The Power of Words
By Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD, FAND
What compels a renowned psychotherapist to comment to a colleague at a conference the following—“Oh my G-d—you look fabulous. You look like you’ve lost twenty pounds?” Why would a well-educated, successful professional deign to focus on another’s weight when there are so many other topics to pursue? She might have said, “I just read the article you wrote, and I thought it was brilliant.” Or, “did you see the play at the Music Center? Wasn’t it great?”
Now, the truth is that the woman who received the so-called compliment not only did not receive it as a compliment (thank goodness that she’s part of the body positivity movement and promotes Health at Every Size®), but it threw her into despair. More about her story later.
Let’s first take a look at two opposing paradigms. The first has unfortunately been around for centuries. It involves the belief system that no matter how accomplished a woman is, unless she strives for our culturally thin ideal, she has somehow failed. This is so disturbing for a multitude of reasons. From a feminist standpoint, women are worth so much more than their appearance, and it’s a rare man who is held to the same standards of attractiveness and size as a woman. From a body positivity standpoint, believing you’re not good enough unless you’re slim and fit negates every body positive thought one could possess. From a scientific standpoint, we simply cannot accomplish changing our size, without engaging in dangerous behaviors. Starving oneself or dieting, which is a form of semi-starvation, only leads to slowing the metabolism, lowering leptin levels (the fullness hormone), raising ghrelin levels (the hunger hormone), raising cortisol levels (the stress hormone), mood swings, decreased concentration, worsened sleep, and so forth. And what this pursuit does to one’s emotional state can be life changing in terms of lowering self-esteem, reducing coping skills, withdrawing from social activities, distracting one from her life purpose, among many others.
The opposite paradigm focuses on body positivity and Health at Every Size®. What does that all mean? When you get into radical acceptance that your body is going to be what it’s meant to be, that is, it will always strive to maintain a weight that has been genetically programmed—“your genetic blueprint”— then you are prime for appreciating the body you have. You will stay attuned to your body’s signals of hunger and fullness, eat for satisfaction, rather than to numb or comfort emotions, and move your body for the sake of well-being. You will want to take care of yourself in order to feel strong and alert and to achieve the best physical and mental health possible—NOT for the purpose of weight loss. You will become grateful for the amazing things your body can do—moving around, dancing, swimming, carrying a child through pregnancy, playing with a child, having sex—simply being alive. You will bless your body instead of berate it. You will eat for pleasure, but also for nourishment. You will simply be more positive about your body and strive for good health regardless of your size and shape.
As you stop trying to change your body, you can now work toward spreading your beliefs to those around you—your friends, your partner, your children, and ultimately the world!
Now, let’s get back for a moment to the young woman who was so disturbed when told that she looked great and must have lost twenty pounds. This woman has worked very hard on moving from the paradigm of thinking she must lose weight to be beautiful. She has recovered the Intuitive Eating that she had lost by yo-yo dieting. She’s doing yoga and dancing and hiking regularly. She has been pursuing her career. She was simply feeling great about herself and about her body. But this comment threw her back into some very old thoughts and feelings. Here are some of them:
- “Oh my gosh, I guess this woman has been watching me and judging my body.”
- “If she thinks I’ve lost so much weight, and I was feeling great about myself the last time she saw me, my perceptions of myself must have been off.”
- “If she thinks I look great now, what will she think if I gain weight?”
- “I’ve been eating so intuitively, what if I can’t keep that up?”
- “What if, what if, what if……..?”
- “I’m so angry—where does this woman get the right to judge others’ bodies?”
It took her a while to work through all of the thoughts that emerged and to regain the sense of freedom and body trust that she had achieved through Intuitive Eating. She did this, because it was worth the struggle. Now, it is your turn to examine what your belief system is in the realm of eating and body. And while you’re doing this, it’s time to become aware of how body comments to yourself and others may be impacting the joy of living with a free and satisfying relationship with food and body. It’s your choice!
About the author:
Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD, FAND, is a nutrition therapist in private practice in Beverly Hills with over thirty-five years of experience, specializing in eating disorders, intuitive eating, and Health at Every Size. She is the co-author of Intuitive Eating and The Intuitive Eating Workbook, has published journal articles, print articles, and blog posts. She also does regular speaking engagements, podcasts, and extensive media interviews. Her work has been profiled on CNN, KABC, NBC, KTTV, AP Press, KFI Radio, USA Today, and the Huffington Post, among others. Resch is nationally known for her work in helping patients break free from the diet mentality through the intuitive eating process. Her philosophy embraces the goal of developing body positivity and reconnecting with one’s internal wisdom about eating. She supervises and trains health professionals, is a Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian, a Fellow of the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals, and a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD, FAND
Co-author of Intuitive Eating and the Intuitive Eating Workbook