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The Diet Survivor’s Handbook: 60 Lessons in Eating Acceptance and Self-Care

Fall 2015 – Diet Survivors Group Newsletter

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Greetings:

Welcome to the Fall 2015 e-mail!

(Based on The Diet Survivor's Handbook: 60 Lessons in Eating, Acceptance and Self-Care)

 

A FEW WORDS ABOUT OPRAH'S INVESTMENT IN WEIGHT WATCHERS

As we were finishing up this newsletter, we were disheartened to hear the news that Oprah Winfrey has bought a 10% stake in Weight Watchers, which sent their stock soaring. She's also joining their board. We wanted to offer a few comments:

Oprah has a powerful platform, and her stamp of approval is a boon to any product or industry she promotes. There is currently no research to support the efficacy for sustainable weight loss of any plan or program over a two to five year period (most diets work in the short run), and that's true for Weight Watcher's as well. When so many people experience shame over their body size – which is compounded after each failed diet – we feel great concern that her association with Weight Watchers will cause more women to embark on the pursuit of weight loss and remain engaged in the diet/binge cycle that can lead to shame, lower self esteem, depression, poorer health outcomes, eating disorders, weight gain, and weight stigma.

We commend Oprah on her efforts to empower women and empathize with the struggles she's shared related to body image and emotional overeating. However, using her public influence to encourage women to diet is the most disempowering action that Oprah could take. Her rollercoaster journey with the diet/binge cycle and body shame actually typifies what so many women experience.

Unfortunately, the solution isn't to keep trying the same thing over and over, but to get off the diet rollercoaster. We need people to learn how to reconnect with their natural signals for hunger and fullness, understand the many myths about health and weight, and to stop shaming people about body size. It would have been amazing if Oprah chose this route. – Judith and Ellen

Check out Judith's latest article, 9 Common Mistakes Parents Make About Their Kid's Weight – as of this mailing it has 19.4k Facebook shares!

The crispness in the air today is a reminder that the holiday season is just around the corner. First comes Halloween with its bright orange pumpkins, playful costumes, and the excitement of kids as they go door to door for trick or treat. Next comes Thanksgiving with bountiful meals and the opportunity to express gratitude for the many blessings in life. Then we move into the winter holidays celebrated with different traditions and rituals depending on your background. And finally, January 1st arrives, ushering in a New Year with lots of hoopla.

Depending on your relationship with food, the holidays can be a wonderful time to share meals with friends and families, or it can be a time of preoccupation with food, attempts to stay "in control," times of overeating or bingeing, and guilt. Our fall lesson, based on a blog we wrote for Oliver-Pyatt Centers, offers three strategies to help you enjoy holiday eating and decrease your risk of overeating. As always, we've posted this lesson on our Diet Survivors website – we've also included it in our Stay Attuned section below.

***In this season's newsletter we've included all of our usual sections – Stay Attuned, Weighty Matters, and a Case Study. What's different is that each area contains a blog or article that's been published in the past few months. While that makes our newsletter longer than usual, we hope you'll enjoy the depth of each topic!

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STAY ATTUNED!

The holiday season can be an especially challenging time for people with Binge Eating Disorder (BED). For some it's a time of family and social gatherings where special foods are widely available. For others it's a time when difficult feelings surface. For everyone, it's a time when we're bombarded by diet talk from the media and from family, friends and colleagues. Since dieting behavior can cause and/or sustain binge eating, it's important to make sure you don't fall into the diet mentality trap. Here are some gentle reminders to help you navigate the holiday season.

Remind yourself that you can have it later

Who says you can't make your sweet potato pie time any time you want? If you believe that you can't have a special holiday food for another whole year, you're likely to have it whether you're really in the mood for it or not.

Instead, promise yourself that you can make turkey and mashed potatoes any time of year, and those special desserts can be baked or bought when you desire. Knowing that these foods can be available reduces the need to eat something at a holiday celebration you don't really want at that moment.

Consider asking for the recipe or a doggie bag when you're at a holiday event. This strategy stops the worry that if you don't eat a special food immediately, such as the appetizing double chocolate caramel brownies that Grandma makes once a year, you won't be able to have it again until next year. When appropriate, you can say to your host, "The brisket looks delicious, but I'm not hungry right now. Would it be O.K. if I took some of the leftovers home for later?" Or, "This cake is fabulous. Can I have your recipe?" People are usually flattered by your desire for their food, and knowing you can eat that food later decreases the need to overeat something you're not hungry for.

Avoid becoming too hungry

It can be tempting to "save up" your hunger for parties and special events. However, when you go without food for a long period of time, you become ravenous. At this stage of physical hunger, you're likely to eat anything and everything is sight, leading to a feeling of being out of control.

Instead, eat in accordance with your physical hunger throughout the day. If you want to ensure that you have a good appetite when you arrive at an event, try to eat enough to take the edge off your hunger before you leave home, without becoming too full. A piece of fruit, some crackers or nuts, or a slice of cheese can help you to respond to your hunger so that you don't walk into the party feeling desperate to eat. Then, you'll truly be able to relax and to feed yourself exactly what will satisfy you!

Stay compassionate with yourself

Just about everyone overeats sometime, especially during the holiday season. If you yell at yourself for your transgression, you're likely to create anxiety, which actually fuels overeating. You're also likely to fall into the trap of telling yourself that you might as well eat whatever you want right now because as of tomorrow – or next week or January 1st – you'll have to restrict your eating. This attitude typically guarantees that you'll eat more food than your body needs, leading to feeling out of control and increasing your sense of guilt.

WEIGHTY MATTERS

Have you heard of Weight Stigma Awareness Week? Sponsored by the Binge Eating Disorder Association (BEDA) it takes place in September, and includes multiple issues. There are lots of wonderful blogs to read – here is Judith's contribution on the topic of Children and Weight Based Bullying:

Are We Teaching Kids to Love (or Hate!) Their Bodies?

15-year-old Claire walked into my office along with her parents, and averted her eyes from me as she took a seat on the couch across from her parents. I'd received a call the previous week from Claire's mother, who expressed concern over her daughter's weight and eating habits. Now, Claire's parents discussed their concerns that her body size would interfere with her health and friendships if she stayed at her current weight.

There was no doubt that Claire's parents wanted what was best for her. Their concerns came from what they'd heard from the media, other health professionals, and their own struggles with eating and weight, which they hoped their daughter could nip in the bud.

Food judgement and fat shaming

After her parents left the room, Claire told me that her dad often rolled his eyes when she ate something he didn't think she should have. Her mom told her that no one would want to date her because she was too fat and kept taking her to professionals (dietitians and therapists) to lose weight but nothing had worked so far, which made Claire feel she was letting them down.

Weight bullying

When we think of weight bullying, an image of kids on the playground taunting a higher-weight child may come to mind. But a 2012 study in the journal Pediatrics showed that kids also experienced teasing or bullying at the hands of adults: 37% of respondents by parents, 42% by physical education teachers and coaches, and 27% by teachers. I don't think it would ever occur to Claire's parents that the way they treated her was actually part of a problem of bullying and weight stigma, and it was causing her lots of pain.

Sometimes these messages are obvious – such as when a client I saw many years ago wasn't allowed by her parents to go to her friends' bar/bat mitzvahs if her weight was over a certain number – while other times it's much more subtle. At a recent presentation I gave for parents of teens on fostering a healthy body image, I asked participants to identify comments they make in front of their kids that either intentionally or unintentionally give a fat-shaming message, and here are some of the responses:

  • "I know I've said that my jeans make me look fat while my daughter was standing next to me at the mirror."

  • "I often tell my son he shouldn't have dessert (because of his size), and at the same time I offer a piece to his younger brother – who is thin."

  • "I was telling my husband at dinner about how much weight my sister has gained since the last time I saw her, and that she needs to do something about it. My kids were at the table."

These types of comments are so common that the idea they're problematic may seem surprising. After all, as the common wisdom goes, shouldn't we want our heavier kids to get thinner?

Weight loss leads to weight gain

Actually kids who pursue weight loss are at three times greater risk for weight gain – as well as binge eating and other eating disorders – compared with their peers who do not engage in weight-control behaviors. It's estimated that about 50 to 80% of our weight is genetic; twins raised apart from each other develop a similar body size indicating genetic inheritance has a substantial impact on body size, while the environment during childhood has minimal impact.

When I dug deeper into Claire's situation, it turned out she was a competitive dancer, winning awards in her larger-sized body; from a health perspective, she certainly participated in a sufficient amount of exercise. Claire enjoyed a wide range of foods, but was actually not eating enough to support her intense physical activity. The result was that she was ravenous when she came home late in the evening and ate a large quantity of food—a problem that was solved by increasing her food intake throughout the day, including more snacks during her rehearsal time. It also turned out that her body type resembled many other people in her family including her mother, and grandparents on both sides of her family tree.

Given the fat-phobic culture we live in, there are all sorts of challenges for parents who have children who fall at the higher end of the weight spectrum.

  • How do you deal with your own internalized weight stigma?

  • How do you help kids accept, respect, and appreciate their bodies, the key ingredients for a healthy body image?

  • How do you manage the pressure from others – including family members, other parents, and even health professionals – that they should be thinner?

In our culture, doing this is no easy task.

Support kids of all sizes

On a cultural level, we need more positive role models that show families how to support kids of all sizes. On the way out the door after our first meeting, I handed Claire and her parents a copy of Amanda's Big Dream – a children's story I recently published – because I wanted them to see how a different family viewed their daughter's body size and supported her when her coach made a comment about her weight.

When Claire returned the following week I asked her what had been most helpful to her from our previous session, and she replied, "I thought about Amanda all week. Whenever I looked in the mirror during dance class and thought I was too big I told myself, 'if Amanda can do it, I can do it too.'"

So what are we teaching our children? Constant preoccupation with food and weight, along with a belief that they can't be happy and successful unless they maintain a thinner weight – which may be a physiological impossibility for their body?

Weight diversity—a healthier option

Or the concept of weight diversity–the fact that bodies come in all shapes and sizes–so that they treat both themselves and others with respect and pursue their dreams free from a pervasive sense of body shame?

Teaching kids to love their body puts them in the strongest position to take good care of themselves, which has a positive effect on their health, happiness and well-being. I'd like to think that's what most adults who take care of and/or work with kids would want for them.

UPDATES

  • Sign up for Rick Hanson's Foundations of Well-Being a transformational online program offering a wealth of information, guest speakers and experiential activities to promote mindfulness and calmness. You can also find out how strong your sense of "me" is with this revealing quiz from the Foundations of Well-Being program. (As an affiliate, we receive a small payment if you sign up through our link.)

  • Judith will be presenting a workshop at the 2015 Renfrew Conference in Philadelphia, November 13th – 15th 2015: Treating Binge Eating Disorder: Understanding the Problem. Implementing Treatment. Finding Solutions. If you're a professional interested in this topic, it's a great conference (and Gloria Steinem will be there too!)

  • The 2015 BEDA conference will take place from November 5 – 7th at the Hilton Diplomat Resort and Spa in Florida. This conference is for both professionals as well as people with Binge Eating Disorder (as well as their families.) It's a great opportunity to learn more and make connections – take a moment and learn more here!

  • How To Foster Your Child's Healthy Body Image with Judith Matz. Tuesday, January 26th, 7:00pm, Northfield Public Library, Northfield, IL. Free to public.

  • The Power of Mindful Eating with Judith Matz. Thursday, February 4th, 7:00pm, Winnetka Public Library, Winnetka IL. Free to public.

  • Save the Date! Treating Binge Eating Disorder: A Mindful Approach to Recovery with Judith Matz. Friday, March 4, 2016. Oakton Community College Continuing Ed for Mental Health Professionals – CEU's available! More info in the Winter Newsletter.

  • Are you a blogger, journalist, or newsletter editor interested in writing about Amanda's Big Dream? If so, please contact Judith directly with the name of your publication to request a review copy at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. [feel free to pass along this request to others who might be interested as well.]

  • Join us on Facebook for words of wisdom and links to the latest articles

Joelle's Journey

This is an excerpt from an article appeared in the September/October 2015 issue of the Psychotherapy Networker magazine, the largest magazine for mental health professionals. Please note that the content is based on a composite of experiences and does not represent one single client. Also, this section always includes case commentary at the end, some of which does not support the concepts of attuned eating.

When Joelle called me to set up an appointment, I could hear the cycle of shame in her voice. "I've got to get my eating under control," she told me. "I'm a middle-school librarian, and in the summers, when I'm not working, I'm really good at sticking to my diet. But as soon as I go back to school in September, everything falls apart."

A few days later, Joelle walked into my office. She had long hair and was dressed casually, in a pair of jeans and a loose shirt. "I learned a lot about dealing with conflict with my previous therapist, and my marriage has gotten so much better," she explained. "but I can't stop my overeating, and I keep getting heavier."

From the start, I was clear with Joelle—as I am with all my clients—that we could work on ending her preoccupation with food and weight, and if weight loss occurred in the process, it'd be a side effect, not our measure of our success. "There's really no way to tell whether you'll lose weight," I explained. "The factors determining body size are so complex. No matter what, though, I can help you be more at peace with food and work on your body image and health concerns. We can even look at how to deal with some of the pressures in our culture about weight. How does that sound?"

"Sounds interesting," Joelle responded.

First, it was important for me to hear the specific details of her eating experiences—not only to understand her situation, but because it would help reduce her shame as I listened without judgment and without trying to fix her problem with strategies that she'd probably already tried. "Tell me a bit about your eating patterns," I started.

Looking uncomfortable, she crossed her legs, uncrossed them, and then said, "It's hard to talk about because it's so embarrassing. Yesterday, for example, I stopped for an Egg McMuffin at McDonalds on my way to work. You'd think that'd be enough, but then I drove through two more fast-food places for more breakfast sandwiches, and I was stuffed by the time I got to work." After having a salad for lunch, she didn't eat again until she got home. Since her husband was working late, which he often did, she didn't bother to cook dinner. Instead, she grabbed some cereal and then finished a box of Oreo cookies. "I know these things are bad for me," she added. "I really shouldn't keep cookies in the house. They're just too tempting."

"You know," I responded gently, "that's part of the problem. You tell yourself that cookies are a bad food and ban them, but then when they're available they glitter for you. If you're like most people, once you start eating them, your diet mentality tells you that you might as well have the whole box, since, starting tomorrow, you can't have them again."

"That's exactly what happens to me," Joelle said. "When I'm in control, it's like a high: I lose weight and get lots of compliments. But I can't keep it up, and I end up eating the foods I was staying away from and gaining all the weight back."

I felt the heaviness in my heart that often arises when I hear the pain of someone caught in this struggle. "You think it's your fault, but it's part of the pattern for almost everyone," I said. "If you're like most of my clients, when the weight comes back, the people who gave you the compliments are silent, and you end up feeling shame. Then the negative body thoughts come back, leading to the next cycle of food restrictions."

Joelle nodded her head, tears welling up in the corners of her eyes.

To read the complete article and learn more about Joelle's journey please click here.

Wishing you a season of growth and peace,

Judith and Ellen

Judith Matz, LCSW
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www.judithmatz.com
Ellen Frankel, LCSW
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www.authorellenfrankel.com

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