky, I skipped level three of the Ferocious Foursome and went on to the final four. I ended up getting addicted to exercise for a few years.

Maybe you are wondering how anyone could possibly get addicted to exercise.  The biggest reason is that endorphins are produced.  Endorphins are similar to opiates, and provide a natural high.  Another definition describes endorphins as morphine-like substances originating from within the body.


The endorphins, combined with the payoff of looking and feeling superb, attract people into exercising more and more.   If you think of over-exercising in those terms, you may begin to understand how people get addicted.

Bulimia of the purging or over-exercising type often emerges after a young woman’s boyfriend breaks up with her. ( To be more precise, one form of bulimia does not involve throwing up, but is based on over-exercising.)

young woman compares herself to other young women, and starts to believe it was all about the size of her hips.

Comparing and coveting are ugly animals, so it is no wonder that God commanded us not to go there. He knows that comparing and coveting poisons our hearts.

Even so, we have all driven in the fast lane of Coveting Road, probably more often than we realize. The type of coveting I am speaking about in this case is when you see a beautiful, thin woman and you really wish you had her body.

Part of you believes this would give you the perfect life. But since we live in a fallen world, there is no perfect life this side of heaven.

 

The “stinking thinking” (this is a twelve-step phrase) that if only I were skinny, then my boyfriend would not have left me gets programmed into her heart.  So she kicks her dieting into high gear, but later on blows her diet and binges.  So she resorts to purging or over-exercising.  Either one of the two meet the criteria of bulimia if they are entrenched enough, according to the DSM-IV TR, which is the official manual of diagnoses.

Once the stinking thinking takes root in her heart, she feels that if she were thinner, she could have kept her boyfriend.  Sometimes guys throw darts of violent words about their girlfriends’ bodies, but even if they don’t, the girls are often spurred into bulimia.  (By the way, that is called abuse.)

 

The hundreds of thousands of messages in the media that endlessly echo “to be thin is to be beautiful, and beauty is almost everything” shoot darts into her heart until it bleeds tears.

Since they cannot stay on the diet wagon forever, girls and women (as well as a growing number of  boys and men) quickly grasp the idea that they can throw up their food and get away with it.  On the surface, it seems like the only solution, but decades of research shows that throwing up quickly morphs into an addiction.

Bulimia is profoundly more damaging than once thought.  Those of us who were “too sissy” to purge finally realized that it was a blessing in disguise.  My heart cries oceans of tears for those who are entangled with the beast of bulimia. Bulimia is certainly a wolf in sheep’s clothing, as it seems so innocent in the beginning.

What if you could get off the dieting/bingeing merry-go-round forever? What if you could celebrate the body that God has given you, and say goodbye to the Body Image Bandit – the Father of lies? Continue in this voyage of healing as we share in the celebration of kicking the Body Image Bandit out of our lives once and for all.

Body Image and Dieting: Diet is a Four-Letter Word

Featured

During my sophomore year of high school, I decided I needed to lose five to ten pounds.  Dieting was the only solution, or so I thought.  I was an athlete, so I felt the only other thing I needed to do was go on a diet.  Now that is an interesting phrase, because if you go on a diet, you imply you will eventually go off.

I mentioned to my dad that I was going on a diet, and he said it was a bad idea.  First, he didn’t think I was fat.  Secondly, he thought if I wanted to lose a few pounds I should just “cut back a little.”  I looked at him as if he had three heads.  “Dad, are you serious?!”  I asked.  I continued to educate him.  “Everyone knows that doesn’t work.”  I shook my head in disbelief, wondering how he could be so naive on such an important subject.  He certainly needed to spend more time reading Seventeen Magazine!

Mark Twain once said, “When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he’d learned in seven years.”  I could certainly relate to Twain’s comment once I realized years later that my first diet had launched me onto the escalator of the Ferocious Foursome.  I don’t remember what kind of a diet I went on, but I do remember the intense cravings caused by the dieting.  So I went from the first floor of the Ferocious Foursome, dieting, to the second floor of the Ferocious Foursome, which is binging.

The cravings started a millisecond after I decided to diet. I hadn’t even began the official “diet” when the mammoth cravings began.  I decided mid-week to start the following Monday.  You know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you?  Apparently there is an unofficial eleventh commandment, “Thou shalt start dieting on Monday.”  Simply telling myself that I would begin dieting started to unleash craving monster within. Thinking I would never eat yummy foods again led to an all-out binge, which I had rarely (if ever) experienced before deciding to begin my first diet.

Even when I wasn’t bingeing, I began to eat more than my normal quantities of food.  First of all, I had no rules about eating before my diet started.   I ate what I wanted when I wanted, and since I loved to exercise, I’d never been overweight more than a few pounds.  But once I drowned myself in teen magazines promoting lookism, I began to think of myself as flawed because I was born with a muscular body type and loved sports.   It was clear that I was never meant to look like a catwalk model.  God had created me to be athletic and curvy.   Once I opened the golden door of Dieting, I realized it was actually made of plywood and covered with gold foil.  It led to another door called Bingeing, which led back to the golden tin foil door of Dieting.  Inside the drab room of nothingness called Dieting, I saw the Ferocious Foursome of Dieting, Bingeing, Overexercising, and Purging.  It was enough to make me dizzy.  Where would I turn next?

Body Image and Diets: Rethinking Resolutions and Dieting

Featured

perfect blog picture 3-19-12 calling

Many Americans will begin another year with a resolution to lose weight.  Most will start out with a bang, but then fizzle out like New Year’s Eve fireworks.

The majority will lose weight, but only a small percentage will keep it off.  Most will gain it all back, plus more.  They will then jump again onto the merry-go-round of dieting, which always leads to the feeling of deprivation.  This usually leads to a binge, which causes shame and despair.  Then the cycle continues and the person hops back on the dieting bandwagon.

The cycle continues until they understand the truth:  Food and body image issues are much more about our hearts and stories than about calories and exercise.  Granted, a calorie is a calorie, and exercise is pivotal (unless it becomes an addiction, which happens to many people).

But food/body image issues (including eating disorders, although they are much more complex than this) are issues of the heart.

This trap of dieting, bingeing, dieting, and bingeing is a vicious cycle.  Sometimes it includes purging and/or over-exercising (which is a relatively common addiction in which people look great on the outside but feel like a 90-year-olds due to all the wear and tear on their bodies).

More recently, research has poured in showing a strong correlation between binge eating, purging, and binge drinking.  The cycle of dieting, bingeing, dieting, bingeing repeatedly is hard on the body, mind, and soul.  And considering that less than 1% of the people who lose weight will keep it off, why not deal with the roots of the problem?

If you are a professional dieter, you probably know so much about dieting you could write a book on it.  But the problem is you have missed the major piece of the puzzle.  I know I’ve already said it, but I want to shout it from the Space Needle:F

Food, weight, and body image issues are much more about our hearts and our stories than about calories, carbs, and exercise.  If you continue to concentrate on the symptoms instead of the causes, it is like putting gas in a car that has a hole in the gas tank.  You will be successful, but only for a while.  This blog (and book, which is almost complete) addresses the underlying issues so that you will have a greater chance of beating the Body Image Bandit. 

Make this the year to address the underlying issues so that you can become the person you were meant to be.

My hope and prayer is that you continue on the journey of changing your heart, working on the causes of your food issues instead

Body Image and Living Large, No Matter What your Size

Featured

Last night a friend and I attended a church dessert musical.  The affair had an elegant feel with candlelight, a coffee bar, and high quality music blended with a humorous script.  The show highlighted different types of music from classical to rock, beat boxing and rap.

What especially touched my heart – besides the chocolate/raspberry dessert and excellent music – was one girl’s lively spirited performance.  She sang and danced in a team with ten to twelve other teenaged girls.  This girl had the courage to perform in front of over 2,000 people over a period of four days.  Why did she have such an impact on me?  Because she is a plus-sized girl, possibly size 18-20 or so.  Despite her not fitting our culture’s sick calling to be thin if you perform, she got up and sang and danced passionately.  Not only that – but she looked as though she enjoyed herself just as much as the others.  She definitely was not waiting for her skinny ship to come in before giving herself permission to enjoy life.

Why did this strike me so deeply?  Because many people are waiting until they are “skinny” (oh, how I hate that overused word!) to embrace life.  In my counseling practice, I’ve met many people who are waiting until their “skinny ship” comes in before they sing, dance, play, buy cute clothes, etc.  They wait and wait, dreaming of all the possibilities when their skinny ships come in.  During the counseling journey they realize that life is too short to wait for their skinny ship to come in to enjoy life.  So they begin to live the life they would if they lost weight.  The irony is that often, during the counseling process, they lose the weight anyway because the weight was never about food as much as it was about their hearts and their stories.

How long will you wait to enjoy life, to embrace it as if it were your last day on earth?  Or will you continue to wait until your skinny ship comes in?  Who would you be if you tapped into your God-given talents, gifts and personality traits – regardless of your size?

 “Man looks at outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” I Samuel 16:7

Body Image: How Mothers Influence Body Image

Featured

A great deal has been written on how fathers play strong roles in the development of their daughters’ eating disorders.  Negative relationships between fathers and daughters create holes in the hearts of their daughters which they believe can be filled by getting and staying thin.  Not surprisingly, girls and women have fallen prey to the jaws of anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder for many reasons we have already discussed.  But a massive amount of research has poured in to spell out in all caps, in bold, that fathers’ relationships with their daughters help to get them swallowed up into the mouths of eating disorders.

Since the topic of fathers’ roles in the development of their daughters’ body image issues has been covered, I have chosen not to include that in my book.  Throughout my years of working with women, I have heard perhaps hundreds of stories of how mothers have influenced the development of body image issues of women and girls.  Due to the powerful effect of our mothers’ own body image issues on our stories, I have decided to include a chapter on this subject in the book.

Sadly, I must warn you that most of the stories are overwhelmingly sad.  In fact, you may get overwhelmed reading this chapter, and I apologize in advance.  My hope and reason for writing the chapter is that women will gain great perspective about how their own words about their bodies and their daughters’ bodies blossom seeds of darkness or light in their hearts.  All in all, mothers’ words have great power to bless and great power to eat away at the hearts of their daughters, creating a wake of despair and depression as well as eating disorders.  And so my grandest hope is that after reading this chapter, you will be acutely aware of one of the most powerful lies: “sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me.”  In fact, words shatter our hearts and shoot bullets of shame and despair deep into our souls until we bleed from within.  And this pain plummets down the shaft of despair until we land in the city of Hopelessness.  But the flip side of this is that if we understand the impact of our words, we can encourage children and teens to feel good about their bodies.

When I asked my friends on Facebook to share their stories about how their mothers impacted their own body image, I received a variety of responses.  One of them came from a woman in her sixties whom I will call Sally.  Sally explained that her mother had a serious phobia of fat.  She was hypercritical of Sally’s body, and made her take diet pills when she was in junior high.  Once she grew up and married, Sally continued to navigate the line between enjoying eating with her husband and controlling her weight.  Women gain an average of 18 pounds during the first year of marriage, so women often find it discouraging to move from their pre-wedding weight to their rounder, settled in weight.

During the pregnancy of her second child, Sally was sick a lot and discovered that throwing up resulted in weight loss.  Eventually she became bulimic and stayed bulimic for over twenty years.  Finally, during her studies at nursing school, she came to the realization that bulimia was destroying her from within and decided to kiss it goodbye.

Sally’s mother recently died at age 95, and Sally wrote in her email that her mother was still overly concerned about her weight and how she looked, even though she was quite ill and suffered from dementia for several years.

The trenches of our body image issues certainly run deep, not even lightening up due to old age or illness.  Even with dementia, many womens’ love/hate relationships with their bodies and food cause great distress as they continue to obsess about how they look.  The desire to get and stay thin is a constant dose of poison that our culture feeds us day in and day out to the point that we lose touch with what it means to have a normal, natural, womanly body.

By writing about the power mothers have on their daughters’ self-esteem and body image issues, I hope that women begin to understand the power of words and decide to offer encouragement instead of despair.  The seeds of negativity create ugly weeds that lead to self-contempt.  But the beauty of seeds of encouragement offer great joy as we learn to look at our bodies in terms of the amazing things they can do.  Will you use your words to bless flowers of joy onto the next generation, or seeds of despair to heap loads of despair onto today’s children and teens?

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

Featured

“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

Featured

(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…