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A HUNGER SO WIDE AND SO DEEP: AN EXPANSIVE PROJECT

Ultimately, the women I interviewed used a combination of healing strategies, either because one was not sufficient in itself or because an approach that brought relief and support at one point in a woman's life failed to do so later. Their many approaches speak to the multilayered dimensions of eating problems. On the surface they involve issues of nutrition and eating patterns; on a deeper level, freeing oneself of them requires concerted long-term attention to psychological health; sexual, racial and religious affirmations; and access to community resources and support.

The link between healing and the decline of bingeing and dieting is complicated by the cyclical and evolving definition of healing. A few women who initially considered bingeing a problem eventually softened their assessments. Although all of the women identified their bingeing, purging, and compulsive eating as painful liabilities, they were careful to note that these actions are far superior to many other ways of responding to pain and injustice.

Vera had been eating compulsively less often for several years when a very close friend died, leaving Vera and her lesbian partner with the friend's two small children. The women became deeply attached to the children and embraced parenthood wholeheartedly, then lost the children to relatives who objected to lesbian parents. Actively alcoholic and aggressively homophobic, these people neglected the children and refused Vera and her partner further contact with them. Vera's grief about this enormous loss and her powerlessness to protect the children brought on despair and depression. She continued to attend Overeaters Anonymous as she had for several years, but for the first time she fell fast asleep during the meetings—the closest she had ever come to leaving her body. She realized that the emotional trauma was "more than I could handle" and became increasingly skeptical of the philosophy that people should avoid bingeing "no matter what." She began to gain weight quickly and soon tried, to no avail, tactics —Slim Fast and Dexatrim—she had given up years before. She knew from experience the dangers of cycles of weight loss and gain that diets can cause and decided against further quick fixes. She also reassessed the notion of bingeing as an addiction, ultimately discarding that philosophy as too harsh and too rigid. She now considers bingeing a compulsion rather than an addiction, and while she intends not to use food to "keep emotions down" she believes her new outlook is less critical, more flexible, and ultimately more loving.

Vera's experience raises the question of whether there is something inherently wrong with using food as a comfort when something terrible occurs. If it soothes someone in a time of extraordinary grief—why not? For some of the women, a sign of recovery was coming to see eating as a reasonable way to cope with adversity given other "choices." These questions bring the discussion full circle, since answering them rests on social and political analysis. The "just say no to food and yes to life" approach to eating problems, like the "just say no to drugs" ideas of the Reagan-Bush years, reduces complex issues of social justice and access to resources to psychological issues of self-control and will power. As long as the violence and social injustices that women link to the origins and perpetuation of their eating problems exist, women may continue to binge, purge, and starve themselves.

The link between eating problems and the traumas these eighteen women described to me indicates that prevention of eating problems depends on changing the social conditions that support violence and injustice. Making it possible for women to have healthy relationships with their bodies and their food is a comprehensive task: we need to ensure that children grow up free of racism and sexual abuse, that parents have adequate resources to raise their children, and that young lesbians have a chance to see their reflection in their teachers and community leaders. We must confront the myth of a monolingual society and support multilingual education; change a welfare system in which a household that is eligible for the maximum amount of assistance receives an average of forty cents worth of food stamps per meal; dismantle the alliance of the medical, insurance, reducing, and advertising industries that capitalizes on reducing women's bodies to childlike sizes; refuse to blame women who are anorexic or bulimic; and dispel the notion that large women automatically eat too much. Women must learn to feed themselves along with—not after—others. Ultimately, the prevention of eating problems depends on economic, cultural, racial, political, and sexual justice.

Women with eating problems need access to healing strategies that support the development of positive racial and sexual identity, since these are keys to self-esteem and empowerment. Those who seek therapy deserve multiracial and multicultural counseling in public and private agencies that employ women of color and lesbians at all levels. Health professionals must be willing to, in the words of Maria Root, "take the initiative to be culturally literate with a diversity of cultural groups." Programs for women with eating problems need to include at all levels —staff, administration, and board—people who know, from experience, about eating problems.

Effectively combating eating problems across the lines of class, race, religion, and ethnicity hinges on understanding that there are many possible approaches: going to Egypt, getting financial aid to attend college, working for a rape crisis hot line, becoming an athlete, seeking counseling, becoming an activist, joining a self-help group. Long-term healing is often born of counseling coupled with involvement in community, political, educational, and religious organizations. A therapist's ability to support a multifaceted approach to healing often depends on willingness to build multiracial, multicultural bridges, both personally and professionally. Such a commitment may determine whether women of color and working-class women seek and benefit from treatment—and can change the epidemiological portrait that hinders a comprehensive understanding of the causes of eating problems and the methods of healing from them.

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PSYCHOLOGICAL REASONS WHY YOU BINGE: MOOD AND PERSONALITY – DIFFERENT PSYCHOLOGICAL DISORDERS

THE HORMONAL CONNECTION: HYPOGLYCEMIA

GUIDELINES TO MAKE SUCCESSFUL TRANSITION TO MAINTENANCE WITH ROTATION DIET: EAT NATURALLY DIURETIC FOODS

WEIGH DOWN: HOW TO CONQUER EATING COMPULSIONS

A HUNGER SO WIDE AND SO DEEP: AN EXPANSIVE PROJECT