Accept Size, Get Healthy Without Making Food the Enemy

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On January 25, 2011 I had the privilege of participating in a teleconference organized by Golda Poretsky a Certified Holistic Health Counselor that featured her live interview with Dr. Anita Johnston For those of you unfamiliar with Dr. Johnston’s work she is a Clinical Psychologist and author of Eating in the Light of the Moon: How Women Can Transform Their Relationship with Food Through Myths, Metaphors, and Storytelling and works with clients that have eating disorders and body dissatisfaction issues.  Dr. Johnston also incorporates the use of myths and metaphors in her work.  M&M’s as I like to call them, (primarily because I am a huge fan of those little edible chocolate treats…the new coconut flavored are my favorites). Myths and Metaphors are powerful and effective therapeutic tools for facilitating a client’s insight into their behaviors and assisting them to embark on the road of exploring different choices to replace those behaviors.  As someone trained in Expressive Arts Therapy I am an avid fan of using metaphors as a treatment modality.  

As I listened to the interview I felt myself riding the on the rising swell of a familiar wave. I paddled out and was lifted by the excitement of knowing that other people were out there promoting the idea that size acceptance/diversity is:

  1. Not a horrible thing.
  2. Not a cover for denial.
  3. Not a hidden permission slip to eat all of the M&M’s  ones’ insatiable mouth desires.

(Why is it adjectives and examples tend to come in 3’s? I digress). 

There were about 200 other phone participants in this event, listening to Dr. Johnston’s brilliant clinical examples of her work. Somehow feeling the presence of that many like minded participants was comforting, stimulating, and hopeful. (O.M.G. I just did it again…3 adjectives! I promise I didn’t plan that!)

At the peak of the wave, Anita, because by then she had become a voice for all of us and I felt that I could call her Anita, told an intricate and engaging story. Briefly paraphrased, she used the image of a log that starts off as a swimmer’s life saving device in a rapidly rushing river. Once the frantic swimmer is in calmer waters, the log, however, weighs her down and keeps her from being able to swim to shore.  Getting rid of the log is imperative if she is to make it to shore. Dr. Johnston’s (o.k. I’m too shy to really call her Anita) work is clearly helping people sever their complete dependence on the log and figure out how to safely swim to shore.  In my opinion, her patients are extraordinarily fortunate to have a therapist that is so masterful in the art of using:

  1. poignant
  2. applicable and
  3. illustrative stories of how frequently food is used as a positive coping mechanism;

and can then continue to demonstrate through story and myths that as we change this mechanism becomes:

  1. useless
  2. superfluous and sometimes
  3. self-destructive when the food is transformed into an enemy.
  4. (Why fight it…the 3 thing? Am I the ONLY one thinking of School House Rock at this point? Remember that song, 3 Is The Magic Number? 

The conversation led to disordered eating being part of “disordered living,” and part of a larger personality profile.  Dr. Johnston invited us to look at someone who restricts food and see if they also showed restriction in their, “intimacy, relationships, and activities.” And if they were binge eaters did they also binge on relationships, work, or shopping?”  I am not making this up she really did give 3 examples for each one!  I was on cloud 9.  (HA take that 3!!!!)

Dr. Johnston has been doing this work for a long time. I became aware of her work in the 80’s when I began my work in the field of: Eating Disorders, Body Dissatisfaction and Size Acceptance (Good comeback 3!)  So as Dr. Johnston continued, to no fault of her own, I felt myself begin to plummet down the other side of the wave. Decades later she and I (and 200 other people) were having the same conversation many of us had back then. Had anything changed?

I felt like I was playing a game of Twister.

I had my left foot in the fat activist circle, my right foot in the cynical circle, and my left hand in the exhausted circle.  My right hand was holding the cell phone listening to Golda and Anita discussing myths of women eating and how there were negative consequences usually associated with the scandalous act of putting something in their mouths!  Again Anita wove a luscious and pertinent story of Persephone eating 3 (I’m not kidding…3!) pomegranate seeds!

The interview ended and there was an invitation for listeners to ask questions or comment. One caller was incredulous about the fact that in some parts of America, a student’s Body Mass Index (BMI) number was put on their report cards as a way to alert the parents that their child was failing the mandatory class of “Health 101.” A passing grade for this class is based solely on the student’s weight and BMI. Dr. Johnston responded brilliantly, I believe her exact words were, “This is the insanity we have come to.”

The magic number of weight and BMI has the power to effect mood, self-esteem and negative judgment towards self and others. How many of us have a great morning if our scale shows us our “Magic Number,” the goal weight and or BMI that labels us “good!”  Not healthy, but “good!”  Or our dress size….women strive to be a size 3.

Just as I thought I would come to the nadir of the wonderful wave I had been riding and leave the teleconference wet, bedraggled, and saturated with despair, Golda and Anita proclaimed, “This is what we are up against folks! We NEED ALL of you revolutionaries out there who are listening.”

The call ended. I put down my cell phone. I stretched my right hand as far as I could and planted it into the circle of Hope, Action, and…there is no number 3

There is NO magic number.

Please join Golda for her next teleconference. Click on her name for the link to her site.