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Today, I’m thrilled to present part one of my interview with Deah Schwartz. Schwartz is the author of the syndicated blog, Dr. Deah’s Tasty Morsels, which focuses on self acceptance, Health At Every Size, developing healthier relationships with food and physical activity and challenging cultural definitions of beauty.

She’s also the co-author of the “Leftovers Workbook/DVD set,” a unique expressive arts therapy curriculum for therapists, and educators training therapists, in the fields of eating disorders and body dissatisfaction.

Below, Schwartz shares her own history with dieting and weight loss and provides insight on making peace with your body.

Q: You received your BA in theater — love that! I’m a huge fan of musicals — so I was wondering what led you to work in the fields of body image and disordered eating?

A: The best way to describe this is to imagine two separate paths that over time grew closer and closer until they finally merged into one.  Theater was a passion of mine both as a spectator and a performer.

Of course as an actor, I was limited in the roles I was considered for by my size and early on began to feel excluded by the typecasting employed by most casting directors.  I was almost always too fat to play a serious romantic role and too thin to play the rare role of Fat Girl Makes Good ala Hairspray.

I often was cast as the chummy funny side kick.  In my real life this was being replicated in my romantic relationships where I often felt “right for the part” if it weren’t for my body type.  This led to the onset of serial dieting which resulted in periods of time when I was very thin, and did in fact get the parts (both theatrically and romantically) and the eventual weight re-gain which “cast” me back into the fat girl roles.

In the meantime I was working with children and adolescents with a wide variety of psychological diagnoses and realized how powerful theater was in their treatment.  I went on to study the Expressive Arts Therapies and used the modality in a variety of clinical and educational settings with my focus being on eating disorders and body dissatisfaction.

Again, I saw that the obsession with food and appearance eclipsed the talents and other personality features of my clients and kids who were smart, funny, motivated, social would get side tracked by dissatisfaction with their looks and their bodies and lose track of what was important to them.

They no longer directed their energy into productive or enjoyable activities and when their diets didn’t produce the results they coveted, they became depressed.  This led to less motivation, more isolation, and the cycle continued.

I was also working with an Improvisational Theater group and three of us in the troupe wrote a play, Leftovers, the Ups and Downs of a Compulsive Eater, which toured around the country and ultimately was produced Off-Broadway in New York.  That particular theater piece which is all about self/size acceptance brought us an award from NAAFA.  And it is the DVD of the live performance of that play that is included in the book I co-authored, Leftovers, DVD/Workbook Set.

Q: How can readers make peace with their bodies?

A: Ahhh, the ultimate question.  So simple and so complex. There is no quick fix for this one, that is the most important thing to embrace.  And the peace starts here and now. Many people feel they can and will only make peace with their body once they have achieved their goal weight or desired dress size.

Oftentimes, however, when you get to that magic number, it doesn’t match the fantasy of what life would be at that number and so life gets put on hold again until the next number is realized.

Regarding tangible strategies for making peace with our bodies the same way we are all unique in our body type, people resonate with different interventions, methods, techniques whatever you want to call them.  For some people it is helpful to be a part of a larger community that supports a size diverse/size acceptance stance and for others activism is very helpful.  Some people find daily affirmations beneficial and others are more pragmatic and like to keep written charts of what healthy habit they did each day or what positive thought they had.

As an expressive arts therapist, one of the things I know is that not everyone is a drama person or a music person or an art person so the wider variety of options on the menu, so to speak, the more chances a therapist has to help their clients find their own way to make peace.

That being said, however, one of the common saboteurs of body love and self acceptance is [making] comparisons.  As long as we compare ourselves to someone else we open ourselves up to find fault with ourselves.  Avoiding fashion magazines is frequently a great idea for everyone.  The media messages are very powerful and they wiggle into our psyches at a very young age.

A famous study done at Harvard showed that young girls reported they would rather be missing a limb than be fat.  Why would they think that?  It has to be from external messages they are receiving.

Q:  You also contribute to the Art Therapy blog and each month share an activity to help readers heal their body dissatisfaction and disordered eating. Can you share several of your favorite activities that readers can try?

A: One of my favorites and easiest to explain is:

Take a manila file folder and holding it vertically decorate the outside flap as if it was a door and then open it up. Using drawings or collage show what is behind the door that you would like to let into your life that you feel your body dissatisfaction is keeping you from having. Then on the back of the door write a short narrative about where that message came/is coming from and how true is it really?

Oftentimes our body hate and our beliefs about what we can have only when we are the perfect size, are habitual thoughts and feelings.  They are based on voices from our past that we have internalized and have left unchallenged for a long time.  This art directive provides an opportunity to look at the situation with fresh eyes and with the attitude that there is room for change.

More about Deah Schwartz:

Dr. Deah Schwartz has more than 30 years of experience using therapeutic art, music, drama and recreation activities in a variety of clinical and educational settings including Langley Porter Psychiatric Institute, Walnut Creek Hospital, Oakgrove Adolescent Hospital and worked with patients diagnosed with eating disorders, body dissatisfaction and affective disorders.

She has a BA in Theater, a MS in Therapeutic Recreation, MA in Creative Arts Education, and a Doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction.

Schwartz was a professor of Expressive Arts and Recreation Therapy at San Francisco State University for 10 years, specialized in Health and Wellness, and supervised the clinical internship program for undergraduate and graduate students.

Stay tuned tomorrow for part two!