That hybrid identity--both girlboy and neither--was closer to who I was than anything else. For a while, as a kid and a preteen with a body relatively unmarked by visible signs of gender, I could flourish in that liminal space. As I moved into puberty, however, my body started to change, and so did the way people interacted with me. My bat mitzvah, as the threshold between tomboy and woman, was the dividing line. That's adding an interior stress bomb on top of whatever stress you have from workday hassles. Things might calm down in your body once again a few hours later--or you retrigger it once more at the end of the day with a large pepperoni pizza with extra cheese for dinner. Cap it off with your middle schooler's meltdown over algebra homework that night, and suddenly, you find yourself in a chronic state of inflammation and stress. That's the bad news. But here's the good: our research has shown that making just a few changes and gaining control here has a strong spillover effect in every other area of your life. A clergy association in North Carolina came to us not long ago for help. Their members were not doing well physically or psychologically, showing signs of extreme stress. They were overweight, overworked, and burned out, experiencing all the problems that come with poor food choices and lack of exercise. We put thirty-five of these members through the meQuilibrium program, and within thirty days they showed improvement on three important variables: they were no longer eating more when stressed, they were making healthier food decisions, and they were exercising better and smarter. That in and of itself was a win, but the benefits didn't end there. By placing statements of group members and of the therapist into categories descriptive of the significance of the statements, it is possible to compare groups with reference to the frequency of occurrence of various kinds of statements. The three groups studied by Hoch were remarkably similar in overall pattern, the intercorrelations being . Hoch concluded that the members of the three groups spent their respective sessions in very similar atmospheres with respect to the verbal behavior taking place. But it is important to note that within this group uniformity there is room for individual variation. When intercorrelations are computed for individuals within the groups, the coefficients range from . Thus no person is forced into a group mold, and leeway is provided for individual differences in manner of self-expression.

On the other hand, group gestalts are sufficiently similar to indicate that group-centered therapy has a distinctive character. Hoch was able to identify other characteristics of group-centered therapy, an account of which will throw more light on what happens. The frequency of statements judged to be therapeutically positive and therapeutically negative follows a predictable course. Positive elements, revealed in statements showing positive planning, insight, positive attitudes toward the self, positive attitudes toward others, and so on, clearly increase from meeting to meeting, reaching their highest point in the final meetings. Crossing the threshold required a survival tactic that would haunt me long after. If it's possible to mark the start of an eating disorder, that would be the day. My body was becoming more and more of a problem. It was betraying me by sending signals to the world that I was a woman, when I knew I was not. The unrelenting messages I got about my wrongness meant that I could not exist as I was in my own body. The contrast between the excruciatingly narrow possibilities for gender (man or woman) versus what I knew of myself meant that I could not be me, in this body. This is a kind of death. It's so obvious that it looks ridiculous when I write this, but without a body, you don't exist. We are not separable from our bodies. We are our bodies, and to make someone feel that they can't be at home in their body--the source of their life--is a death wish visited upon them. They also showed a corresponding boost in their ability to regulate their emotions and change the thinking habits that were clouding their judgment and ability to focus on work. In fact, it was these changes in resilience that powered their better physical health habits; Again, you can see how it's all interconnected. There's another big factor to consider in the link between what we eat and stress management: self-esteem. The choices we make are what have the greatest impact on how we feel about ourselves. When we have the resolve to make good food choices, we feel strong, virtuous, and in control.

We possess confidence in our ability to determine our own destiny. Conversely, when we consistently make unhealthy food choices (or go unconscious entirely, wondering how it came to pass that we ate that third helping of macaroni and cheese), we can feel guilty, ashamed, sad, or embarrassed. How many times have you berated yourself for eating a donut in the break room just because it was there? Or been disappointed in yourself for overindulging at a holiday party? Negative elements, on the other hand, are not complementary to the positive elements. It is as though the members have to go through warming-up periods in which they establish their confidence and security in the group. Toward the middle sessions, negative feelings reach their peak, with defensive remarks, confusion, requests for help, and negative attitudes toward the self and toward others gaining prominence. Toward the final sessions, such negative expressions decrease markedly, constituting only a small proportion of the total number of statements. In group-centered therapy, behavior that may be characterized as statement of problem and elaboration of problem occurs throughout the meetings, with no significant falling off toward the end of therapy, as one might expect. This finding may stem from the fact that therapy was not carried on for a sufficient number of sessions to resolve all problems and exhaust the need to bring up new issues. But since no one is ever without problems, a better explanation of the rather level course of problem-stating behavior in group therapy may be found in a study of the protocols themselves, which reveal something of a spiral pattern in this kind of behavior. There is a tendency to go around the group, allowing each member an opportunity to explore a theme before a person who has already had his chance introduces a new theme. And subsequent themes tend toward a deeper expression of concern. This tendency, though not a rigid pattern, accounts for the persistence of problem-stating behavior. To make matters worse, the way socialization works is that in pursuit of belonging, we get enlisted into committing crimes against ourselves and our own bodies. Coercion, erasure, marginalization, othering, dehumanization, discrimination, exclusion, and alienation are targeted forms of abuse, violence, and death that are inflicted, largely with impunity, on certain bodies. Those of us outside the mythical norm become targets. We are under unrelenting pressure to modify our perceived bodily failings. To survive, we have to objectify our own bodies and can't relax into them. We can't belong, not even to ourselves.

White supremacy and colonization, for example, make it hard for People of Color to appreciate their bodies. How can you value your body when it stands as your main barrier to opportunity and respect? Black people lose jobs for locs and braids. People have to objectify and dissociate themselves from their bodies in an attempt to manage their lives, to create safety, to get jobs, to get through the day without getting murdered--literally, spiritually or otherwise. These particular negative emotions, when activated chronically, can cause a big hit to our self-esteem. We could load you up with all kinds of scientific explanations for why powering your body with the right foods helps combat stress, and why eating the wrong ones does the exact opposite, but the proof, really, is in the experience. You've been living in your body long enough to know how you feel when you eat poorly and how you feel when you choose healthy, energizing foods. We're not here to tell you not to enjoy your mother's famous lasagna or your favorite decadent dessert. Treats like these are among life's greatest pleasures! Instead, we want to help you become mindful of the food choices you make on an everyday basis so that when you do indulge, you do it consciously and joyfully. We want to put you back in control so that you can regain balance and peace of mind. Take Action There are two things you'll accomplish today: learn to eat mindfully and learn to eat better. When done in tandem, these two habits will turn your body into a powerful ally against stress. It may be that an experience in group therapy is less sharply demarked from daily life than is individual therapy. The beginning is less dramatic and the termination less decisive, but these are matters for further study. Finally, it should be noted that group-centered therapy, in its development from meeting to meeting, presents a changing picture marked by progress. Sessions are not repetitious samples of a static picture. When several complete series of group therapy sessions are divided into halves, the second half has a significantly higher concentration of good categories, representing a palpable gain in understandings and positive attitudes. This trend toward more positive expression is evident in groups as a whole, and is accentuated for those members of groups who gain most from the experience.

It is also found that members who gain most, as compared with those who gain least, tend to avoid general intellectual discussion, to focus on their own problems, and to grow sufficiently to exhibit more concern for the problems of other members. These findings confirm, to a surprising degree, the smaller preliminary study made by Peres (146) several years earlier, and based upon the analysis of but one group which met for nine sessions. Peres found that when the group was divided into a benefited group (the four who felt they had gained considerable help) and a nonbenefited group (the three who felt they had gained little) real differences could be objectively demonstrated between these two groups. The benefited group showed, throughout the series, an increasing proportion of statements indicating understanding and insight, and an increasing number of reports of plans and actions. The signs of this crisis are everywhere, from decreasing levels of empathy and trust to soaring rates of suicide, depression, loneliness, and mass violence. Over and over, we learn that we don't belong in our bodies. If we have to scan our environments . If we're at increased risk for rape, violence, and murder . If we can't trust other people with our true selves . If huge amounts of our energy, cognitive power, and money must be devoted to ameliorating our unacceptable bodies . If our life spans are shortened . If we don't survive pregnancies or our infants aren't surviving . If police can shoot us with impunity . If we can't use the restroom without fear of violence . EAT MINDFULLY If you've tried to get control of your eating habits before, without success, you might be skeptical that we can tell you anything new. But there's a reason that up until now your goals and behaviors haven't lined up. If you're not mindful of the decisions you're making--not just about what you're eating but about why--it's hard to really accomplish any health-related goals. Most people mean to eat well. But what happens to your good intentions when you're under stress, have other things on your mind, or even when you're bored?