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"Motivation to Change" Findings and Discussion

rebecca's research May 16, 2000


This magnet attracts the women’s inner urge to act. It points to the impetus toward the pursuit of a goal or change in circumstances. The motivation magnet answers the questions, “Why? Why act? Why change?” Maslow’s concepts of deficiency and growth motivation inform my inquiry into this magnet. Another facet of this inquiry addresses commitment: What is this woman committed to with regard to her body? Does a sacred chord or golden thread appear to be guiding her on to new awareness? What’s catalyzing the movement, action, or change? Is the motivation from an internal or external source?

My body-based images associated with this magnet are red, yellow and orange flames, fire, moving energy, blue, silver, white, electric and smooth. The energy center I’m aware of in my body as I hold this lens is my 1st chakra, with energy that moves down through my legs.

The section below has been organized to reflect a developmental process as I experienced it in the stories.


There was shame at the transition to womanhood for Katrina and Rose. In the following exerpts from their Tahoe stories, they make a connection between body, shame, and menarche, which strikes me as an entry point for their desire for change in their female form.

Katrina: My first memory of feeling shame around my body was when I got my period. It took me three months to tell my mom. I would sneak pads out of my sister's room and, like, think that nobody would know.

Rose: I got my period in sixth grade. When I told my mom she said, “You may not be regular right away.” So I used that as an opportunity to never tell her again that I had my period. I proceeded for several years to have my period and never use tampons or pads. I just used a bunch of Kleenex and my underwear would all get stained. I had this bag in the basement. I kept putting all my stained underwear in this bag and I hid it away, rather than say to my mother “I have my period.” It was so disgusting and shameful to me. I didn’t want to have that conversation with her. I didn’t want her anywhere near me around it. I just felt humiliated like there was something wrong with me for having it.

Katrina and Rose perceived a deficiency in themselves and were motivated to solve their “problem; ” they felt alone and on their own in doing so. Mom and family were not sought out as allies of support against body shame, due at least in part to the fact that their families themselves were perpetuating the deficiency attitudes in the girls. The women chose to proceed on their own.

In the following excerpts from their Tahoe stories, Christy and Rose also make connections between family, shame, and weight.

Christy: I had bought into my family’s concept that “Christy has the problem. That’s why she’s overweight.” I became the scapegoat in the family. Nobody had to look at their own particular stuff or the family dynamic. It was just “Christy’s thing.” I was the one who had the problems you know.

Weight was used for shaming in my family. I can remember my father saying to my mother, “You know, if you don’t lose some weight I won’t take you on a business trip”.

Rose: Just before puberty I grew really fast, eight inches in two years, and I gained 25 pound each year. Looking back I suspect that’s part of the process of hitting puberty, to just grow a lot and put on flesh. But it seems it was a cause for alarm in the family.

In her story, Rose describes her agenda to be a good girl, which necessitated eliminating anything that looked like trouble to her family. She had a strong motivation to conform to her family's perceptions and go against nature to change her developing body’s size. In the following pieces, Rose and Katrina tell of their families' efforts to support their childhood weight loss with rewards. This parental rewarding of weight loss behavior enforces the belief in proactive solutions to fix their daughter’s "deficiency, ” which also confirms the deficiency in the mind of the daughter. How parents respond to girls ’ changing bodies and to their desire for their parents ’ approval makes a lasting impression.

Rose: In my junior high years my mother and I would fight because she didn’t want me to eat so much. I remember a time she and I went shopping for clothes, things weren’t fitting and she said, “Well, maybe next time you’re not going to eat so much.”

She tried. My mom really tried. She got real serious one day and said “Rose, I want to talk to you. I want to offer you a reward if you lose weight. What do you like to do?” I liked going bowling with my friends at this time. So she said, “Okay for every pound you lose I’ll give you a free game of bowling.”

Katrina: Like my whole childhood I wanted a pink-lace canopy bed. The pink- lace canopy bed from the Montgomery Wards catalog. I had cut the picture out of the catalog and that was what I wanted. In order for me to get this pink lace canopy bed I had to lose a certain amount of weight or do well on my diet or be a certain size by the time school started or whatever.

I don't even know what size I was then. When I look at pictures I seemed perfectly fine and today I'm quite certain that I was. I never got the pink lace canopy bed. My wish or my reward somehow shifted from pink lace canopy bed to a hundred dollars. That never happened either.

Katrina: A few years ago my family was just stunned and amazed at how skinny I was. I resent that now but it filled me up then. It was really the only kind of love or affection that my mom knows how to give, it's very bizarre. At least if she was saying how great and skinny I looked it was something. It certainly wasn't the ugliness and hatred that existed when she found out I was gay.

Shame that is encouraged by unreasonable familial perceptions of how a body should look becomes a motivator for weight loss. In the preceding piece Katrina speaks of the resentment she feels about her family’s emphasis on body size. This suggests that all along some part of us rejected the ideal and the deficiency categorization.

Expectations of and pressure to conform to an ideal body size extend beyond the family of origin, as Wild Horse Woman shares in the following excerpt from her Tahoe story.

Wild Horse Woman: The times that I’ve lost weight in the past have mostly been based on shame. Getting ready for the National Outdoor Leadership Backpacking School, I had a few months where I was doing it for me, but then I got into relationship with my husband to be and talk about shame. Shame is a real good motivator but it doesn’t last.

Meeting the perceived deficiency with the solution presented by the parents begins a repeating cycle of deficit/overcome. However, in every story there is no standing victory or the cycle would end because the deficiency would be overcome. The notion of deficiency expands when the goal is not met, indicating failure, and tighter controls are set in place to beat the body and feelings back into submission. While shame incites a need to change body size, the motivation moves beyond compensating for feelings of shame to gaining control generally. The obsession begins. Rose tells the story of the beginning of her obsession in the following passage.

Rose: When I was twelve and about to have a Bat Mitzvah, I have no memory of how I came to this, but I decided to go on a diet to prepare for it. I have no idea how much I weighed, it was probably after I’d gained the fifty pounds and grown eight inches so I was filling out as a young woman. I probably had curves and maybe fleshiness in a few places. I think I was scared and excited and I didn’t know what to do with that so I decided to go on a diet to feel some sense of control. It was my very first diet. I got a book of calorie counts and I started writing down what I was eating and the calories. I was probably trying to do a thousand calories a day. I would write down the food and the numbers and I would add them up. Every time I’d eat one more food I’d add the whole column up again. No calculator or computer. I just became obsessed. I mean everyday, all day long. I probably lost 12 pounds.

Food is used to control everything unacceptable related to body including size, feelings, and knowing. In their story excerpts below, Christy, Rose, and Becky find food and weight work to manage emotions they were not prepared to deal with or had no place to express. Dieting and weight obsession effectively capture their focus during emotionally stressful times, revealing the underlying motivation to remain in control and function at the level that was expected of them.

Christy: The weight has been a lot about stuffing down my feelings rather than expressing them to somebody or sometimes, even expressing them to myself. Food has been a way to keep away the hurt, whether it was the sexual abuse or painful emotions. My weight has worked for me in the past as a very helpful, loving, and nurturing aspect
of me.

Rose: We never talked about “Mom could be dying.” At home after my mom’s funeral I remember eating a lot of that food brought in by the community, thinking, I’m going to lose some weight because my mom’s gone.

Becky: However, I do know that I’ve used food to help me manage that well of grief in both running away from it and also to keep me preoccupied in order to place some distance between myself and other people. I lived at home at the time Mat and I broke up and my parents knew I was very upset by the loss of the relationship. They were sympathetic and they were certainly on my side. But my family has never known how to deal with intense feelings very well and I knew that. There was no room in my family to express the magnitude of grief I felt. So I ate and slept and worked. That’s all I did - ate slept and worked and that’s how I survived the pain.

Tara's story speaks to the comfort that food provides when people react negatively to the way of knowing she describes as psychic. She uses food to help manage the conflict between voicing what she knows psychically and relating with people:

Tara: The voice of the psychic part of me is so repressed that I don’t have all the words for it. I feel even less able to talk about it because when I do people around me get scared and react. Most often I've experienced the pain of others pulling away. My overeating has been a response, a protection and a lot about the loss of utilizing that voice in me. There’s been comfort in food for me because the food doesn’t tell me what I can and can’t hear or know. It doesn’t numb it but it makes me able to live on the planet. It helps with the anxiety and numbing the waiting frustration. When I’m really tired and I’m amped up, I’ll eat certain foods to put myself to sleep. Food has been almost like trying to grab embodiment in the matter of the food, to force embodiment into myself so I could be here as a human.

In the following passage Wild Horse Woman describes how, as an emotionally abandoned girl, happiness motivated her afternoon eating ritual. This ritual was critical to her cycle of controlling both her weight and the amount of attention she received.

Wild Horse Woman: That was also the year I discovered the candy store down the street. One time I got an airline bag and I filled it with candy from my whole allowance. The teacher found it and shamed me about it but I didn’t care by that point, because I discovered something that made me happy. I would go home, crawl into bed at 3:00 in the afternoon and I would read my books for three hours while everyone was gone. And I would eat.

That afternoon eating and reading pattern went on for a lot of years but I stayed within an average weight so I wouldn’t be noticed. I’m in awe of how totally subconsciously this whole thing worked for me without my knowing enough to do anything consciously. It just worked for me to be average. I wasn’t pretty and I wasn’t so fat that my mom would start saying, “Oh, do something!”

Using the chocolate to put myself to sleep caused me to put on a little bit of weight. After some time of doing this, one day I’d wake up and feel like, “This is too much.” I just knew the feeling in my body. I swear every single time I did this for years when I got on the scale I weighed 144 pounds. I almost thought the scale was broken on that number. I just knew in my body what a 144 pounds felt like. I thought, “Oh, that’s not okay” so I’d start running and riding my bike, eating three meals a day, and cutting out sweets and stopping the chocolate. I’d feel good until I’d look in the mirror one day and my eyes would be sparkling or my hair would look better or somebody would say something complimentary. Something would trigger me to believe “I’m starting to look a little bit pretty” and I’d shut down completely. I stopped exercising, started eating again, continuing my little pattern until I got to be 144.1 did that cycle for maybe 10 years.

In excerpt below, Rose describes a similar cycle of controlling weight within a consistent range. Her goal weight is defined by what she heard women are supposed to weigh, and her approval-seeking behavior keeps her focused on attaining the externally prescribed goal weight - something she believes she can control, unlike losing her mother to cancer or being molested by her father. Controlling her weight is her goal above everything, including maintaining her health.

I had that drive to starve myself. I wanted to just stop eating and lose weight and be in control. One summer I exercised and ate no more than 1000 calories a day. I had no energy. My thought was, I’ll lose the weight and when I start eating again I’ll feel better. I thought if I literally have to lay in bed all stammer while I lose the weight because I have no energy, that’s fine. I got down to 136.1 bought myself an electronic scale as a reward for how well I was doing on my diet. So I did get down to 136, for like an hour.

In Rose's story the lost weight snaps back like a rubberband or a rebalancing. In the following excerpts, Rose describes her addiction to the “process" of losing weight and being in control; she talks about her previous disinterest in permanent weight loss, which invites the weight to return and encourages the cycle to continue. This again points to the “usefulness " of the addiction in keeping one busy in order to avoid other potentially less tolerable issues. Rose also offers the group a picture of the culture's role in perpetuating the motivation for that addiction.

Rose: I thought maybe that the psychiatrist would say something magical in the first couple of sessions that would get me to start to losing weight. I knew that I gained and lost weight all the time. I didn’t care if I gained it back later, I just wanted to lose in that moment. I literally had that thought...

This whole up and down weight thing is certainly a lot bigger than this room. Now I believe the diet industry is not our friend. It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing. They say it wants to help us lose weight, but the industry would not be around if their efforts at helping us to lose weight actually caused us to lose weight to where we didn’t need to lose weight again... They mean the weight of the money in our pockets. They want us to lose that weight [group erupts in laughter].

It reminds me of when I was getting married and in the bridal magazine among all these check lists and schedules one of them said, “If you’ll be dieting, you need to start your diet around . . The assumption was that that’s what we do, our motivation to diet is weddings, et cetera, and then we gain it back. It’s like losing weight is what people are addicted to - not being thin as much as to the process of losing weight. Whenever one is losing weight, unless they’re dying, they’re feeling in control and that is a really good feeling.

Tara: Feeling like we’re in control of this huge problem.

Eventually the dieting cycle burns itself out and control begins to lose its luster. What might be considered a failure shows itself with time and consciousness to be a gift. In the following teaching session excerpts, Wild Horse Woman describes the loss she experienced when shame lost its power as a motivator for her; Rose acknowledges the missing polarity in the shadow cycle, the part that rebels against weight loss all along because it knows the shame story about “core deficiency ” is a myth.

Wild Horse Woman: I actually remember being sad for as much as a good year when I felt my growth and recognized I wasn’t doing the shame anymore. It was like, now what do I do for a motivator? I don’t think shame works as long-term motivator.

Rose: Well I think it’s an anti-motivator because that part of me that will have a self will always rebel against it and any thought that I’m not okay.

While motivation to lose weight in order to overcome shame and gain the external approval of family members works for some time, its effectiveness wanes with expanded consciousness. Below, Christy describes how her commitment shifted - from body control after the fast to a commitment to being gentle with herself after memories of childhood abuse surfaced. Shame and external approval lost their position as motivators, allowing the emergence of an inner urge for self-care of a new variety.

Christy: Then as the memories of incest came I gained weight. Not only because of the memories but also because of other stressors at that time. Everybody said, “Well, you might want to diet. You know you’re going up in weight, you might want to change.” But I knew I needed to just let it go for however long it needed to go. If I ended up 500 pounds that’s how I ended up.

Below, Wild Horse Woman describes the moment she “gave up " trying to control her body size for approval.

Wild Horse Woman: I had been struggling to stay in that little in between place weight-wise. I was doing Lifespring, reading self-help books, trying to be the best person that I could possibly be. I remember standing there in the middle of the hall and saying, “I give up, I can’t do this anymore.”

Reflecting on her resonance with Wild Horse Women's story in a teaching session, Rose reveals her turning point experience in the following group dialogue:

Rose [to Wild Horse Woman]: I thought ‘oh my god, that’s totally my thing,’ In my story, one of those turning points was when for the first time after so, so many years I was 175 instead of 170. That was when I completely changed courses of direction because I thought, ‘Whatever it is I’ve been doing, it isn’t working anymore.’ For the first time, I started going in a different direction.

Becky [to Wild Horse Woman]: I wrote down that you identified the turning point as being in the hallway of your mom’s house after coming back home from Montana. There was something about that moment that was different after that.

Wild Horse Woman: Yeah, I had too many things that I was trying to heal. It was too hard, I couldn’t do it on my own anymore and it wasn’t worth it. I gave up. I didn’t know how to ask for help, I didn’t know it existed. So that’s what I did, put on the weight. I think what was acting inside is that my body will be my voice and maybe some help will come from somewhere if I do gain weight.

Rose: For me the turning point was similar but different. I was still trying to lose weight and I was trying to do it by gaining weight. That was when I legalized all the foods that I hadn’t been allowing myself to eat. I basically legalized all eating. But for me it was like a conscious effort to try to find a deeper level of healing or thinking maybe that would be the path to the healing for me.

Wild Horse Woman: Which I also did.

Rose: You did?

Wild Horse Woman: Yeah, with Overcoming Overeating. That was years later.

Becky (to Rose): Right. But THE turning point for you was that legalizing.

Rose: For me it was.

Tara: Wild Horse Woman used the words “getting fatter than 144 pounds was a metaphor for finally getting help.”

The shift from control to loosening control reveals itself to be a step toward growth. It offers a degree of freedom away from feelings of deficiency and the obsession to control one's body size. In the following passage, Rose describes finding, in Overeaters Anonymous, a degree of freedom away from her “crazy” behavior.

Rose: In college I took laxatives. I would get those little chocolate ones and like eat the whole box to try to lose weight and eliminate. I had an experience where I was in a store and I didn’t get to the bathroom in time. I pooped my pants at the age of 19 because I was eating a box of laxatives.

So OA was a breath of fresh air because you didn’t have to do crazy things. You didn’t have to diet anymore. I loved that it was about abstinence, having a plan I created for myself and sticking with it every day, one day at a time. Three meals a day and nothing in between but life.

The underlying motivation to lose weight remains but the focus becomes more internal as the methods sought are those that bring the women more in relationship with their bodies. New risks are taken in service of growth. The inner urge shifts from control to healing for Rose, as she shares below. She risks gaining weight as part of her process of healing.

Rose: I started to learn the process of eating when I am hungry and stop eating when I’m satisfied, sitting down and tasting the food. I felt really good when I started doing that. I thought, “It’s okay, I’m going to gain weight but I’m going to lose it so it’s okay and this is the answer.” Seems to be my path. So here I was now single and I was continuing to gain weight and really very much in the healing process.

This strikes me as a huge step forward in Rose's movement toward growth. When controlling weight has meant everything, to risk it is to open herself to something completely new: self-trust.

In the following excerpt, the inner urge shifts from losing weight to fitness for Wild Horse Woman. She's motivated by her adventurous goal, which is risky for someone who grew up trying "to be part of the wallpaper. ”

Wild Horse Woman: Just before my thirtieth birthday, I got a trainer and set the goal to go backpacking, camping, and hiking for 3 months in Baja. I got in real good shape and lost a lot of the weight. It was the best attitude I’d ever had about it because I didn’t concentrate on losing weight; it was about getting fit. I was training six days a week and it felt really good.

In the following passage, body size becomes unlinked from happiness as Katrina acknowledges her shift in motivation - from striving to mold her body into a specific form to eating, to exercising for the purpose of feeling good in her body.

Katrina: That picture of me was taken in May and that's probably at my highest weight. The most beautiful thing is that was also probably the happiest period in my life. I went through all of those years thinking if I were a certain size, a certain number on the scale, then I would be happy.

Becky : I'm curious if you have anything else to say about moving when you feeling like moving, rather than by rules.

Katrina: I think the motivation's different. The end result that I'm looking for is not size 12, it's not 165. Those were my magic numbers - 12, 165. You know? I don't weigh myself and I don't own a scale. It's not only motivation but my intention; I'm not doing it to bum 320 calories. Like I'm doing it because it feels good and it makes me feel strong, it fills me up.

Like the first night I went to the gym. I did twenty minutes on the treadmill, there were people all around and they were all sweaty and I was sweaty too. It just felt good. 

It's for all of me, not just my dress size, not just my number on the scale. And I think that's why it’s different. It's a completely different intention. I'm not even looking for a result other than it makes me feel good in that moment.

Tara [to Katrina]: You said that the motivation was different. That’s important to me because I’m realizing spiritual motivation is what carries me through whereas linear motivation doesn’t.

Below, Christy shares a similar perspective as she evaluates her choices at this time. Her motivation to consider changing her body size comes from aligning with what supports the most authentic expression of her Self Wild Horse Woman echoes a connected view as well.

Christy: I’m taking the time that it takes to take care of myself. That’s a big change for me. The idea is not to lose weight, it’s to get my body healthy and let it find its own particular weight in its own time.

Now I can shift my focus slightly and start saying, ‘Okay, what is my weight doing for me now? Is it helping me? Is it keeping me from what I want to do?’

There’s always been an inner dancer in me. Even when I was in the hospital and I couldn’t move, she was always there. I’m now at a size where I feel like I can’t dance. I can’t move as freely as I’d like to move. So letting go of some of the weight would be nice. Also doing the soul work involves all of me. I need a body that can handle a 75-lb. harp without huffing and puffing. I need a body that is healthy and fit enough to be able to move the harp, to be able to let the inside dance come forth.

For me the word is congruent. It’s when I have one thing that I’m clear about and I can be in that. I don’t have other selves pulling at opposite directions. That’s what congruent feels like for me, finding that space.

Wild Horse Woman: Now I see losing weight as allowing. Where it’s not all black and white and where I’m present in it so that it’s not shoving myself over a cliff before I’m ready. It’s having me go with it the whole step of the way.

As illustrated below, the concepts get sticky when the subject of commitment comes up. Bouncing off the element of structure from Becky's story (regarding the medically supervised fast she participated in), Wild Horse Woman invites us into her inner dialogue as she tries to embrace the benefits of commitment but struggles to find an object of commitment that matches the values she's come to trust.

Wild Horse Woman: What I’ve heard from Becky is the program, the fast was always there. There wasn’t a lot of room in it and a huge part of the process was having that commitment to the program and then just sitting with all the feelings that came with that without veering from structure for a certain period of time. Talk about an amazing amount of tension. And what I’m hearing from Katrina is that there’s more flexibility in yours.

Katrina: It’s a different method. It’s my path and not Becky’s.

Becky: I definitely have a structure that I work with, but that is not my guiding force. My guiding force is my process and the motivation is staying with myself, being with my body. Even with the fast the commitment was to myself, not the program which I knew would change. It was not about going blindly by the method. From the outside it might look like giving myself over to a diet, but on the inside it was very different. The fast was not the thing that was always there. I was always there.

Wild Horse Woman: I’ve been really struggling here to get what it is that I do and don’t relate to. The piece that feels a little more clear is the idea of committing not to a food plan or weight loss but a real commitment that I’m going to keep that spirit and body and physical connection. That I am going to stay present with myself in all those different ways and honor and respect myself. I can do this for a while when it’s easy, but what happens when it gets to one of those knots that is a hell of a lot of emotional work to get through. I may get to a knot and back off and I don’t want to do that anymore. It’s too tiring, too much work. It’s the yo-yoing, it’s all that. But what do I hang on to, to get past those knots? I’m getting that it’s not the methodology, it is the commitment to myself.

In the following piece, Rose describes how satisfying it feels to her to reflect on her relationship with her body from her inner most promptings. If what's most authentic for her at this time is being large, so be it. She hears inner urges toward action that ask for movement beyond herself into relationship with conflict and potentially more growth. Her listening and discernment brings her in touch with the sacred chord or golden thread of her journey, which, while it comes bearing risks, feels good.

Rose: The very last meeting of the class was really important to me. The question, “What do you think your soul wants regarding the relationship with your body?” was posed to me. I’ve been hanging out with that question for a couple weeks now. The very first thing that came up for me as I was driving home from the class that night is that my soul feels really nurtured, warm, held, and contained in a large body; my soul’s really liking that. God it feels so good to think about the question from that perspective.

The other thing I feel like my soul wants at this moment in time is for me to start talking in the general public about how it’s okay that I have a large body. My soul really wants me to start putting that out there to people who are obsessed with their body or people who say weird things to me. It’s like I know my soul doesn’t really want to lose weight right now because I really believe the soul gets what it wants. If my soul wanted to lose weight, I’d lose weight.

Moving toward embodiment doesn't feel good all the time, but the women acknowledge that the accomplishment of being able to withstand tensions that would have previously sent them to the refrigerator or the diet center actually feels good. Growth feels good and therefore perpetuates growth. Becky and Katrina each reflect their experiences in the following excerpts from their Tahoe stories.

Becky: My relationship with my body and my issues with weight at first seemed like a burden and an affliction. Now I see my struggles as a gift. That doesn't mean that I'm always happy and things are easy, in fact it means quite the contrary. I endure more discomfort than I ever have in my life. And yet being able to do that feels like a tremendous gift. To be able to tolerate discomfort in my body, to be able to feel afraid, feel intimidated, feel angry is something I’ve worked hard to experience. Knowing that I have something to say and feeling afraid to say it and being able to stand the tension, hold the fear enough to do it, to act on my own behalf in that way, has come by way of hard work and grace.

Katrina: I feel very good that I’m a 30-year old woman and I am where I am today. And if I had to sum everything up I would simply say that it's all good. And it's all good because all of my experiences have made who I am today. Regardless of the pain or the heartache or the trials and tribulations of the process, it’s been so necessary.

Embodiment is about commitment to the truth of the body. The motivation is to stay honest to one’s living experience. Christy shares her commitment to the truth of her lived experience below.

Christy: What really matters is that I hold my truth and not let anybody tell me what my body did or didn’t experience. That feels really important to my sense of integrity.

The following passage from Wild Horse Woman’s story struck me so powerfully I almost put it in the Love as Power magnet, but feel it beautifully ties together our discussion so far. Wild Horse Woman speaks of authentically expressing herself regardless of what size her body happens to be. A part of her knows that the shame/deficiency story was a lie all along; the rebellion against it was the confounding aspect of the growth motivation. Rather than unconscious rebellion, conscious reality now encourages choices toward growth. When the rebel is integrated, the growthful nature of the sacred chord is revealed.

Wild Horse Woman: Focusing on the weight is not what this is about for me. No matter what body size or sizes I will have for the rest of my life, the way I hold it is that I am a woman who comes in all different sizes. I mean, I hope I’ll be thin and fit and able to live out the vision I have of my husband and I being in our seventies and hiking to the top of the trail in Yosemite. Even though I want my fitness back, I’m not going to throw the rest of me away. I want all of me available.

Nowadays the weight is looking kind of incongruent to me. When I feel more congruent I feel prettier and I know I’m going to have more of those moments regardless of what size I am. I want to keep moving toward that even though when I was little feeling pretty was an invitation.

In the following final passage, Rose brings the whole process full circle as she describes her current feelings of shame about her body. Able to be conscious of and hold the feelings now, her words voice her desire to change her situation, not out of deficiency, but out of a commitment to her wholeness and for love of her daughter. In doing so she takes one step closer to breaking the cycle of shame and body control for future generations of women.

Rose: A new thing that’s up for me lately is wanting to claim or reclaim my beauty. I feel shame. I can hardly talk about it. I’m gonna say it anyway and just let the shame roll. Last year in Tahoe I said, “My mother was so beautiful, but she never knew it.” In her not knowing it, she could not let me have any beauty of my own. How could she? I think if for no other reason, and there are lots of other good reasons, I feel like I need to give that to my daughter. I need to claim it for myself so that she can claim it for herself. I don’t want to do it because of her. It’s part of bringing myself back.


Literature on motivation was not part of the original literature review because it was not a key component of my investigation before the retreat. Most of the literature in this section was reviewed after the magnets were developed and the analysis had begun, in order to add perspective to the data.

Traditional view on weight loss motivation.

The motivation of research participants and patients in treatment for weight loss is regularly investigated and discussed in obesity research and practice. Researchers and healthcare providers seem baffled by this mysterious component of behavior, which has a tendency to confound their best theories and treatment designs. Jargon such as “noncompliance,” “drop out,” “relapse,” and “recidivism” describes and categorizes the “insufficient motivation” among obese people to adhere to obesity treatment protocols. (Brink & Ferguson, 1998; Cachelin, Striegel-Moore & Brownell, 1998; Dellande, 1999; Schwartz & Brownell, 1995; and Stroe, 1995;)

Medical obesity “experts” are genuinely perplexed. Since their focus is physiology they are inclined to categorize the puzzling phenomenon and return to what they know - medicine. Intangible human phenomena are left to the psychologists to figure out, initiating a trend in research and treatment of including a psychological component. When psychology is considered it is usually of the behavioral variety, in keeping with the dominant mechanistic perspective of Western science. I do not ascribe malicious intent to obesity researchers’ tendency to ignore or “blame the victim” for problems of motivation. However, I do see their ignorance and their adherence to the limited mechanistic perspective as perpetuating their baffling problem and damaging behaviors, which prevent them from offering the healing their best efforts intend. *

“Physicians are strong motivators for weight loss,” according to a study on weight loss motivation by Brink and Ferguson (1998). Following the dominant treatment models, physicians encourage patients to control obesity for better health. As Brink and Ferguson (1998) discovered, some doctors use their influence to motivate patients by threatening surgery. Others use their influence to educate patients about the risk factors of obesity.

Brink and Ferguson (1998) found that health, then appearance, were the most cited motivations for weight loss. They question the medical emphasis on obesity and poor health, citing insignificant and contrary literature to support this dominant claim. They also discuss the ineffectiveness of short-term motivation strategies, such as wedding motivation. Instead, their findings suggest that successful weight loss and maintenance requires a motivation that is of “central importance” to the individual. Their call for further research into the role and function of motivation is met by this study. These findings suggest that a woman’s motivation to make long-term improvements in her relationship with her body comes from no less than her very core.

As is discussed in Learning and Knowing, obesity experts have the responsibility to discover and disseminate useful information on healing obesity to healthcare providers and the population at large. Their motivation is often revealed implicitly, and occasionally explicitly, in the obesity literature. Since obesity is defined as a health problem, mechanistically-oriented researchers are motivated to pursue causal deficits and to endorse body policing and control by prescribing regimens to correct the pathology.

For example, Stroe (1995) appeals to psychologists to help the obese claim their sense of control by identifying and repairing the weight loss clients’ “underlying personality deficits to effect successful treatment” (p. 36). This common notion of deficiency or defectiveness in fat people has permeated the culture - including the obese. It also reinforces the shame in women such as those in this study. Unfortunately, healthcare providers and researchers are unaware of or overlook their role in perpetuating the deficiency mindset in the obese when they suggest, “Obese people convince themselves that the problem [of being overweight] is intractable.” (Stroe, 1995 p.36)

In another example, obesity researcher Stunkard (1986) describes the rationale behind applying social pressure to Iower-income obese people, based on the notion that upper-class women are motivated to stay slim due to pressure from their community:

Upper-class women are not thinner because they have had access to more effective treatment; treatment is simply not that effective. Their resistance to obesity seems to lie rather in the demands of their social station, in the rewards and punishments with which upper class women are raised and in the communities that enforce these standards. Ultimately their resistance to obesity lies in their motivation to remain slim. (p. 217)

Obesity is common among lower-class women and rare among upper- class women. Attempts to mobilize social pressures to control obesity through lay-led groups have a strong theoretical rationale and have been widely applied. Their impact, however, has been blunted by high dropout rates among the participants, (p. 226)

Stunkard (1986) erroneously endorses the “virtue” of control through external pressure as successful motivation for weight loss. Based on the experiences of the co-researchers in this study and the clinical experiences of Woodman (1980, 1985, 1990, 1993), McFarland and Baker-Badman (1990), and many others, this recommendation is ineffective and potentially very harmful.

With regard to income levels, greater access to expensive, and mostly ineffective, weight loss treatment programs may not be the reason upper class women are slimmer than lower class women, as Stunkard (1986) points out. However, based on research from French, Jeffery, Story, and Newmark-Sztainer (1998), it is likely that concerns about program and childcare costs would prohibit lower-income women from participating in other forms of support, such as fitness training and psychotherapy, that are available to upper income women - support that, in light of this research, may actually prove to be more useful in healing the roots of obesity.

Living in a culture that is strongly influenced by the traditional scientific paradigm, North American families are immersed in the mechanistic perspective toward body and weight. Familial adoption of a mechanistic attitude to controlling body size is particularly likely if one of the parents has been in treatment for obesity themselves. Parents unwittingly pass on this attitude with the intention of offering good care, even in cases where they are unable to comply with weight control regimes themselves. People seem more willing to doubt themselves than to doubt science, even with regard to their health and that of their children.

While it is the job of science to doubt itself, the limits of the mechanistic perspective may make it difficult for researchers to see the relationship between their deficit/control prescriptions and the problem of motivation in the treatment of obesity. Generally, the issue is addressed by naming it attrition, relapse, or noncompliance and calling for further research (Cachelin et al., 1998; Dellande, 1999; Stroe, 1995; Stunkard, 1986)

Families, science, and the culture all tend to ignore the inability of the majority of the population to summon the motivation to follow the mechanist prescription for healing obesity. It appears to me as the pink elephant in the middle of the room and is addressed from a new perspective in these findings.

Motivation for growth.

Key pitfalls of the mechanistic view are that it is a static rather than growth-oriented model, and it excludes spiritual motivation, “the need to know one’s true nature or place in the universe” (Tart, 1992, p. 105). While co-researchers in this study were specifically chosen for their spiritual growth orientation, Jung (1989), Maslow (1968), and others assert that the impetus for psycho-spiritual growth is a part of being human. Thus, this discussion is potentially relevant to women outside the obese population.

Because the motivation to know one’s place in the universe is so intimately connected to meaning making and interpretation, I had a very hard time keeping these magnets separate as I wrote this discussion. The findings did not merge but the discussions did, since the pattern I saw in the findings—including the confounding motivation of rebelling against the current paradigm—pointed to the need for change at the cultural level in how we see and address the healing of obesity. It was as though I was writing about dueling cosmologies: the traditional view on weight loss versus the view emerging from the data. Though tempted to actually merge the Motivation to Change and Meaning Making magnets, I refrained, feeling the separation would offer greater clarity to the reader. Instead, I briefly summarize below some of the most relevant features of the Woodman perspective that I cite in Meaning Making and Wisdom of Space to support the new pattern that emerged from the data.

The motivation pattern or sequence revealed in the findings is as follows: shame, control, interiorizing motivation, giving up on patriarchal methods of caring for body, connection with the feminine/body, and motivation for authentic expression of self through body and in all aspects of life.

Jungian psychology, particularly in the clinical work of Marion Woodman (1980,1985, 1990,1993), has provided the most cogent, woman-affirming, spiritual, and growth- oriented understanding of obesity to date. While not addressing motivation as such, Woodman suggests that a woman’s inability to act on behalf of her female body is a product of—and exacerbated by—our Western adherence to patriarchal values. These
include the control of the feminine, including the female body, and branding it shameful in its most powerful forms.

Following Woodman’s work, and addressing body shame specifically, McFarland and Baker-Badman (1990) identify a "universal shame theme” (p. x) in their eating disordered clients. Woodman, and McFarland et al., all posit that the core problem is the women’s shame of the feminine aspects of the self. Equating thinness with the patriarchal virtues of power, independence, self-sufficiency, and control, women adopt dieting as a strategy, rejecting their own feminine identity and form as they adhere to these culturally revered values. Healing comes for eating-disordered women when they give up their devotion to patriarchal principles and embrace the virtues of the feminine. The cultural/historical perspectives of Woodman (1980,1990, 1993), McFarland and Baker-Badman (1990), Johnston (1996) and feminist writers on body and weight (Chemin, 1981; Hirschmann & Munter, 1988/95; Orbach 1988; Roth, 1982/84) all encourage the redemption and reclamation of feminine values and the female body.

Seeing the positive side of the demeaned feminine values and the negative side of the masculine opens a woman’s perspective and has the effect of offering her a new story- replacing the old one, which is characterized by shame, defectiveness, and feelings of being an outcast. When a woman makes this shift she realizes that the feminine values (discussed in Wisdom of Space) which she had believed would keep her from achieving her body goals are actually the very things that will provide a lifelong connection with her deepest desire for self-care. She connects with what Woodman calls the “I desire” of the pregnant virgin, that is, the inner urge to act on behalf of one’s authentic expression and innate sense of integrity. She is the woman who is complete in herself and engages life with full expression. She is at home in her body and in the world. A meta-view of the whole story reveals the Trickster operating in this experience of return to our true selves: The “compliance problem” in obesity research, which I have called the confounding motivation, is the means by which a woman begins to discover her true nature and her place in the universe.

Commitment to authentic expression as motivation to change.

As the findings and the discussion illustrate, my own language emerged for the growth phenomenon I observed during in the data analysis. This includes the terms “sacred chord,” “congruent motivation,” “confounding motivation,” and “differentiation theory of noncompliance.” Maslow’s (1968) writing on the psychology of growth and self-actualization greatly supported my articulation of a positive perspective on health. Explanations of my use of these terms, my stance on commitment, and my perception of growth through obesity follow.

The sacred chord is one’s personal connection to the divine. My experience of the sacred chord is similar to some features of Maslow’s (1968) perspective on basic human inner nature. Since his work helped me articulate my inner impressions, my description of the sacred chord incorporates his view of the essence that underlies growth.

Our experience of perceiving the sacred chord—our connection to the divine—can be “weak and delicate and subtle and easily overcome by habit, cultural pressure and wrong attitudes toward it” (Maslow, 1968, p. 4). “Embodied knowing” encourages multi-channel awareness that supports our hearing the subtle voice of the sacred chord. Certain experiences, including altered states, can make the connection to the divine feel stronger, and less delicate and subtle. My dear friend and colleague Robin Seeley (personal communication, August 10,1999) reported that her experience of the chord changed during her vision fast in the desert; it temporarily felt “thick and strong.”

According to Maslow (1968), “If the sacred chord is permitted to guide our lives, we may grow healthy, fruitful, and happy” (p. 4). Even though the sacred chord can be subtle, weak, and denied, “it persists underground ever pressing for actualization” (Maslow, 1968, p. 4). Even when strong, the sacred chord is never known in it entirety. Part of this aspect of motivation always remains unconscious; except for the possibility of full enlightenment, we are never to see the whole mystery. If denied or suppressed, the sacred chord may cause subtle or overt symptoms for the person in an effort to initiate growth. This is similar to Jung’s view of the unconscious seeking the light of consciousness through symptoms or life experiences (Jung, 1989; Maslow, 1968);

As Woodman (1980,1985, 1990, 1993) posits regarding the symptom of obesity, one purpose of the sacred chord at this time in history is to ground spirit in the body - to confront our tendency to idealize spirit at the cost of losing our Selves. Here spirit may be considered to include intellectualization, “the word of God,” achievement, purification, and perfection; while body is viewed as matter, concrete, ordered chaos, and systemic relatedness.

The images of fire and flames described in the definition section of this magnet revealed to me the motivational aspects of the sacred chord in relation to commitment. The sacred chord is a constant presence but unstable like fire. It “shapeshifts,” dissolving and reforming itself constantly. For this reason, static plans that are unconnected to one’s deepest process of growth—including weight loss treatment programs for the purpose of long-term control—will likely fail. They require what I call lazy attachment. Commitment to what is static is unnatural to the dynamic nature of growth. A commitment to weight loss or a treatment plan may become stale after the initial infatuation wears off. The impetus toward growth calls for death of the static commitment.

A woman’s commitment to hearing the voice of her sacred chord is a commitment to truth and authenticity; it is the most profound and intimate commitment she can make. To use a term from Brink and Ferguson (1998), commitment to the sacred chord is the “central” motivation. Their research suggests that the “centrality” of one’s motivation is the key to keeping “the individual doing what they are unaccustomed to doing long after they have achieved their weight loss goal” (p. 100).

Commitment to the sacred chord requires an understanding of its diverse manifestations and appearances in one’s life. I see this creative force as having two aspects - congruent motivation and confounding motivation. Both aspects serve the individual by holding the potential of growth.

Congruent motivation is easy, feels good, right, and satisfying. It is like swimming with a current or being in Csikszentmihalyi (1993) state of “flow” (p. 179). Although the feeling maybe subtle and intermittent, a person acting in concert with congruent motivation can feel the rightness of their action in the world. They have a sense of “embodied knowing” that their behavior honors their commitment to the sacred chord and authentic expression. Perhaps because it so easily complements the ego, congruent action generally initiates less internal conflict or inner dispute. Therefore congruent action is more easily adopted as part of one’s natural expression. This quality of congruent motivation is in direct contrast with the other as aspect of the sacred chord, confounding motivation.

Confounding motivation is also in service of growth although it often feels bad, encouraging the rationalization that it should be avoided. Confounding motivation manifests in action that often feels uncomfortable, is frustrating, can be self-destructive, and invites the internalization of shame. Out-of-control behaviors and/or physical or emotional symptoms can be manifestations of confounding motivation. As such, they are messengers of growth. Generally, we wish that these behaviors or symptoms—bingeing, incongruent obesity, a body not conforming to weight loss efforts, or a woman’s seeming inability to adhere to food and exercise regimes—did not exist in our lives. However, I believe the behaviors exist for the purpose of correcting harmful misconceptions about our humanity, such as the shame story about the feminine and women, particularly obese women, in this culture.

The confounding aspects of the co-researchers’ experiences with their body, food, and weight eventually shift their deficiency mindset by demanding that they become conscious of new material. For example, when Wild Horse Woman and Rose discuss the turning points they describe as “giving up,” it is the confounding aspects of their lives—being unable to keep up with the need to fix oneself, and weighing more than 170 pounds, respectively—which initiate the shift. They both describe the turning points as useful, healing, and growthful experiences from which they discover new measures of self-care and self-respect. Rather than attempting to continue to motivate themselves to fix the deficiency, the women offer up one piece of their deficient self-view. They let go of confounding dieting and body-control behavior that reinforced the deficiency mindset. With this comes a new understanding of themselves in relation to the confounding behavior and a new paradigm for addressing their relationship with body - one not based on the mechanistic model.

Many fat people in this culture live in defense of their physical form. Contrary to popular opinion, a different body size alone does not indicate the existence of a deficiency. On the surface, health care professionals treating obesity encourage women to change based on the motivation to fix a health problem, while underneath what is communicated is a judgment of deficiency in the person. It is clear that despite the influence of the culture, doctors, researchers and the media, deficiency motivation will not work to heal the weight issues of a woman feeling shame about her female self. It will, in fact, reinforce the shame. Healing comes, in part, through the gifts of the confounding aspect of her weight loss attempts, which brings subconscious material to awareness, the integration of which gives a new fullness to her perspective. The confounding and the congruent aspects of her actions eventually reveal the sacred chord—the divinity in her human nature—through her embodiment process.

A woman in the process of improving her relationship with body is aware that growth is hard work. The co-researchers repeatedly allude to both the benefit of and effort required in healing. To heal requires building the psychic muscle to hold the tensions of confounding motivation until it births new awareness. As discussed in the later section, Call to Differentiate, I see this process of holding tension and building psychic muscle as “differentiation.” Building this muscle requires compassion for oneself in order to make it through the confounding experiences without self-degradation and shame. The development of compassion is critical for growth, as described in both the Wisdom of Space and Love as Power magnets. With compassionate eyes a woman is better able to see the deeper nature of confounding aspects of her relationship with body as a divine invitation for healing insight.

Growth is synonymous with differentiation - the process of growing into our individuality and complexity through relationships (differentiation is defined in greater detail in the Discussion section of the Call to Differentiate magnet). For that reason this magnet merged again, this time with the Call to Differentiate. However, the distinction I am making in the data analysis is to focus on the “process” of differentiation in the Call to Differentiate magnet, while addressing the motivational aspects of growth here. I see differentiation as the process of strengthening the sacred chord through engagement with both confounding and congruent motivation. The process as a whole holds the potential to expand one’s awareness, complexity, and authenticity at the points of integration.

As I explored the concept of a sacred chord in relation to the healing of obesity, I began to view noncompliance as one aspect of growth motivation. The stories inspired me to consider that noncompliance with the culturally-prescribed body size and doctor-prescribed diet plans is part of woman’s call to a new level of development.

While I’m not suggesting that all cases of my own or any woman’s refusal to act in accord with her own or other’s concepts of discipline is growth-oriented, I do believe that much of the noncompliance needs to be looked at in a new way. I see the power of noncompliance as evidence of a fertile yet confounding aspect of growth; like Maslow (1968), I believe that there can be good reasons for seemingly rebellious behavior. Noncompliance in weight loss treatment, and being fat in a culture bent on thinness, may be attempts to resist “exploitation, domination, neglect, contempt, and trampling upon.” (Maslow, 1968, p. 8.) Noncompliance, as a confounding aspect of growth motivation, is part of the process of differentiation as I see it. Therefore, I use the term “differentiation aspect of noncompliance” when referring to it in other areas of this manuscript.

The differentiation aspect of noncompliance reveals the strength of knowing, at the level of the sacred chord, that the feminine shame story is fallacious. A woman following her sacred chord is committed to taking good care of her female body and herself. Through the joy and hardships of living the congruent and confounding aspects of psycho-spiritual growth, an obese woman may see herself more accurately, satisfy her basic human need to know herself more deeply, and cultivate the knowledge to act more wisely,

Maslow (1968) suggests that we each have the continual opportunity to choose to act from deficiency motivation or growth motivation. Within the limits of our level of development, I agree. However, while the ultimate responsibility for healing the relationship with body lies with the individual, in this case women, as obesity treatment researchers and providers we also each have a choice. Will we encourage obese women to see themselves as defective, unhealthy people, whose inability to adhere to our treatment protocols is proof of their deficits? Or will we encourage them to find growth and new insight through the process of learning to take good care of their bodies?

Next, "Wisdom of Space" Findings and Discussion


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