Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Women over 50 and body image

Given that I am a proponent of the Health At Every Size (HAES)- size acceptance model, I was intrigued when I spoke with Thea Sheldon about women over 50 and their long and too often rugged relationships with their bodies.  I had recently written an article about women over 50 with eating disorders and we got talking about her work in helping women be happy with their bodies.  Wow, someone who cares about women over 50 and how we feel about these bodies that look so different from when we were younger!  I decided to do a blog interview with her to share her wisdom with you.

Thea started noticing when walking up a few stairs to her office she would be out of breath by the top.  All of her medical tests were fine.  Instead of prescribing fun movement or activity her doctor said she needed to lose about 30 pounds.  Thea hadn’t heard of HAES but she knew she wanted to be less winded and be able to do more fun physical activities—regardless of her size.
Thea began focusing not on dieting but on her health and reclaiming what brought her joy.  In the process of adding fun movement Thea’s body did shed some weight. More importantly she gained peace with her body as well as newfound fun and freedom in her life. As a coach she developed programs helping other women to find the peace with their bodies that she had found. 
Regular readers of my blog know that I do not promote losing weight – only gaining health.  Some people when they start making different health choices will gain weight, some will lose and some will stay the same.  Even though Thea has the words, “weight loss” in her materials I am sharing what she does because I see her helping women to “create a long-term, sustainable change in your relationship with your body.”  And when we love ourselves and our bodies that is when we can regain health.  I hope my HAES colleagues and fellow eating disorders advocates understand that she is using those words in her marketing because that is what women initially think they want.  Thea helps them find something so much better.
Here is my interview with Thea:
What shifted recently in how you treat your body?
Now I am better with boundaries in relationships with people and in my relationship with food.  I am able to draw boundaries with food and ask for what I really want, both in planning a menu and making choices in a restaurant. 
What has given you the ability to set these boundaries with food?
  1. Knowing much more clearly what I want.  Health!  I want Radiant Vibrant Health.  I’m responsible for what I put into my body and there is a real correlation between that, and how I feel, and my health numbers.  It was making a commitment to my health. Realizing I have a choice.
  2. I developed habits via steps.  Gradually I started making better choices. Trying to be perfect is no longer necessary. Now I feel much better and that keeps me motivated to keep making choices that are good for my body.
  3. I was totally open to the idea of experimenting. I know there isn’t one RIGHT way for every woman.  I became intimately familiar with my own body. I observe and respect what feels good and what doesn’t for my body.

As a result of these changes, what is now present in your life that wasn’t there?  
For 18 months now I've been doing all kinds of fun activities I hadn’t been able to do so easily before. Now I can flow into yoga positions I just couldn’t do because of the bulk on my body.
Thanks to my newfound body respect and awareness I recently participated in a community modern dance performance, even though I’m not a trained dancer. I had confidence that I could learn the moves. I wasn’t concerned about how my body looked on stage. I didn’t compare myself to others. I had so much fun! I never would have done this before I started taking charge of my body.
Now when we go on extended canoe trips I am able to carry my food pack across the portages easily. I don’t have to stop every few yards and rest. Cross- country skiing is so much more fun. I can get up some speed and feel more fluid and graceful skiing. It’s easier to get in and out of the car. On a practical note, I can easily carry my groceries. I don’t feel weighted down. I am much more flexible.
What is no longer present?  
When I am walking down the street, I no longer sneak little peeks in the window reflections to see how “fat” I am.  Now if I see my reflection it is no longer negative. I smile and say, “Wow you look great!” 
How have you changed the way you respect your body?
Now, more than ninety per cent of the time I don’t criticize my body and am genuinely grateful for my body.  I notice I am gentle and soft even when washing my body – not critical but appreciating my strong arms for example.  This is a huge change.  Previously I was unkind and really abusive to my body – scrubbing it hard and not in a kind way.  Now I love this body!  Accepting the changes of aging makes life so much easier. 
My language has changed.  I no longer say, “I shouldn’t eat that.”  Now I will consciously ask myself, “Hum, do I want to eat that? Am I hungry for that?  Is this going to taste as good as it looks?”
What have you created in your business as a result?
Over the phone I offer Body Breakthrough: Wise Weight Loss, Management and Momentum. Locally in Ely, Minnesota my co-leader Kathy Cyriacks and I offer Choose to Lose, a support group for women. Both programs emphasize making lifelong changes in your relationship with food, your health and your body. I tell women, “You will come to appreciate and love your body for the amazing gift it is.”
Thank you Thea for doing this Blog Interview with me. 
Thea Sheldon can be found at True Voice Coaching of Ely, MN


Mary Treacy O'Keefe said...

Excellent article, Becky, on such an intriquing topic, inclding the HAES model, which I also didn't know about. Like Thea, I'm also trying to eat for good health, not just to loose weight and it makes a huge difference in my attitude towards food and toward ME. I feel much better not eating processed food and sugar and that translates into more positive self acceptance-another important message from Thea. Thanks for sharing an enlightening and affirming perspective.

Karen Barber said...

Becky, Great article. I like this quote: "Regular readers of my blog know that I do not promote losing weight – only gaining health". Women are so programmed at any age to be so hard on themselves about their appearance. Since having a child with anorexia, I have tried to ignore my obsession with my weight and just "be" and do everything in moderation - food, exercise, thoughts, and drop the dirty word "DIET" out of my vocabulary. Thank you Becky. Karen