body image


At a recent family gathering, my 10-year-old daughter Grace was monkeying around with an older cousin when he started teasing her about her belly. Poking her stomach and asking whether she’s been eating too many cookies.

(Note: Grace is not overweight. She’s a very active, strong, healthy child. She has, however, filled out around her middle this year as most girls do just before heading into puberty. She has expressed some concern about her thickened middle, but so far has been satisfied with my explanation about growth–oftentimes kids grow out just before they grow up.)

As a mother, you always hate to hear your child teased. As a mother who has struggled with weight issues and disordered eating most of my life (and desperately wants to spare my child the same), I prayed that he would stop.

As the taunting continued, I panicked. My instinct was to tell him to stop. To cover his mouth with my hand. But, I didn’t want to make a bigger deal of the situation and bring even more attention to it. I desperately wanted him to stop though. I cringed every time he said it and I watched anxiously for Grace’s response.

And, of course, he did stop. The entire episode lasted less than 5 minutes.

I managed not to say anything until Grace was out of earshot, but then shared with him that Grace, like all little girls (and boys too), is sensitive about her body. It was a pleasant exchange. He apologized (which wasn’t necessary, I just wanted him to be aware) and commented that he’s noticed how sensitive his girlfriend is to comments about her body.

Thankfully, the teasing didn’t seem to phase Grace anymore than if he had been teasing her about the color of her eyes.

But I know better.

I know that the teasing about her belly stuck with her. Just as every negative comment about my body (even those that weren’t intended as negative) stuck with me. It got tucked somewhere in the back of her mind and is lurking there.  And, unfortunately, it will be supported and strengthened by lots of other comments, observations, media images and advertising messages.

Although this one incident was small–just a blip on the radar screen of her life–these small incidents accumulate and build. And our kids are paying attention. Close attention.

An ongoing study by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute found that 40% of 9- and 10-year-old girls have tried to lose weight. Another study found that 53% of 13-year-old American girls are “unhappy with their bodies.” The percentage grows to 78% by age 17. Shockingly, anorexia’s mortality is 12 times higher than the death rate associated with all causes of death for females 15-24 years old.

God help our girls (and boys). They are up against a lot.

So I’ll continue to be on guard and work to strengthen Grace’s defenses. I’ll try to instill in her the importance of being strong and healthy rather than being thin. I’ll support her as she finds and cultivates activities that are healthy and make her feel good about herself.  I’ll continue to emphasize healthy eating and exercise habits. I’ll encourage her to question media messages about female bodies.

And I’ll pray.

Something amazing happened yesterday.

Well, actually it didn’t happen yesterday. It’s happened over many years, but I recognized it yesterday. While chatting with someone about the Wellness Cleanse I’m doing, he asked me whether I had lost any weight. At that moment it occurred to me that my weight wasn’t even a consideration in my decision to take on the Cleanse.

And that, my friends, is pretty darned amazing. While my weight stopped ruling my life several years ago, I find it amazing that it truly wasn’t even a factor in my decision to participate in CorePower Yoga‘s Seasonal Wellness Cleanse.

It’s amazing when you consider that for most of my life (I first believed I was fat in 2nd grade), almost all of my choices and behaviors were somehow related to my weight–either directly in an attempt to control or reduce my weight, or indirectly as I tried to manage my obsession with my body and my weight, and my disordered eating. What I ate, what I wore, which activities I participated when, whether I went to social engagements, who I spent time with, you get the picture. So this moment was truly amazing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d be happy to drop some pounds while on the cleanse. I currently weight just about 20 pounds more than I did just before I became pregnant with Grace almost 11 years ago, and I’d love to get back to that weight. But I’m not willing to compromise my health and wellness–physical, emotional, mental, interpersonal or spiritual–to get there. I have honestly learned to feel comfortable in my body and have developed incredible respect for it. It’s not perfect by any means, but it’s beautiful. Wow, I just said that!

On a side note, I have weighed myself most days of the cleanse. Not because I am concerned with losing, but because during days 2-4 I felt really bloated and was curious as to whether I had gained weight. I wasn’t freaked about it, just curious. I had not gained. And today I’m at the bottom of my normal 5-pound range. I suspect I will lose weight on the cleanse, since I’m just heading into our 3-day broth phase, but I’m not concerned about it one way or the other. I know my body is getting healthier and that is truly my goal.

Speaking of the Broth Phase, I just finished chopping tons of veggies and putting them in the crock pot for the Alkaline Broth. I made the Bieler Broth yesterday. I’m looking forward to giving my digestive system a rest without depriving my body of the nutrients it needs.

In other good news, all of my aches and fatigue have subsided and I’m back to feeling energetic…and happy. For a couple of days there, as my body worked to release and then eliminate toxins, I felt pretty sad. And, perhaps most importantly, I found a morning beverage I like (not as much as coffee, but at least I’m not cursing every sip). Hot water with lemon, honey and a splash of 100% pure cranberry juice. It’s actually pretty good.

But I still miss my coffee. Be well!

P.S. Thanks to my friend Rita at Yum Yoga! for the photo of Bieler Broth.

As most of those who know me know, my sister and her two children have Type 1 (or Juvenile) Diabetes. Amy was diagnosed when she was 9, her son Winston when he was also 9, and her daughter Hope when she was 5.

Many who know me also know that Amy is my hero–in a whole bunch of ways. Amy and I had a somewhat difficult childhood and we credit our relationship with each other for not only getting us through tough times, but helping us became relatively normal and mostly thriving adults. Words could never express how much Amy–and her love, support and honesty–mean to me.

Each year, my family participates in the Walk to Cure Diabetes at the Mall of America. This year’s event will take place Saturday, February 26 at 8am. Our team is Hope Win Walkers and I would be incredibly grateful if you supported our family and every family that has been touched by Juvenile Diabetes by either donating to the cause or walking with us.

For much of Amy’s life, she struggled with health and wellness. To the dismay of those of us who love her, she rebelled against her body and the disease rather than making peace with her diagnosis and taking care of herself. Thankfully that changed about seven years ago. She has made significant changes in her lifestyle and diabetes management, and her health has improved accordingly. We recently talked about what wellness means to her.

F: What does “wellness” mean to you?

A: To me wellness means not only physical health, but emotional and spiritual health as well.  Feeling balanced.

F: How has your definition of wellness changed through the years?

A: Well, I really don’t think I had any idea as a child about wellness. As I grew older I think my awareness changed, but not until my 30s did I finally realize that being well was a choice only I could make for myself. It was not about what others thought, not about prior diagnoses, not about a dysfunctional childhood, not about how fat or skinny I was. I alone had the power to choose to be well in all aspects of my life. That was a turning point. It not only helped me stop making excuses, it helped me see more clearly my own beauty and strength. I love who I am and, because of that, maintaining and growing my own wellness is a priority in my life.

F: How has having diabetes impacted your relationship with your body?

A: From the time I was diagnosed I viewed diabetes as the enemy. I hated it and rebelled against it. As a preteen/teenager with a very low self esteem, having diabetes  gave me one more tool for abusing my body–which I did far too often. Long term consequences didn’t seem real. As a child, it was a useful tool for me to use (unconsciously) to get time and attention from parents who were often absent.  It also taught me how I could manipulate insulin and food to give me the short-term goal I was after (weight loss). I am now able to say that the damage that has occurred to my body was due to choices I made. I no longer have vision in my left eye. As difficult as this loss was I can also recognize that there have been good things that have come from this loss. It is also a daily reminder to make choices that honor this body I have been given. It deserves to be honored after all it has had to put up with so far. I no longer feel such anger over being diabetic. In a way, it gives me an added tool to keep balance in my life because if I don’t my blood sugar will tell me immediately that a change needs to be made.

F: What strategies or tricks help you stay on track?

A: Gratitude is my biggest ally in staying on track. I try to meditate everyday, even if only for three minutes, on all the blessings in my life. It took some training to make this a habit, but it now seems easy and a part of my life. I notice that when life gets busy and I start to lose focus, the negative thoughts try to creep back in. This again reminds me to count my blessings and embrace challenges as opportunities for growth.

F: How has eating better, etc. impacted other areas of your life?

A: Eating better has given me more energy than I could have imagined.  The energy and focus I now have has not only benefited me, but I have more to give others as well. I also save money. Although I try to eat primarily organic (which tends to be more expensive), I eat less. I have also greatly reduced how often I eat out. Even if you are making healthier choices when eating out, it is still less healthy than cooking at home.

F: What has been your biggest wellness challenge?

A: I often struggle with how to advocate wellness without being judgmental.  As much as I can recognize that this was and is a process in my own life, I sometimes feel frustration with people who are reluctant to even make small changes.

F: Your biggest wellness success?

A: I am not sure I can say one thing. I feel that since all of the successes have led to the next, there really isn’t one that stands out. It is the journey that will be ongoing–with challenges all along the way. I welcome the experiences life gives me and feel that this is only the beginning.

F: Any other thoughts on wellness?

A: My hope is that with my own love and acceptance of myself and all of my imperfections I can help those around me see the strength and beauty in themselves. We all have so much we can share with each other and I think by making the choice to be wel,l we are better able to share those gifts.

See why she’s my hero? I hope to see you on February 26. Be well!

One of my earliest memories related to body image is that of the famous Farrah Fawcett-in-the-red-swimsuit hanging on our refrigerator door to remind my Mom not to eat.

My Mom wasn’t overweight. But because she thought she was, I assumed I must be too.

By second grade, I was already convinced that I was fat. I wasn’t (the chubby phase of my life didn’t start until puberty), but it was the first of many years of struggle related to feeling good about my body.

Thankfully times have changed and we are all far more aware of the huge impact the messages our daughters receive–from us, the media and her peers–have on her body image and self-esteem. Most of us are intentional about communicating positive messages to our daughters about their bodies.

Is that enough? What we don’t always think about is how our actions and attitudes about our own bodies influence our daughters. My Mom certainly never told me I was fat. In fact, she told me just the opposite. But, actions speak louder than words and I didn’t believe her words.

Most of us see a lot of ourselves when we look at our daughters. The phenomenon works in both directions. Our daughters see themselves when they look at us.

If your daughter senses that you are unhappy with your body or how you look–either because she hears you say it outright or because you constantly make efforts to change your physical appearance–chances are she is learning to be dissatisfied with hers as well.

So, stop. Stop obsessing, stop battling, and start accepting and appreciating. If being good to yourself hasn’t been motivation enough to make peace with your body, do it for your daughter. Help her have a healthier and happier relationship with her body than you’ve had with yours.

And if you don’t actually feel acceptance and love for your own body, act as though you do. Given enough practice, you just might get good at it.

Be well!

This past Friday, Grace accompanied me to observe a local youth program at which I will soon be teaching yoga. The program serves low income youth, many of whom are new to the U.S. After our visit, I asked Grace what she thought of the visit.

“Those kids were wild. I think it’s going to be hard to teach them yoga,” she said.

She’s right. The kids were pretty wild–probably at least in part due to the excitement of unfamiliar faces (Grace and me). Still, despite their “wildness,” I’m willing to bet it won’t be hard to teach yoga to them.

Over the course of the past year, I’ve taught yoga to a pretty wide range of kids–from girls who are competitive figure skaters to teenagers with EBD to 4 year-olds with no previous exposure to yoga–and what I’ve found is that almost universally they have actively participated in and enjoyed yoga. Although their practice often looks different from adults’, they gain many of the same benefits.

Despite that, I often hear parents and/or teachers comment that their kids don’t have the attention span or concentration that yoga requires. I say, that’s exactly why they should do yoga. One practices yoga to develop attention span and concentration, not because s/he has already achieved those things. It’s just like when adults tell me they can’t do yoga because they are not flexible. I say, that’s why you should consider yoga.

Although we often tell our children to calm down or focus, we rarely teach them how to do that. Nor do we actively provide them with ways to cope with and reduce stress. Yoga provides kids (and adults) with tools to help them learn those skills. The blend of breath, movement and body awareness helps kids learn to look within for calm and peace rather than always being influenced by external stimuli.

Yoga obviously has physical benefits as well. It improves flexibility, strength and coordination, and can help children maintain a healthy weight. Research supports the many benefits yoga provides.

Studies have shown that yoga:

  • Improves symptoms of many illnesses and ailments including ADHD and Autism;
  • Increases muscle tone and control in children with Down Syndrome and Cerebral Palsy;
  • Increases academic achievement;
  • Improves self-esteem and decreases behavioral issues;
  • Reduces aggression; and
  • Increases attention span.

Another huge benefit of yoga is that it is accessible to children (and adults) at all levels of physical fitness. Thus it’s a great activity for entire families.

Sharing yoga with youth was one of my main motivations to teach yoga. I feel incredibly blessed to be able to share something that has made such a positive difference in my life with others–especially young people. I hope you and your family can join me for Family Yoga sometime soon.

Be well and namaste!

Family Yoga: 1st Sundays 12-1pm Moe Bodyworks, 3541 Lyndale Avenue S

Through a fun and challenging 60-minute class, families will be introduced to yoga through postures (asanas), breath (pranayama) and mental focus (dharana). Yoga’s unique accessibility and ability to challenge individuals at all levels of fitness builds strength, flexibility, concentration, balance and stamina. Individual and partner poses. Adults pay regular class price, kids are free!

Each year I volunteer at my daughter’s school to teach Bravo, a fabulous music appreciation program. Although I really know nothing about music–seriously, I can barely work my iPod, let alone play an instrument or sing–I love the program. Not only do I get to learn about music, I get to spend time sharing what I’ve learned in my daughter’s class. I attended Bravo training yesterday morning.

The following was included in the Bravo training manual. It was written by Spanish cellist and conductor Pablo Casals, considered by many the greatest cellist of the 20th century, and was intended for parents and teachers. I thought it was worth sharing.

Pablo Casals

Pablo Casals

“Each second we live is a new and unique moment in the universe, a moment that never was before and never will be again. And what do we teach our children in school? We teach them that two and two are four and that Paris is the capital of France.

“When will we also teach them what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the world there is no other child exactly like you. In the millions of years that have passed, there has never been a child like you.

“And look at your body–what a wonder it is! Your legs, your arms, your cunning fingers, the way you move! You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up, can you harm another who is, like you, a marvel? You must cherish one another. We must all work to make this world worthy of its children.”

Be well!

Yesterday my 9-year-old daughter Grace related how one of her classmates with a new haircut was greeted on the bus with laughing, sneers and snickers. The boy put up his hood and hung his head. He remained sullen for much of the day.

Unfortunately, these kinds of stories aren’t rare in our house, and–given the recent suicides resulting from bullying incidents–are obviously far too common everywhere. While bullying is obviously a huge problem, perhaps not all of the solutions need to be.

Like most of us, I remember clearly what it was like to feel unsure of myself, to question whether I was liked or even likable, and to feel as though everyone else was in on some secret that nobody shared with me. Heck, I still feel like that sometimes.

I also know what a huge difference just a few sincere, kind words can make.

When Grace shares stories like this with me, I try to focus on what she did or could have done to help the bullied child feel good about him/herself. As a parent we often tend to focus on the negative behavior of the bullies to ensure that our children understand that the behavior is unacceptable. The child being bullied can be overlooked.

Obviously kids need to be taught that bullying is wrong and should be punished for doing so. But what if we changed it around a bit and instead of focusing on what not to do, we encourage kids to do something else? Something more positive? What if we encourage them to pay at least one compliment every single day? Commit to compliment.

If everyone of us paid at least one compliment to someone else each day, we could brighten the days of 365 people over the course of year. And, I suspect that as this becomes a habit, we could easily offer more than one compliment each day.

As kids (and all of us) struggle to feel good about ourselves, it’s far too easy to bring someone else down in order to boost ourselves up. Easy, but not very effective. In the end, we all feel bad about ourselves.

Complimenting others not only boosts those receiving compliments. Recognizing the positive in others helps us to see it in ourselves.

As for the boy from Grace’s school, he kept the hood on most of the day. When he finally took it off, Grace and a couple of her classmates told him his haircut looked awesome. The boy perked up and Grace said she may have even seen the start of a smile.

So, today and everyday, Grace and I have committed to paying at least one compliment. Will you join us? Commit to compliment.

Be well.

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