Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Golda Poretsky, Wellness Counselor, New York City

For Golda Poretsky, body acceptance isn’t quite enough. “I named my business Body Love Wellness because for me body acceptance was the key for everything else to fall into place—but you can’t just arrive at acceptance. If you’re coming from a place of not accepting your body, you first have to swing the pendulum the other way to love.” Drawing on the “diets don’t work” principles of Health at Every Size, her background in nutrition and holistic health, and her skilled combination of enthusiasm, warmth, and frankness, she counsels group and private clients who want to exit the dieting cycle. Her book, Stop Dieting Now: 25 Reasons To Stop, 25 Ways To Heal, was published in paperback and Kindle, and she lectures and gives workshops around the country, including teleclasses. We talked about the willingness to fail, being revolutionary, and how a question about cough drops got her wheels turning. In her own words:


On Trust 
I was literally on diets from the age of 4 on. I was either on a diet or off a diet, and if I was off I felt like I should be on. In 2005 I did Weight Watchers and I lost 40-something pounds, and I thought life was great. I still hadn’t met my goal, but I was feeling really good—and then the weight started coming back on, and I was still doing the program. I was all, “What’s the deal?” People turn that around onto you and make it like you’re doing something wrong. I literally had this Weight Watchers check-in where we sat down and they were like, “Well, you must be eating a lot of cough drops.” No, I’m doing everything I’m supposed to be doing. So I started to research it a little bit, and I started to think about it, and I realized it wasn’t just me. I found Kate Harding’s blog, which is sort of what everybody finds when they first come around to this, and I was like, “Oh! I don’t have to be in this constant paradigm of worrying about my weight, struggling with food all the time.” I started seeing research saying that losing weight and gaining it all back was the norm. But it's still hard to let go of that desire to lose weight, and there’s always that one person you know who keeps up their weight loss for years, and you think, Well, they must have it right. 

That lack of trust in their own experience is the attitude a lot of people have when they first come to Health at Every Size. They think, “Okay, size acceptance makes sense, but it’s not for me.” They try to resolve new information that way, by dismissing it for themselves. Because it’s not a comfortable place to say, “I know 99% of people see things one way. I see things differently.” It’s hard to live in the world that way because we still have these internalized worries about how people are literally being cast out for being different. I see it with clients, I saw it with myself, and we have to say, “Okay, you know, it’s not easy. Certain people are not going to agree with you, certain people are not going to support you—but you’re a revolutionary.” It’s more internal than anything else. The idea of being revolutionary is one of the ways I support myself when I feel overwhelmed. It helps me remember that it’s not easy, and that change takes time.

I always remind people that they need support, and that it’s not this thing that happens overnight. I’ll hear people say, “I tried body acceptance for a week and I didn’t get it, I couldn’t do it.” It takes time. It takes trust in yourself. It takes the willingness to fail and keep going. You might feel great about yourself for two weeks and then suddenly you’re walking down the street and you catch a glimpse of yourself in a window, and you think, Wow, I thought I looked better than that. But if you’ve been thinking about self-acceptance, you begin to have the tools to take that moment as just information. You can say, “Okay, I didn’t like my reflection. So maybe I just have some work to do on seeing myself in the mirror. And what else was going on with me that day—was it a bad day anyway? What was my internal dialogue like?” It’s taking negative experiences as information rather than proof that you're bad or wrong or ugly or whatever. It’s trusting that if you keep doing this, it will work—which it will. Not liking what you see in the mirror one day isn’t proof that you’re not doing body love right. It’s information that indicates, Okay, this is something I can work on. I think very often we see our quote-unquote “failings” as proof of something not working, as proof that we’re damaged, rather than part of the journey. Things are rarely that linear.

On the (Non)-Intersection of Dieting and Confidence 
I remember starting Weight Watchers with a friend of mine. In a couple of weeks we’d both lost about eight pounds, and I remember her saying, “I know I lost weight, but I feel less attractive.” I was like, Me too! People say this stuff to you once they start noticing, like, “You look really great.” And then you’re like, How did I look before? I didn’t think I looked that bad. There are studies about how dieting lowers your self-esteem: There’s this feeling, like you get on the scale and you’ve lost weight, and the sun is shining and the birds are singing—there’s just this feeling. And then you get on the scale again and you’re up a couple of pounds and the world falls apart. Everything becomes tied to your weight. And when you’re able to separate feeling good from weight, you get to feel consistently good about yourself—which is actually more attractive to other people.

There are always people you know who are just really attractive--you’re drawn to them, and they’re just really sexy people. But they’re just people! People tend to think that that quality is just this innate thing, and maybe it is, partially. But I also think it’s about that person having a clear concept of what’s attractive about themselves. They know they’re worthy. The internal is much more external than we realize. So if you’re okay with yourself no matter what size you’re at, it goes from, “Oh, I feel thin, so I can go out with my friends and have a good time” to you just feeling whatever you feel. You can go out and have a good time, you can meet people and believe that you’re as attractive and beautiful and sexual as someone who is thinner than you. We hear a lot of times, “It’s not about how you look; it’s about how you feel.” Well, yeah! But it’s very hard for people to just make that happen. It’s a big mind-set shift.

I’ve worked with a lot of people to try to make that mental shift happen. But it’s not just a mental shift; it’s also physical. I have this thing called the body-love shower. And all it is, is that literally, in the shower, you really concentrate on how good it feels to touch your body—how good it feels to touch your shoulder, your chest, your butt. You do everything in a way that feels good for you. You really enjoy the sensation of touching, and if you do this every morning for a week, you will feel differently about your body. You will. And suddenly it’s not about how you look. It’s about what your body is capable of sensually, how your body is capable of giving and receiving pleasure. And that is much bigger than what magazines tell you.

On Living From the Neck Up 
A lot of times we’re taught to live from the neck up. That’s another issue I hear a lot from people, because they don’t accept their bodies and they don’t even want to think about their bodies. There’s a disconnect, and that disconnect allows you to act a certain way toward your body. If you’re not part of your body then you can starve it or binge or whatever, because it’s not you. It’s like it’s this part of you that isn’t acting the way it’s supposed to, and you kind of whip it into shape or whatever, but it’s not you. So when you eventually start to connect the two and you’re like, “This is my body. How do I want to be treating it? Do I want to be intentionally hurting it? It is me.”

Living from the neck up makes it difficult to really look at the whole of yourself. When I was in law school, I went through this period where I couldn’t look in a mirror, and I’ve talked with other women who sort of have this too. I literally would look just for second, really quickly, with the light off. I wouldn’t really look. It’s creepy! And I was also much thinner then, I was younger. I was really struggling. What helped me is affirmations. I started to actually say affirmations in the mirror. It sounds really corny, but they sort of saved me. At first I couldn’t do it without crying, but there was a part of me that was like, Do this. It changed my relationship with the mirror. Now I actually do a lot of mirror work with my clients, especially if they’re fixated on one part of their body being not okay. I have them find five things they like about that part of the body and say them aloud. That can be hard, to say things you love about your body when you don’t necessarily believe it yet, but I really think you can’t just try to accept yourself, you have to try to truly love yourself. Most people think acceptance is the first step, but I think if you're trying for acceptance, you'll land somewhere between acceptance and dissatisfaction. You have to go all the way to love and then maybe you’ll settle into acceptance, or maybe you'll really go for broke and experience true love for your body.

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Feeling invigorated by Golda's words? Body Love Wellness is offering a deal to readers of The Beheld: The first five people to sign up here will receive a free Body Love Breakthrough session, which will help you develop essential tools for wellness and self-acceptance. Fantastique!

10 comments:

  1. Fantastique indeed! Just signed up. ; )

    Great interview as usual!

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  2. Telling people that it's ok to be fat is dishonest and dangerous. You can love your fat self all you want; that does not make you attractive nor healthy. You are deluding yourself and driving up health insurance premiums for others. Get yourself professional help and get in touch with reality.

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  3. Oh hai anonymous coward ^____^

    You know, there is not always a connection between being fat and physically unhealthy. But there might be untreated mental issues, most of them related to assjerks like you doing a whole lot of judging.

    Also, we have better trolls in Norway than what you just managed here. Have a look!

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  4. Self Care and love are extremely needed when learning to accept and love oneself. Well done.

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  5. Anonymous, certainly you don't know what you are talking about, and you might be full of resentment or hate toward people that don't share your views in life, I'm not saying you are, maybe you are a perfectly functional person that enjoys trolling on-line.
    Dear Mr or Mrs Anonymous, body love is not about saying I love myself any way, so I'll sit on the couch all days with a KFC bucket on my side.
    Body love is about first accepting who you where in the past, and who you are in the present,and yes you can be attractive and fat, attractiveness is subjective any way. body love is treating your body in a good manner. I've been there immersed in body hate, and I've been there with Golda, helping me to deal with this, its been about a year and a half since I first met her. loving myself really saved me from hurting my body a lot more, and also gave me the self confidence to enjoy exercise, and to stop binging, I might not be thin, but I don't stuff with food any more.
    And no anonymous, I didn't became fatter, or a lazy slob, and my life is not at a bigger risk because I learned to love and accept my self. loving yourself is not dangerous.
    I just stopped obsessing with my weight, and "dieting" I eat better (which means to me: I don't binge any more, I eat when I'm hungry, stop when i feel satisfied, and giving variety to what i eat) accepting your self is not the same that not taking care of your self, anonymous, I think your concepts are kind of messed up.

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  6. ModernSauce, yay! Here's to an excellent session (Golda's great, you'll like her).

    Martha Joy, your Norwegian troll made my day.

    MathaDawn, totally agreed about the need for self-care--thank you for reading.

    Sonia, I'm so pleased that Golda's work has helped you learn to care for yourself better. And I think you absolutely hit it on the head: When you are in a place of peace with your body, you fall into an intuitive space in which you know what your body needs and you don't experience guilt about giving it exactly that.

    Anonymous, I encourage you to read what following commenters have said in response to your take on body acceptance--particularly Sonia, whose experience is the norm, NOT the exception. Yes, there are plenty of people who are fat and unhealthy, just as there are plenty of people who are thin and unhealthy. I don't know anyone who has truly reached a place of bodily acceptance who just eats crap all day--eating crap makes you feel like crap, and when you accept yourself you don't want to feel like crap. The people I know who accept their bodies, regardless of their size, eat healthy portions of nutritious foods, and eat treats as they see socially and personally appropriate. It's the people who don't accept their bodies who are treating their bodies shabbily. Whether being overweight by BMI standards is physically healthy or not is another question--there's evidence on both sides and I try to stay neutral on that. All I know is that not accepting one's body is NOT the way to health, mental or physical.

    I'm not deleting your comment because others have responded, and also because in principle I don't want to tamp down any discourse here. But had I seen this comment earlier I would have deleted it--not because I don't welcome thoughtful disagreement here (which this wasn't) but because you're trolling a guest of mine. Doing it to me is one thing, but Golda is a guest here.

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  7. I did not mean to offend anyone; just to give a reality check. I think the most unkind thing we can do is encourage people to detach from reality. We should encourage people to be eat healthy, to exercise, and to be a reasonable weight so that health insurance premiums can be lower. Being overweight is correlated with heart disease and diabetes.

    Accepting that you need to lose weight is the first step and by the way, I have to watch what I eat and I work out regularly. I want to stress that I have no idea to dump on anyone, just to help them get motivated. When I am at the gym and see a fat person there, I think "good for them."

    By, the way, my name is Kathe. Have no desire to hide or dump, would like to start a conversation.

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  8. Kathe, thank you for coming back with a somewhat more respectful tone. (I doubt how much you really want to "help" people "get motivated" and "didn't mean to offend" if you come onto a guest blog and tell someone they're unattractive, but I try to give my commenters the benefit of the doubt.) I understand that Health at Every Size is counterintuitive, and part of what I think Golda's message is, is that it's okay to think differently than the mainstream. Health at Every Size is proffering an alternative to the "diet and you'll lose weight and be healthy!" mind-set--and it's an alternative that's catching on. People with "healthy" BMIs die younger than those who are slightly overweight by BMI standards; the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports has said that weight is less important than a healthy diet and physical activity. I think what you're stumbling over is the idea that someone can be overweight by BMI standards but still be eating healthfully and exercising. Of course someone subsisting on a diet of Mars bars is unhealthy, but that's not what Health at Every Size is about. The first word there--health--shows just that. Any responsible wellness advocate will advise eating a healthy, nutritious diet and getting appropriate exercise. For most people, that will land them in the "normal" BMI zone. For some, it won't. Yes, there's a correlation between weight and some diseases, but it's not a sentence. (My obese mother has lower cholesterol than I do, for example, and I'm well within the "normal" range, eat well, exercise, etc.)

    I think that the "next step," as you put it, for people who are *unhealthy*, not just fat, is to look at what lifestyle changes can be made to promote health. Weight loss may indeed follow, but it doesn't *need* to follow to be effective.

    Listen, I'm not even a HAES follower to a T. I think HAES is more helpful than calling fat people unmotivated, and I think a lot of the science of it stands up. And some of it doesn't. I think that the "truth" of body weight lies somewhere between HAES and conventional wisdom. (I think America has a wildly disordered relationship with food and that it's difficult to suss out what's what as long as that's the case.) But we'll never find out what the real deal is if we shame people who are trying to give good alternatives to the same old line of thinking that hasn't worked, and that serves to make people feel like failures. In THAT sense I am a HAES advocate all the way.

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  9. Live healthy guys! Thank you for this very informative article.. :)
    Wellness Articles

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