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WALKING THE THIN LINE SIMPLE MENTAL CHANGES HELP PEOPLE TOWARD A LEANER LIFE

Don't just get rid of your diet books. Burn them in your bathtub.
That's one of the "50 ways to feel thin, gorgeous, and happy (when you feel anything but)" that author Geneen Roth recommends in her latest book, "When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair" (Hyperion, 1998, $15.95). Sure, it may sound strange, but don't knock it until you try it. Ms. Roth did. And it worked for her. It works for others too, she insists.

Ms. Roth should know. She's done 'em all. Diets, that is. She started her first diet at age 11 -- "when I should have been making sure I was getting enough calcium to create strong bones," she says.

The 46-year-old anti-diet pioneer confesses to having lost and gained over 1,000 pounds in her lifetime. She has been "anorexic (she once weighed 82 pounds), 60 pounds overweight (the most she ever weighed was 160 pounds), and every point in between." She once gained 80 pounds in two months. Talk about bingeing!

But all that has changed. At 5-foot-3, she currently weighs around 110 and has been this weight for the past 18 years. Even better, she says, she's no longer "tortured and crazy" about the size of her body.

The ultimate goal for people, according to Ms. Roth, is to come into contact with the "power, strength and joy" inside themselves. Then, "they suddenly realize that these are what they wanted all along, what they thought they could only get by being thin. They realize they have everything they want 'now'; they are already whole, already complete."

Here are some ways to start feeling good about yourself:

Get rid of the oversized clothes in your closet. (Ms. Roth calls them the "just in case you gain too much weight clothes.") Oversized clothes represent fear and mistrust.

When you get rid of the clothes, you get rid of the message and the feeling that you're an impostor in your present weight.

But don't throw away your belts. (If you don't have any, buy some). Ms. Roth says that you should always wear a belt
because it's a physical way of identifying yourself. Wearing a belt allows you to "distinguish between your ideas about how big you are and your actual body size."

Stop those "fat and ugly" attacks. Even if you do feel fat and ugly, telling yourself won't help you lose weight. In fact, it'll probably make you feel worse. And you know what to do when you feel bad. You head straight for the refrigerator.

If you are a woman, start recognizing what a "normal woman's" body really looks like. Every summer Roth goes to a Zen retreat center where she stares at naked women's bodies. "Some would call this peeping," she writes. "I call it observing spiritual reality. This is what I see: sagging breasts, dimpled buttocks, cellulite thighs, stretch marks, flabby stomachs and drooping underarms." Always remember, the normal woman is not a model or an actress or an elite athlete.

Eat a hot meal every day, even if it's soup or scrambled eggs or a microwaved vegetable pot pie. It will nourish your body -- and your mind.

Always carry a chunk of your favorite chocolate with you. According to Ms. Roth, "chocolate reminds us to wake up, pay attention, stop reaching for what we don't have, and focus on what we do have."

But a word of caution: When you eat your chocolate, suck it, don't chew it. Take your time with it and devote your total attention to it; enjoy that chunk of chocolate so totally, you won't reach for more.

Eat enough fat. Reason 1: If you don't eat enough fat, you'll never feel full. Reason 2: When you think something doesn't have fat in it, you eat too much of it (and gain weight).

Eat enough protein. But remember, what's enough for one person may not be enough -- or may be too much -- for you. So, consult a health-care professional and experiment with different amounts and types.

Eat when you're hungry. After all, eating when you're hungry is not what causes you to gain weight. In fact, it allows you to develop trust and confidence in your ability to care for yourself. It allows you to relax.

Stop eating when you've had enough. Of course you know why you should stop eating when you've had enough, but the important point here is to recognize the difference between being full and having enough. You can have enough without being full.

Eliminate the word "exercise" from your vocabulary. "People treat exercise like diets," Ms. Roth says. "They think, 'I have to, I should, I'm bad if I don't.' They pressure themselves to do things they don't enjoy doing at a pace and frequency they can't keep up with," she adds. "That's why their exercise regimens fail the way their diets fail."

What to do? Think about your relationship to moving your body. Find a way to move your body that you'll love, a way that will feel like play. Not work.

Walking and hiking are Ms. Roth's favorite forms of moving her body. When the weather is bad, she might use her treadmill or stationary bike, or just "turn on some music and dance around the house."

Don't diet. There are four reasons why you should not diet. First, for every diet, there's a binge, and you'll put on more weight than you take off. Second, when you diet, you're telling yourself that if you don't diet, you'll "devour the universe." Third, the deprivation, fear, shame and guilt you feel when you diet will never lead to long-lasting change. Finally, you can't be kind to yourself while you're dieting, and long-lasting change can happen only when you're kind to yourself.

When you reach that point of accepting yourself and loving yourself without dieting, you will recognize that what you do to your body has consequences, and what you eat matters.

When you reach that point, you will want to be discriminating about the foods you consume. Sure, it takes effort to learn new practices, but it won't feel like a punishment. In other words, it won't feel like a diet.

"And that," says Ms. Roth, "is when a diet works."

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