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May 4, 2000
Westport, CT

Aesthetic Realism vs. Eating Disorders

By Meryl Nietsch-Cooperman

It is heartbreaking that an estimated five to ten million women in the United States now suffer with  eating disorders, and approximately 1,000 of them die each year from anorexia. I want your readers to know this vital news—the cause of eating disorders, both anorexia and bulimia, has been explained by Aesthetic Realism, the education founded in 1941 by the great American philosopher and educator Eli Siegel, and taught now in New York City.

For ten years I suffered from anorexia and bulimia. I had loss of menstruation, eroding teeth, dizziness, swollen glands and more. My parents were desperate and tried everything—they took me to doctors, weight control centers, a therapist, and later I tried psychiatry and diet pills. But no one understood the cause, and I thought I would have to spend the rest of my life living this hell.

I owe my happy, healthy life to my study of Aesthetic Realism, which enabled these disorders to end nearly twenty years ago. Eli Siegel understood the human mind, and in his book Self and World he explains scientifically and compassionately what has never been seen before—that the way a person sees food arises from the way he or she sees the whole world. He writes:

    The taking of food is more than nutrition alone; it is also a profound homage of the self to its surroundings. We are saying when we eat, and with humility, too, that we need the world from which our food comes. We say, unconsciously, when we eat well: Bless reality which gives us our daily nutriment.—If we can’t logically bless, our daily bread will be a daily peril. [Self and World, Definition Press, New York, NY,  p. 342.]
I was so fortunate to learn from Aesthetic Realism that the trouble a person can have about food comes from the fight, which everyone has, between respecting the world and having contempt for it. The deepest desire of every person is to like the world honestly, Eli Siegel explained. And he also stated that, "The greatest danger or temptation of man is to get a false importance or glory from the lessening of things not himself; which lessening is Contempt." Contempt can be as ordinary as not listening when someone is talking to you, making a sarcastic remark to a man you care for, or simply feeling you don’t need the world—books, people, food. One dramatic form contempt can take in a person is eating disorders.

Food comes from the world, and if a person doesn’t like the world or is angry that she needs it, she may not want to have food inside of her at all, or she will take it in contemptuously. In Aesthetic Realism consultations, my consultants asked me many kind and deep questions about my life—how I saw my family, my friends, school, men—and they showed me that I had an attitude to the whole world including how I saw food. They explained the cause of eating disorders definitively when they said, "Bulimia is a way of managing, having the world please you but not affect you deeply; and anorexia is a means of having yourself pure, without any additions. Both arise from contempt."

As I studied this explanation I saw that it was true. It explained how I saw food, but also my attitude to the world as such—for instance the way I could manage my five brothers and not want to know them, or flirt with boys while remaining cool and aloof myself, or the way I would run to my room and slam the door to get away from everyone. Through Aesthetic Realism I learned how to honestly like the world, including how to use food for that purpose, and my life changed. I now eat three meals a day, with a respect and pleasure that I didn’t think was possible and I know this can be in every woman’s life.

Eli Siegel stated this Aesthetic Realism principle: "The one way to like the world honestly, not as a conquest of one’s own, is to see the world as the aesthetic oneness of opposites." I was thrilled to see how food puts opposites together. For example: deep-dish blueberry pie, which I love to make, is tart and sweet, soft and firm, light and dark. The blueberries inside the pie retain their firm round shape even as their juice mixes and bakes with the soft flour, eggs and butter. And while the filling inside is a deep, dark rich purple, on top is a light golden, powdery crust. And I learned that these opposites—hard and soft, light and dark, sharpness and sweetness—are in me too, in my family, in all people. As I respected food more through seeing its aesthetic structure of opposites I was able to like it, be proportionate about it, and keep it inside of me.

I want the millions of women suffering with anorexia and bulimia and their families to know there is an explanation. No woman has to live with this pain anymore or possibly die.

The Aesthetic Realism Foundation is a not-for-profit educational foundation in New York City. For information about classes, public seminars and dramatic presentations that take place there—and about individual consultations given to men, women and children in person and via telephone throughout the world—call (212) 777-4490, write the Aesthetic Realism Foundation at 141 Greene Street, New York, NY 10012 or visit the website at

Meryl Nietsch-Cooperman is an author and public speaker on the subject of eating disorders and other issues that concern women.

Aesthetic Realism Foundation
141 Greene Street
New York, NY 10012

© 2000 Aesthetic Realism Foundation
A not-for-profit educational foundation