For hundreds of years we have been led to think of ourselves as two separate entities, mind and body. The mathematician René Descartes expressed this division and his "Cartesian split" has gotten us into trouble ever since.
The mind/body split is especially drastic for people who are fat. For example, while usually meant as a compliment, "Such a pretty face" is often perceived as a supreme insult by fat people. The implication: your face is pretty, but your body is not. As a result, many fat people wish they could exist only from chin to crown. Further compounding the split is the diet industry which encourages ignoring body signals and following Dr. X's miracle diet plan instead. Of course, in order to eat only what someone else recommends, we have to suppress and ignore our own hungers. And the ignorant presumption that fat people are fat because they eat too much has led many to condemn their own body for ever getting hungry.
Furthermore, many in the healing professions are prejudiced and blame people for their size. As a result, many fat people stop seeing medical/therapy professionals. Thus lacking preventive health care, only a medical crisis can force them to seek help. Many eventually learn to ignore troublesome body signals, since seeking help more than likely means they will be abused for their size, regardless of the symptoms.
Moving back into our bodies can heal many aspects of our lives. Eating disorders, for example, start when we are unfavorably compared, blamed, or threatened about our size and told to restrict our food intake to become more acceptable. But restricting things only makes them more desirable and forbidden foods take on increased importance. Having deprived ourselves of necessary calories, we then receive body signals to take in more energy and we are driven to eat fat and sweet foods to excess.
Between the shame and guilt of having binged and the dieting-induced numbing of our body signals, many of us lose our ability to determine when and what to eat. Our minds and our thin-is-the-only-acceptable-size culture promote depriving our bodies and/or "whipping them into shape."
If we allow ourselves to rediscover physical hunger, most of us have the necessary guide to lead us out of eating disorders. By legalizing all foods, noticing their effects on our bodies, and listening to our hunger and satiety signals, we can relearn how to eat in ways that fit our unique body and soul. By allowing ourselves to eat what we are hungry for, whenever we are hungry, we reassure ourselves that there is enough food for ourselves. By discovering that we can indeed get hungry and full, we can reaffirm that our bodies function properly. By relearning to listen to our bodies (as we did naturally when we were babies), we can relearn to accept our bodies, whatever their size. By accepting our bodies, we can free ourselves from eating disorders.
We can also learn to relieve aches and pains. If you look with your mind's eye, you will notice many properties of such discomforts. Considered what colors they might have? What shapes are the aches and pains taking? Are they throbbing, steady, heavy, or piercing? By determining the locations and properties of aches and pains, rather than trying to avoid or suppress them, you can allow many of them to disappear within minutes. I have used this technique for years. People are astonished that such a simple method can bring such quick relief, especially since we have been led to believe that the only way to get rid of discomforts is via medication.
There is no wall somewhere in the neck dividing the head from the lower parts of the body even though sometimes our mind feels as if they were miles apart. Intelligence exists in every cell of our bodies-in the white blood cells which make up our immune defenses, the red blood cells which revitalize us, cells which filter substances that could help or harm us, cells which recognize and repair damage. All the recent genetic discoveries are about intelligence that exists throughout our bodies.
When we allow our minds and bodies to be partners, we can heal and we can almost move mountains. We can consult with our bodies to clear up ailments that have troubled us and promote future healing. If a condition-such as a backache or heartburn, for example-keeps recurring, go somewhere quiet and have a conversation with that part of your body. Ask what it wants and needs. You may get answers in the form of words, mental images, or other sensations. It may take some practice or guidance before you learn to notice your body's sometimes subtle responses, but they are there.
Most women in our culture learn body hatred as part of learning to be a woman. In China, where western-type advertising is not common yet, most women like their bodies. In Japan, conversely, nearly all women are self-critical about their bodies. Our bodies respond to our thoughts via brain chemicals called neuropeptides. Giving our bodies positive messages about themselves is good for our immune systems. The work of such healers as Bernie Siegel, MD, has popularized this information.
It is both possible and desirable to appreciate and cherish your body, regardless of its size and shape. While the ways and means of achieving such a mutually productive partnership is the subject of a future column, you can begin right now by being willing to accept and appreciate the body you have-and the people who already appreciate it.
Now that's using your head!