Today, I’m pleased to present my interview with Jeanne Courtney, MFT, a Health at Every Size SM practitioner, who helps women of all sizes learn to love their bodies.

Below, Jeanne talks about everything from the grief process of giving up weight-loss goals to her favorite body image tips to finding fun ways to move your body.

Q: Many people still want to lose weight whether it’s for “health” or aesthetic reasons. What would you like these people to know? And what are some of the ways that people can learn to accept themselves just as they are?

A: Almost anybody can lose weight — temporarily.  Between 2 and 5 per cent can keep it off for five years or more, 29-32 per cent will gain it back, and 66 per cent will end up weighing more than when they started.  If you’ve only dieted once in your life, and never had a need to do it again, you’re probably a member of that 2 to 5 per cent minority.  Otherwise, you have a choice about whether you want to keep struggling against the odds.  Many physiologists believe it isn’t the weight but the yo-yoing up and down the scale that leads to so-called obesity-related illness.

Letting go of the wish for weight loss is like a grief process.  (My article about this was published in the Journal of Lesbian Studies in 2008.)

There is much to be gained (no pun intended) by accepting the body you have, but it’s very likely you’ll feel some sadness and anger about losing that fantasy body you once thought you could have.

How to accept ourselves the way we are?  That’s a hard question, and the answer is different for every individual.  I like to encourage women to stop putting their lives on hold and do something NOW that they’ve held out as a reward for reaching some elusive weight loss goal in the future.  Ask for support with your new plan to accept your body – from friends (who may want to go on commiserating about the diet struggle), sexual partners (who may not realize you’d like extra assurance that you’re attractive), and medical providers (who may assume that every patient with a BMI above the “normal” range wants weight loss advice).  For extra support, make the personal political.  By learning more about the movement to end size discrimination, you can get in touch with a whole community of people who no longer use the fat-hating, body-hating language that’s so pervasive in our culture.

QCan you talk about some myths about weight loss?

A: Some of the basic myths are: Obesity causes disease, weight loss improves health, and fat people die sooner.  These claims get repeated a lot, but actual research just doesn’t support them.  Sarah Josef, RD, will be going into specifics about this at our workshop on Sept. 25, 2010, Make Friends with Your Body, Make Friends with Food.

Q: How can people improve their health without losing weight?

A: Health at Every Size SM researchers and practitioners disagree with the weight loss industry, when it comes to food restriction, the causes of “obesity-related” illness, and the effectiveness and safety of weight loss by any known method.  There is no dispute, however, about the mental and physical health benefits of exercise and good nutrition.  Access to health care is important, too.  Many fat women stay away from doctor’s offices because they’re afraid of yet another weight loss lecture.  But you deserve good medical care, whatever your size, and the more work you’ve done on accepting your body, the easier it will be to get assertive about that.

Q: What are your favorite strategies for feeling good about your body?

A: I like positive self-talk.  Notice the words that go through your head.  See if you can replace blaming and shaming with gentleness and appreciation for yourself and the body you live in.  Out in the world, you can stand up for your body’s right to take up space, by not participating in diet talk, telling people their fat jokes are offensive, or even doing something as simple as asking, without apologizing, for a larger size to try on or a wider chair to sit in.

It’s also important to show your body that you love it, by nourishing it, moving it, and giving it pleasurable experiences.  Learn to be conscious of your body from the inside out, as a series of sensations you experience from moment to moment, rather than a thing to be looked at or evaluated from the outside.

Q: Many people view exercise as a chore or a punishment for consuming too many calories — both ideas that are deeply ingrained in our culture. How can people change their perceptions of exercise and enjoy moving their bodies?

A: Exercise happens to be the theme this month (September 2010) at my free Make Friends with Your Body brown bag on September 21, and on my blog.

It’s true that many women have a painful relationship with exercise.  It’s like an ex-friend.  Maybe it made a lot of promises (about weight loss) and then let you down.  Or maybe you feel guilty because you think you failed to show up for it often enough, and now you just want to avoid it altogether.

A couple of my favorite strategies for getting friendlier with the E word are:

  • Remember that doing something is better than doing nothing.  If you can’t run a mile, can you walk a block? How about half a block? If weight bearing exercise is uncomfortable or unsafe for you, can you get access to a pool? Put on some music and dance in your chair?
  • Find a form of movement that’s genuinely fun for you.  A lot of women don’t exercise because they’re overwhelmed with advice about what they “should” be doing, and none of it’s very appealing.  What do you LIKE to do?  Dance? Stretch?  Swim? Ride a bike? Garden?  Hop on one foot while blowing soap bubbles?  The fitness industry can tell you statistics about the most physiologically efficient ways to exercise, but YOU are the expert on the subject of what will actually get your body moving.

Q: Anything else you’d like to add about your work, self-acceptance, body image or a related topic?

A: If you’re just contemplating the idea of size acceptance, it can seem like a radical change from the way we’ve all been taught to think about weight, health, looks, and self-esteem.  But with patience and persistence, I believe every woman can learn to make friends with her body. I absolutely love working with women of all sizes and watching the process when size acceptance and self acceptance really take hold and start to grow.

In closing, I’d like to ask you and your readers to bring questions and comments to my blog, and invite any women who are interested to sign up for my free, monthly, Make Friends with Your Body workshops.

Jeanne, thanks so much for your insight, and for helping women love themselves just as they are!

Today’s favorite post. Why I’ve ‘Let Myself Go‘” by Katie at Head, Heart and Health. Wow.

Have a fantastic weekend everyone!