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

Fall 2011 Diet Survivor's Newsletter

Diet Survivor's Handbook


Welcome to the Fall 2011 Diet Survivor's Group e-mail!

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

**Judith is excited to appear in a new documentary film!**
America The Beautiful: The Thin Commandments!
Learn more under our Updates.

The spectacular days of autumn are here, bringing a golden tint to our outside world. As the leaves turn slowly from green to their gorgeous shades of reds and yellows before dropping to the earth, we're reminded how fleeting beauty can be. While many of our joyful experiences are fleeting, other experiences can be cultivated so that we can sustain them over time. When it comes to feeding yourself, are you able to sustain you experiences of attuned eating, as you honor your hunger and fullness? Or do you find that holding onto attuned eating experiences is as fleeting as the falling leaves?

Mouth hunger refers to all of the times you reach for food when you're not physically hungry. While it may seem that all sorts of feelings can lead to emotional overeating—sadness, anger, boredom, loneliness, and even happiness—it's actually the inability to tolerate these feelings that leads to eating when you're not physically hungry. Food is the first way we're soothed when we come into this world, and as adults, it may continue to be a way that you comfort, distract, soothe, or even numb yourself in times of emotional trouble.

Rather than berating yourself for emotional eating, we encourage you to practice compassion. Remind yourself that you're doing your best to take care of yourself, which is a good thing! At the same time, when you turn to food on a regular basis to take care of emotional needs, you move away from what's really bothering you. While this may feel better in the short-run, you lose the opportunity to find more satisfying ways to deal with emotions, solve life's problems, and truly meet your needs.

Our lesson this season invites you to let go of your judgments about emotional overeating, and instead, to get curious. As you learn more about what feelings and issues lead you to the refrigerator, you'll be in a stronger position to develop new ways to soothe yourself and to deal directly with these situations. Remember that before you take this step, it's important to end the deprivation of diets and to reconnect with your internal cues for hunger and fullness so that you have a reliable, consistent structure to guide you in deciding when, what and how much to eat. Our lesson goes like this:

Stay curious about your mouth hunger. Think of yourself as a detective as you try to learn more about what leads you to reach for food when you are not physically hungry. (Click here for Lesson)



Take a moment to check in with yourself and notice if you're feeling any stress right now. Is there tension in your body? Worries on your mind? Given the fast-paced life so many of us lead, we may constantly feel stress, which can also be a trigger for overeating.

We've been closely following the fields of neuroscience and mindfulness, and we'd like to share a small piece of wisdom that comes from Rick Hanson, author of Buddha's Brain. Rick explains that when we're feeling stressed, we're in our sympathetic nervous system (SNS)—the same system that gives us that fight-or-flight response so that if we see a bear, we can respond. Even though most of us aren't too worried about bears, being on high alert can be helpful if we're in an emergency, taking an exam, performing on stage, or even getting our creative juices flowing. But when our SNS is operating 24/7, stress hormones flood our body and have a negative effect on our physical and mental well-being.

Fortunately, when we're in our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) our bodies and minds slow down, leaving us with a feeling of relaxation and contentment. The PNS is our natural state of equilibrium, and moving from our SNS to our PNS is within our conscious control. In fact, it's easier than you might think!

We've heard the expression (although we're not sure who to attribute it to…) that you can't be anxious and relaxed at the same time—we encourage you to do a quick experiment. (We know that some of you have already developed mindfulness practices. But even so, it may feel good to take a moment right now!)

Sit comfortably with both feet flat on the ground. After you read these instructions, close your eyes, placing one hand on your chest and the other hand on your abdomen. Start to breathe through your nostrils, keeping your breaths even and smooth as you send the oxygen to your diaphragm. Your upper hand should stay relatively still, while your lower hand should rise and fall with each breath. Allow yourself to take 10 of these deep breaths—more if you prefer—before slowly opening your eyes.

Ready? Begin!

How was that for you? Could you feel your mind slow down? Your body relax? You may have noticed that your mind wandered away from your breathing at times, and we want to reassure you that's okay. In fact, we expect that to happen. When you notice your mind wandering, gently return to your breath.

This is just one of the many techniques that can help you move from your SNS to your PNS. As a diet survivor, you may choose to use mindfulness or meditation practices as an alternative to reaching for food in a moment of discomfort, and that's fine. We'd also encourage you to cultivate this practice on a regular basis to increase the calmness and balance you feel within yourself. If you'd like to learn more, take a look at Buddha's Brain. Rick Hanson also has another book that was just released, offering 52 mindful practices. It's called Just One Thing, and it's high on our list of books to read!

Weighty Matters

With Michelle Obama's Let's Move Campaign, there's been a lot of attention to the topic of preventing "childhood obesity." Perhaps because of that focus on kids and weight, a new children's book is about to be released, called Maggie Goes On A Diet. This story is aimed at girls falling in the 4 to 8 year old range.

You may have heard about this already—there's been a lot of outrage about even using the word diet with kids so young. As a result, the author, Paul Kramer, has gotten a lot of attention and stirred debate. He has no background in eating issues, and the book is self-published. Here's the description:

This book is about a 14 year old girl who goes on a diet and is transformed from being extremely overweight and insecure to a normal sized girl who becomes the school soccer star. Through time, exercise and hard work, Maggie becomes more and more confident and develops a positive self image.

We can only hope that most parents will be wise enough not to read this book to their children. Unfortunately, however, Kramer's suggestion that as the result of weight loss Maggie becomes happier and more successful only mirrors the beliefs still widely held in our culture. The diet industry continues to thrive as people desperately seek the means to become thinner—the newest statistic is that the diet industry earned 60.9 billion dollars this year!

In our experience—both as diet survivors and as therapists—we know that the REAL story goes more like this:

Maggie goes on a diet. She misses the foods she loves, and she feels deprived. She starts sneaking these "bad" foods and eats them whenever she thinks no one is looking. She gains back the weight she lost. She knows she shouldn't eat certain foods, and she knows she'll have to give them up again in the near future. Therefore, she feels compelled to eat them now. She loses touch with her physical hunger. She eats more than she needs. She gains more weight. People who care about Maggie tell her she should lose weight so she will feel better and be healthier. She's a good soccer player (or dancer, or skater or athlete, or painter, or musician) but she's told that losing weight is what will build her self-esteem. She learns to hate her body. She undervalues her accomplishments, her relationships and herself. She battles with her appetite. She gains more weight. Maggie diets and binges for decades to come. THE END.

Many of you have heard the famous quote by Albert Einstein: Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

The diet industry is continuing to grow as people seek the same solution over and over. When will people realize that people don't fail diets; diets fail them? When will we stop this insanity?

P.S. We just learned that Mr. Kramer is renaming his book Maggie Eats Healthier because of the outcry over his title. Helping kids have access to healthy foods is, of course, a great idea. Teaching kids that losing weight is how you improve self-esteem… still a terrible idea.


The Thin Commandments

  • Judith was interviewed for the new documentary America The Beautiful: The Thin Commandments by filmmaker Darryl Roberts (You may be familiar with his first America The Beautiful film that focused on the beauty industry). Mr. Roberts spent two hours at Judith's office in August—and she's just received confirmation that she appears in the movie! Mr. Roberts takes on the diet industry, and Judith is one of several Health At Every Size™ experts that talks about diet failure and the unwarranted focus on weight. View the trailer at (and search for screenings) by clicking here.

  • Ellen is taking her new novel, Syd Arthur, on the road! Look for her in or near the following cities: Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, West Palm Beach, and Dallas. For dates and locations, visit her website at

    Syd Arthur

  • The Binge Eating Disorder Association presents its annual conference, entitled Revolution Ahead: Illuminating the Path to Freedom from BED, Emotional Overeating and Weight Stigma from March 2 – 4 in Philadelphia. Judith will be presenting two workshops: Body of Knowledge: Exploring the Clinician's Experience of Body Size and Its Impact on Treatment (along with co-presenter Deb Burgard, Ph.D) and The Diet Survivor's Circle: Journey to Empowerment.

  • The Psychotherapy Networker presents its annual symposium, entitled Creating a New Wisdom from March 22 – March 25 in Washington, D.C. Judith will present a full-day workshop for therapists on Attuned Eating, Attuned Living, and a clinical workshop that exposes therapists to the Health At Every Size (HAES)™ paradigm entitled Beyond the Diet Mentality.


Abbey described herself as an attuned eater who almost always ate when she was hungry, and usually made a match with food that felt very satisfying to her. The problem, she explained, was that she often ate more than she needed, even though she realized she was full. When asked the question, "What would you think about or feel if you stopped eating at the moment of satisfaction?" Abbey said she couldn't figure out why she kept going. Abbey knew she could eat it again later if she became hungry, and added that she was comfortable taking home leftovers from restaurant meals and saving them for another time.

The next week, Abbey returned to the same issue. As she talked more about how there was something that made her want to keep eating, she used the expression that it "just didn't seem to be enough." As she explored whether there was "enough" in other areas of her life, Abbey talked about her long-standing belief that she should be "better" than she is now by having more friends and a more prominent job. Although Abbey actually felt quite content in her work and relationships, this question of "enough" brought her back to a recurring theme in her life of feeling that no matter how accomplished she was in her schoolwork or a hobby or her career, she felt pressured to "do more" in order to feel accepted by others. As Abbey understood how she was using food to play out this notion of being enough, she was able to reflect more on the quality of her life, and what she truly wanted for herself. If her friendships or work life had been unsatisfactory, then setting the intention to improve those areas would make sense. However, since Abbey found authentic satisfaction in her work and relationships, her new goal was to work on accepting that enough was enough! She applied this thinking to her food, and found herself increasingly able to stop eating when satisfied.

Food for Thought

Unlike Abbey, some diet survivors feel that they don't have enough in their lives when it comes to work, relationships, activities or material goods. Food can become a way to try to fill that emptiness, but food can really only fill your physical hunger. Ask yourself, "What's enough?" when it comes to food and to your life. Are you like Abbey, constantly believing that you have to have more—or to be more? Or are you hungering for something else, something that can't be found through food?

facebook2Don't forget to "like" Diet Survivor's Group on Facebook. You'll get more frequent support, inspiration, and updates, such as Deb Burgard's excellent post: Can I love my body and still want to lose weight?.

Wishing you a glorious and abundant season!

All the best,
Judith and Ellen

Judith Matz, LCSW
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Ellen Frankel, LCSW
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