Sunday, May 10, 2009

Overdieters Anonymous

I want to recommend that there be a recovery movement for people who compulsively overdiet.

Surely, you know more than a few people who are damaging their bodies by getting trapped in an endless cycle of weight swings. Take it off; put it back on; take it off again.... You would think that they had gotten trapped in the dressing room at Loehman's.

All in the name of svelte.

Compulsive overdieters follow all the diets, at times one after the other. They obsess about their weight; they count calories; they sacrifice their health to slim; they talk about their own and everyone else's body image all the time; they are constantly disparaging their own and everyone else's body.

Some even go to the absurd extreme of complimenting anorexics on how good they look. If you start thinking that anorexics have it right, or that you can never be too slim... they clearly you should head for the nearest Overdieters Anonymous meeting.

A few days ago I was blogging about Susan Roberts. Author of a new diet book Roberts was trying to stir up sales by saying something controversial and idiotic: If you want to lose weight jump off the treadmill and run out to buy her book. Link here.

Soon after posting the Roberts article Tina Brown redeemed herself on The Daily Beast by posting a sane and sensible article by Dara Chadwick. Link here.

Showing that it is possible to give good advice and sell books too, Chadwick wrote about how mothers can be a more positive influence on their daughters' body image.

In the process she offered the first steps toward what should eventually become a twelve step program for overdieters.

Chadwick's basic steps concern good health, good habits, and liking one's body no matter what.

The first two are obvious. Liking your body no matter what is more difficult. It does not involve a mental trick. It requires a woman to mine the resources offered by fashion and cosmetics.

Liking your body means looking your best. Television is full of makeover shows that assert the importance of looking your best.

And yet, Chadwick asserts, some women have not gotten the message. They have suffered the influence of certain feminists and have come to believe that Vogue and Marie Claire are part of a patriarchal conspiracy to enslave women by making them look good.

As you may know, this demented notion was propagated by one Naomi Wolf, a woman who looks like she has never walked away from the cosmetics counter empty handed.

Forget all of Wolf's pseudo-theoretical claptrap, when a woman who always tries to look her best advises other women that they can make a profound political statement by looking their worst, then clearly something strange is going on.

Hopefully, most women have moved beyond Wolf's bad advice. If they want good advice, they should turn to Chadwick.

Her book is addressed to mothers and daughters; a perfect gift for today.

What steps does she recommend. First, she advises women to stop criticizing themselves and other women.

As I have suggested, the problem is not what is going into the mouth but what is coming out of it. As Chadwick says: Watch your words.

In a culture that values free and open expression of doubts and vulnerabilities, Chadwick tells women simply to stop talking about their insecurities about weight and shape.

This also means that we should all repress our tendencies to make derogatory remarks about how a woman looks.

In some corners of the therapy culture this would be denounced as hypocrisy and dishonesty. In fact, it is basic good manners.

Constantly talking about weight issues, constantly promoting self-consciousness about weight should count as a form of self-abuse.

Chadwick advises mothers to make the following promise: "For Mother's Day promise yourself that you won't say another unkind thing about your body or make your shape a punchline in her presence this year. If you need to think it, then think it. But don't let her hear those words come out of your mouth. And while you're at it, let her hear you say something nice about your appearance."

She then adds some practical steps that ought could certainly organize more than a few Overdieters Anonymous meetings: "If you've been a lifelong dieter obsessed with calories, it's time to reframe that conversation, too. Ditch the calorie talk and let her see you make healthy food choices most of the time, without agonizing over your food. Hide the scale in the ahll closet, or throw it out with the trash. Invite her to take a walk with you after dinner. And if you choose to have desert? Have it without a single word about how you shouldn't?"

To some people this will sound like repression. To me it sounds like good advice. The point is to make food consumption more of a social ritual and less of a losing struggle with one's appetite.

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