It makes me crazy to see all the diet commercials and weight loss organizations hammering the message into people’s heads that something is wrong with them if they’re not dieting.

I’m looking forward to leading an assembly tomorrow for the 4-6 graders of Eldorado Elementary School in South Spring Valley, New York. The topic on the table is body image and self esteem. I’ve decided to share with the 10, 11 and 12 year old kids, my journey of self discovery, and recognizing the importance of self-acceptance–loving yourself just the way  you are.

I’ll be inviting the kids to ask me questions and to share what kinds of challenges they’re facing related to the way they see themselves and their bodies.

Your body image or the picture you have in your mind of what your body looks like develops in childhood. I used to get teased incessantly by the neighborhood kids because they called me fat. It hurt so much.

Bullying is no joke. It’s absolute nonsense when people say, “sticks and stones can break your bones, but names can never hurt you.” Words hurt–And that’s why I speak to kids in schools to teach them how to calm themselves and handle upsetting situations when they feel under pressure.

My relationship with dieting began early on. I was just 10 years old when I was taught how to count calories.

DSC02345As the photo to the right shows, I used to be a hard core Weight Watchers member. I kept excruciatingly rigid written accounts journalling what I ate, when, my exercise points, my workout, water consumed, and every other aspect of living and eating conducive to weight loss. Losing weight was my only goal in life. Nothing else mattered. I had absolutely no sense of perspective about my value.  I felt that because I hadn’t reached my goal weight, nothing else mattered.

But after nearly 3 1/2 decades of fearing food and feeling totally out of control around eating, today food and I have a much more harmonious relationship and I’m eager to share what has worked for me in hopes that it may be right for you too.

Several years ago my life took a radical turn when I decided to stop dieting. Besides wanting to do it for my own reasons, it had become apparent that I had to make the change for the health and well-being of my daughter.

At the time Cara was ten years old. She was steadily gaining weight and showing signs of being an emotional eater. Oblivious and not really knowing what to do to help her, I was beginning to repeat the same desperately ignorant parenting mistakes my father had made. I, too, had become a hypocritical role model, espousing healthy eating one moment and binging whenever anyone’s back was turned. As a woman with my own disordered relationship with food, I realized I was the worst role model for Cara.

Desperate to get her eating under control, I watched her like a hawk, made backhanded comments about her weight, criticized her food choices, obsessed over everything she ate, and in general began to lose sight of my precious girl. It was killing our relationship and she was starting to hate me.

After seeing how the legacy of my tortured, twisted thinking and dysfunctional eating was affecting her, I knew that if I didn’t stop this runaway train, Cara would end up like me; fat, perpetually unhappy with herself, and hating her body. I couldn’t live with the idea of doing that to my daughter.

That was when I realized that diets were a big part of the problem. Sarcasm, criticism, and meanness were the only ways I knew how to talk to myself. I used these same desperate attempts at communication with my daughter which was toxic to our relationship. Our closeness was being destroyed. In order to help her regain her sense of balance and comfort around food, I had to first help myself.

Deep down in my heart I knew that as much as I wanted to help Cara find her way to peace in her relationship with food, I couldn’t, because I was cluelessly lost myself. I vowed to find the answers for both of us and prayed for help so we could begin our healing. Soon afterward, the universe sent me a gift—Dr. Harold Frost.

I met and befriended Doc Frost in an online networking group. Doc was in the process of retiring from a successful twenty-five year career as a therapist and co-founder of an eating disorder clinic in the Midwest. He wanted to share his experiences by writing a book and I offered to help by giving him feedback on his writing. He eagerly accepted and explained to me his work with women who had eating disorders.

Hearing him speak of his patients and their struggles with such tenderness and care, I instinctively knew I could trust Doc. I confided in him and shared my story, asking for his help and guidance. He explained to me that in order to change the way my daughter related to food and to her body, I had to challenge many of the limiting beliefs and assumptions I had about food and my body.

Doc said that as a dieter, I had learned to fear food and think of my hunger and my body as “the enemies.” This had set up an unnatural relationship with food and kept me hating my body. As long as I lived with the dieters’ all or nothing mentality, I would always end up craving foods that I thought I shouldn’t eat.

When I reached the point where I couldn’t stand denying myself a moment longer, I would give in and binge. My associations with guilt, fear, and shame around food, combined with bad feelings about my body, kept me in an endless cycle of binging and dieting. Doc offered to teach me an alternative to dieting: a non-diet weight control method called intuitive eating.

Making the decision to stop dieting terrified me. I saw it as the ultimate form of giving up. As much as I hated dieting, it was the only way I knew to control my voracious appetite. I figured if I ever began eating without being restricted by a diet, I’d never stop. Doc assured me this wasn’t true.

At that time, in July of 2006, American Idol contestant Katherine MacPhee shared her eating addiction story with People® magazine. She talked about her amazing recovery using a process called Intuitive Eating.  In reading the article I discovered she had lost thirty pounds eating all the foods she loved. That got my attention.
Doc then sent me an audio tape of his entitled, Loving the Child Within™. He said I should learn about intuitive eating by listening to the stories of his former patients.

One such story was of a woman named Megan.  On the tape Megan spoke of the abusive and chaotic atmosphere in which she was raised as a child. When I listened to her I knew I had found someone to whom I could relate. Like me, she had spent most of her life trying to disconnect from her painful past by using food to numb her emotions.

Megan described how her work with Doc had changed the way she dealt with food. He had helped her heal much of her rage and she had developed a new appreciation for her body. I realized that if she could heal her broken relationship with food and with her body, then I could too.

From that moment on, I decided to have faith. Faith, that just like Megan and Katherine MacPhee, my body’s inner wisdom would effortlessly and naturally guide me back to my natural size.

Along the road I’ve learned that along with using the non-diet process of intuitive eating, you have to love and accept yourself in order to finally make peace with food. If you can’t find compassion for the vulnerable parts of you, you’ll continue to unconsciously abuse yourself by overeating.