As stated in Chapter 1: Introduction, this review of the literature describes my initial perspective for this intuitive inquiry (Anderson 1998,2000). All material in this chapter has been preserved in its original form in order to facilitate a comparison between my understanding at the beginning and at the conclusion of this 2-year project. Bearing witness to the change in my understanding and in deference to my pride, it was extremely difficult to leave this section in this form as it is so much less coherent, complex, and full-bodied than my current view.
Including popular and anecdotal material along with peer-reviewed research is uncommon in scientific exploration; however, I believe that setting a social context for topic of this study is important and relevant. Research does not proceed in a vacuum, and by acknowledging some of the current popular cultural views on this topic I hope to accomplish two objectives. The first is to inform the reader by offering an education in what women seeking answers to this issue have learned. This is important because an exhaustive review of the scientific literature barely alludes to the preponderance of popular information taught to women on the subject of weight loss. Second, by acknowledging the variety of perspectives of which I am aware, readers will be able to compare the totality of their knowledge and my own. The following description will also serve as a “time stamp” to mark the knowledge that is generally available to women at this time.
Additional empirical research and popular material are introduced in the individual discussion sections of Chapter 4: Results and Discussion, based upon (a) the contributions from the co-researchers regarding their history and experiences with books, programs, and techniques that informed their journeys toward embodiment; and (b) my own continued exploration of relevant literature. All literature is discussed in relation to the results in Chapter 4: Results and Discussion.
To set a context for the discussion of women as expert on their psycho-spiritual process of healing obesity, as revealed through their stories, this chapter reviews the literature in the following areas: traditional view of obesity expert; women’s ways of knowing and obesity; transpersonal psychology and obesity; and embodied language and sacred story.
The majority of the literature on the transformation of obesity grows out of the traditional model, in which participants practice lifestyle changes under the direction of a researcher that result in successes or failures at reducing body weight. Originating from medical, behavioral, educational, and psychological perspectives, these studies are predominantly experimental and assume a disconnected and power-differentiated relationship between researcher and subject. A brief definition of the phrase “traditional research” as it is used in this study, and an example of assumptions currently operating in the research and treatment of obesity, are provided below.
An overweight woman in this society needs to educate herself, experiment, and evaluate those things that positively and negatively affect her body size. However, viewing the female weight-loss client or research participant as the informed expert is not common in obesity research or treatment institutions in this country. In reviewing the literature I expected to find that this perspective was a minority position; however, I discovered even less such research than I had anticipated.
A few dissertations acknowledging that the female participant possesses valuable knowledge about her relationship with food and body size are discussed below, although I was unable to locate any research citations addressing self-definition of right body size and a self-created weight loss plan. However, I have included literature that provides a foundation for inquiry into these features of women’s relationship with body, including theoretical references on women’s ways knowing and learning.
Finally, this literature review will explore transpersonal psychology and transpersonal perspectives on health, as they relate to the issue of obesity. The transpersonal is the only psychological paradigm that can contain the magnitude of meaning and experiences associated with the complexities of healing obesity. Discussions of the new field of transpersonal medicine, feminine-positive spiritual perspectives, embodiment, sacred story, and embodied writing and thinking are included in the final section of this chapter. Transpersonal psychology uniquely supports this investigation through both its inclusion of spiritual aspects of human experience in empirical research and its progressive research methods, which may elicit and define new sources of feminine knowledge and wisdom.
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