Sharing The Weight in Group

I had a conversation recently with a colleague who works with people who struggle with compulsive overeating and are considering or have had bariatric surgery. She told me how frequently the surgery doesn’t help very much unless the underlying psychological issues are confronted. Which of course got me thinking about how issues related to food, weight, body-image and so on can be addressed in Group.

In February, I co-led a workshop called Food, Sex and Relationships. The basic idea was that the same emotional wounds that drive us to seek out particular foods and diets would manifest in how we related to others. If we paid careful attention to our interactions in a group setting, we could gain insight and awareness about the pain that prompted our over-eating, zealous dieting and shame about our needs and desires.

Group is the perfect place to receive the message that you’re valued, lovable and even attractive, regardless of your weight. This message can be explicitly expressed, or gently reinforced meeting after meeting, as members continue to show interest and appreciation when you contribute.

Our society is so quick to shame fat people that it can become almost impossible to address the issue with gentle curiosity. An authentic Group will wonder:

What is the weight is protecting you from?

How does it help you?

Which part of you are you trying to nourish when you overeat?

Who would you be without it?

Someone in Group may remind you of an abusive parent, a bullying peer in middle school, or a narcissistic spouse. Perhaps you unconsciously hoped that having more weight would make it harder for them to push you around, that taking up more space would force them to pay attention to you, that becoming unattractive would protect you from their predatory lust and controlling desire. Now, you have the opportunity to learn how to protect yourself effectively.

Hopefully you will discover what you’re truly hungry for and start getting nourished by the Group.

Eventually, this awareness of what you’re needing and wanting, what feels good and what doesn’t, empowers you. You no longer need to carry the burden of other people’s emotional immaturity and cruelty.  What a relief!


Why isn’t there a structure in Group?

Why isn’t there a structure or a theme or something in Group? It feels like there should be…

A colleague of mine likes to joke that we try to avoid “shoulding all over ourselves.”

Why should there be a structure? What kind of structure would you like?

Some groups are more structured than others. In the groups that I run, other than a designated start and end time and an agreed upon contract, I try to be as unstructured as possible.


The short answer is Here-and-Now.

What is Here-and-Now?

Here-and-Now refers to the immediate thoughts, feelings, sensations and intuitions that you are experiencing in the present moment. In Group, we try to understand these reactions as interpersonal communication–some kind of information that you consciously or unconsciously want the group to know about you.

Imposing a structure, such as turn-taking or spending a certain amount of time on a particular exercise, suppresses the Here-and-Now.

Here’s an example. The group decides to go around and “check-in,” each person sharing whatever is relevant to them. Suzy talks about her fear that the other people at the barber shop are judging her. This reminds you of your sister calling you judgmental last week. Your curiosity is piqued, you’re intrigued, wondering if an interaction with Suzy might help you with your strained relationship with Sis. Before the thought if fully formed, Roger is talking about his dog needing pancreatic surgery. That’s less interesting to you because you want to speak with Suzy. Then William is talking about his mother again and now it’s hard for you to remember what exactly you wanted to say to Suzy. Even if you do remember, you’ll need to wait for five other people to share before you can explore your desire.

Now, this may happen even in an unstructured group. It can be very hard to break into the flow of conversation and say what you need to say. But at least in an unstructured group, you’re allowed and encouraged to do so. Every piece of structure hampers the immediacy of the group. Sometimes structure may be necessary, but it’s in the immediacy that we feel most alive.