Diets may be a way of life for many women, but ultimately diets don't
work. Instead, women cling desperately to the notion that they do, which
results in a lot of harm both psychologically and physically, said Carol
Munter, co-author of the books Overcoming Overeating and When
Women Stop Hating Their Bodies.
Munter, an eating disorders specialist in private practice in New York City, has worked with women suffering from eating disorders for more than 25 years. She spoke as part of Rape Awareness Week, April 7-13.
"It might seem as though the topic of eating disorders is unrelated to the theme [of Rape Awareness] on campus," Munter said. "I'm hoping to demonstrate that these two issues-the threat of rape and preoccupation with food-are deeply and intricately connected."
Her reasoning? Women remember from childhood how adorable everyone told them they were, Munter said. "People kept saying it, and you felt that you'd better be adorable, then later you discovered that being adorable is not such a safe thing, so you ran to the refrigerator."
Or, to put it more precisely: Women obsessed with the size of their bodies are preoccupied essentially with how much space they are allowed to take up in the world.
Sexual violence limits women this way as well, Munter said. Sexual violence can change the course of lives at any moment. "That threat degrades me, restricts me, and is the one thing that keeps me in my place," said Munter.
Although women have come far in the past several decades, college women are under enormous pressure to go back to the world of body shaping and dieting, said Munter. Through these self-inflicted acts, women make themselves more vulnerable, participating in the degeneration of women in a personal way-though body preoccupation and dieting.
How do women buy into this? "Think about the last 24 hours of your life," Munter counseled. "Go back. Did you have any thoughts about your body and eating? Imagine turning to your neighbor and saying those thoughts."
Munter called these obsessions that strike anytime, anyplace and anywhere "bad body syndrome" and "bad body fever." "Every time you have a bad body thought, you are being abusive," Munter said. Women receive messages every day that theirs is not the body they should have. "The $37 billion diet industry depends on this," said Munter. "They are all resting on your deep discontent with your body.
"The more we diet, the fatter we become," Munter noted. Yet, millions of women keep doing it. "It's got to be more than just learned behavior," she said.
Having a female body, by definition, one can't help but wonder, said Munter, "Am I really equal? Every time you have a bad body thought, what you are saying is, 'there's something wrong with my female body.'"
Women have a choice about what to do with these thoughts, Munter said. They can go on more diets or take another trip to the gym. Or, they can simply say to themselves, "I will simply refuse to entertain these thoughts."
There are three steps to getting rid of bad body fever, Munter said. Apologize to yourself. To challenge bad thoughts, ask yourself, "Who says?" And, finally, learn from these thoughts. "A bad body thought is never about your body," Munter said. "If you'll really be honest with yourself, you'll see that you made a detour. You were thinking about something uncomfortable or disturbing and rather than think about it, you let your mind make that detour."
Women need to take those thoughts on, she said and learn about the real issues that concern them. "You can't lose weight until you get to a point where it doesn't matter to you."
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