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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