Friday, March 2, 2018

Health at Every Size

I’ve decided to write on a personal, yet controversial topic – weight stigma and the diet culture in our society. As a plus size woman, some people might disregard this because they feel I am writing this to justify my size. Actually, I am writing this because I am worried about young girls and women and the messages we give them day after day that they just aren’t good enough! And here’s the thing, while I know I don’t exercise enough, or I my eating patterns aren’t as healthy as they can be because of too many late night meals from working crazy hours, or fast food snacks because I don’t make the time to prepare something that my body really needs, that makes up only a part of who I am! When you look at me, do you hold a bias that because of my size, I am not healthy? Because actually, I am!

When we tell our young girls and teens that their body mass index or weight is not in the ‘zone’, we aren’t considering the whole picture. People of all shapes and sizes get sick. I have seen thin women suffer greatly with medical issues just as I have seen larger women with medical problems. And I have seen thin women who don’t exercise, and fat women who are quite athletic and physically fit! Size isn’t a reliable measure of health! Body health is not one dimensional, determined only by the number on the scale compared to our height and age! If we can instead teach girls to love themselves, move in healthy ways, eat foods that feel good and nourish them in a balanced way, then we can expect them to grow into happy, self-esteemed women who take care of themselves! Dieting teaches a person to restrict certain foods labeled as bad, which results in a deprivation mentality, followed by a break from the plan, then feeling a sense of failure, and retreating into the negative messages associated with falling off the diet.

Think about those messages we hear every day! “Oh my goodness, I gained three pounds…I feel horrible!” “I can’t eat that, I have to keep my weight down for the ‘fill in the event’!” When someone has dieted and taken some pounds off, she might hear, “You lost weight! You look beautiful!” As if by implication before the weight loss, she wasn’t? Or at the next meeting, there is no reflection on how she looks, and maybe she gained a few pounds, so then she feels the weight equals less value, less beauty, less self-worth. I know girls and women who won’t wear bathing suits or shorts because they are embarrassed of their body type. I know girls and women who hide at pictures, afraid that they wouldn’t look their best in pictures because of their size. We are so tuned in to size and looks as a culture that we have lost the true beauty of an individual, and chiseled it down to only be reflected as a size 0 or 2 model. 

What would it feel like if we raised a generation of girls who could dance like no one was looking, wear what felt good and comfortable because she liked it, eat what felt great, view exercise as fun and energizing for her body, and could encourage her fellow ‘sisters’ to do the same? We are finally encouraging girls that they can do anything they set their sights on; girls can excel in math and science, for example. We must also teach them that they are beautiful in every shape and size they come in. If a diet program like Weight Watchers wants to invite teens to participate in a summer program of health and fitness for free, that would be exciting, as long as BMI and weight loss are not part of the plan, and they took ‘diet’ out of their equation! Deprived eating and shameful feelings around choosing carbs or grains don’t help teens develop a love for their bodies that will last a lifetime; rather it teaches them to feel they are never good enough, never thin enough, and need to practice self-deprivation at all costs. Instead let’s teach them that all food groups are ok and they can have a healthy relationship with food! Health can come at every size! Listening to what your body wants, be it salty or sweet, chewy or crunchy, hot or cold, and learning to stop when the body feels the first signs of full would be awesome! Helping teens to move for the pleasure of it; whether dancing, swimming, walking, running, or playing out in the fresh air would be glorious! Teaching teen girls that they should love themselves first, be proud of who they are and what they can do, and feel good from the inside out will lead to young women who can enjoy life without hesitation.

So for me, while I want to get into some better habits as I continue this aging process in my 50s, it won’t be about losing weight. It will be about keeping my joints and muscles as healthy and lubricated as they can be to protect me as I get older. It will be about making sure I plan my meals better so I don’t feel so hungry at 9:30 at night that I need to stay up late after finishing a meal, and then feel too tired the next morning. And I will enjoy my chocolate because I love the creamy goodness as it swirls in my mouth as much as I love that crunchy, juicy pear, the savory chicken soup with that fluffy matzoh ball or that delicious king crab dipped in butter. When you look at me, I hope you see that I am healthy, smart, funny, creative, helpful, caring, and, by the way, I happen to come in a plus size body.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


As I do all the things I do to prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday, I am trying to pay attention to all that I am feeling these days. I look forward to listening to the comments by my friends and family around the Thanksgiving table as we each share what we are grateful for. As a highly positive person, I know I always have a glass is almost full attitude, and I want to think that having that ‘can do’ attitude has helped me achieve the things in my life that are truly important. As a social worker, I am also highly tuned in to where others are at any given moment; the empath in me feels all that is around me and I tend to take that in and hold onto it. Partly because I hope that I can share some of the burden of others, and in part because I hope that my positive outlook drives me to find sources of healing, places of hope, and solutions to all that puzzles for problems that affect the people who are in my life.

I am also aware that as a white person living in America, I have had a privileged life in so many ways, that my positivity has had a chance to thrive and grow. This has resulted in being able to quickly work to identify a positive outlook after the election results. There is a part of me that always holds onto hope.  In general, I see myself as a social democrat and a fiscal republican. This election, I felt that putting someone into the White House that could shift the supreme court to extreme conservatism scared me most of all. I worried that a platform thriving on hate and fear would spark the voices of radicals who see no value in shared community, diversity, or equal rights for all. When Trump won, I lowered my head for a day, and then shifted my balance back to my positive self. Maybe he had a loud bark, but a gentle bite? Maybe he wanted to wake up America to notice we have gotten too complacent, but once awakened, he would shift his voice to unite us all? Maybe, since he spent most of his life as a democrat, he would make as surprise shift in aligning his cabinet to be inclusive and work towards acceptance?

It was easy for me to do. I am white. I am second generation American. I blend in. Yes, I’m Jewish, so technically there is a target on my back, but I can look pretty much like many in America if I don’t put on my Jewish star necklace, or you don’t see me walking into my synagogue or catch my Menorah in the window on Chanukah. I’m also heterosexual. I have spent the last thirty years in a traditional marriage, raising three daughters, and basically living the American dream. I went to college and work in a profession I love, my husband went to college and has, thankfully, been steadily employed throughout our marriage, two of our children went to college and have entered the workforce, and the third is finishing graduate school. Pretty normal stuff. You see, from where I am, I can ignore the crazy on a day to day basis and continue to live my safe comfortable life.

When I see Trump beginning to build his Cabinet with people who publicly hate communities of people, I have to step out of my world and speak up. Because I want my world to not only be safe and comfortable for me and my family, but for my friends, clients, neighbors, and community. It is anything but safe right now, and I am sorry for that. How can I expect people around me to be positive and grow that feeling when there’s a storm of hate swirling over America and growing with intensity? Unless we band together and continue to wake up our friends, and help advocate for a balanced government that wants to: protect the rights of ALL its citizens, allow for equality across genders, sexuality, religion, cultures, and abilities, and spread a message of respect to all people within its borders, none of us can or should sit back and feel comfortable.

This is not about ‘my candidate’ losing the election, because I was highly aware of the flaws of Hillary Clinton too. I’m not a sour grapes person. But I am an empath, and feel the worry, pain and panic around me and understand that it is well felt. The one hope we do have is that President-elect Trump has always been one to be proud to say, “you’re fired!” I can only hope that when he sees the impact of what is coming, he utters those words to some of his soon-to-be key players and brings a more uniting team to his table.

So when I sit at my Thanksgiving table, I will focus on gratitude and hopefulness. But I will also pray for those leading our country to spend the next four years building up the lives of ALL Americans instead of working to tear select groups down.

Friday, November 4, 2016


It's been awhile since my last blog post, but the Cubs have inspired me!

As a lifetime diehard Cubs fan, winning the World Series was one of those highlights in my life that I know as the years pass will be as treasured then as it is now. As a marriage and family therapist, the symbolism in being a Cubs fan, both as looking at this year’s success as well as the long term drought and ‘maybe next year’ attitude can explain how one should live his or her life.

First, let’s look at the championship game this year to understand. During the rain delay, a players only meeting was called and Jason Heyward spoke to his teammates. Almost every player spoke after the game about his words, rallying the team to pull together to finish this season with the 114th win that they have dreamt about. Why Heyward? Why is this significant to a social worker? Well, the guy is paid oodles of money, in the millions, to be there. Many would say this year has been a letdown in terms of what he has brought to the club. His fielding is never in question. His defensive role has been stellar this year. But during the playoffs, he had one of the worst batting averages, stranded fellow Cubbies on base, and left many wondering why we (all Cubs fans speak about the team as if it was our money spent!) are carrying him this way. Yet his talk represents why. During that game, at that rain delay, he could have sat quietly, passively, allowing others who have made pivotal plays or had at-bats that were compared with legends speak. But he decided he still had a role to play on HIS team. The Heyward symbol? Never lose sight of what you can contribute.
Next, the theme of this year seems to have been “we never give up.” There have been so many moments, in the playoffs and during the season, where you look up at the scoreboard and thought, “no way.” But these Cubs are different from many others from years past. The score, the late inning doesn’t matter. The hopelessness doesn’t exist. They came from behind in many eighth and ninth innings to win. They were down 3 games to 1 in the World Series, where commentators were all but handing the coveted trophy to the Indians. They blew a four run lead and by the eighth inning, the score was tied. It didn’t matter. The team motto? “We never give up.” Anything can happen if you have a can-do attitude.

The big picture. As a Cubs fan since the early 60’s, I have spent over fifty years thinking it can happen each year, only to sit in August explaining to my Sox or Cardinals fan friends that I’m hopeful that it might be next year. Eddie Vedder’s lyrics, “someday we’ll go all the way” is what we have felt our entire lives. There are so many like my dad, 81, and my mother-in-law, also 81, who have been doing this their entire lives, and they pass it down like a treasured heirloom, from generation to generation. My three daughters have inherited the Cubs gene as well. It’s what we do. It’s how we live. You start the season with hopes and dreams. You watch the games, wincing at each close play, sighing at each loss. By late July you shake your head and hope for a miracle, wish we could break from the curses that so many attribute to our fate. And by August the familiar saying is spoken, “Well, maybe next year.” And then November 2nd happened. Well, technically November 3rd. Because in Cleveland, the win occurred at 12:47 a.m. on November 3rd. A time we Cubs fans will never forget. That moment we have dreamt of has happened. The screams. The cheers. I went to bed with a huge smile and woke up with tears in my eyes, telling myself, “This really just happened.”

I have spent much of my therapy career explaining to people that they are trying to live too safely. They are so afraid to get hurt; they aren’t truly living their lives to the fullest extent. They can’t really feel joy, after all, if they work so hard to avoid sadness or pain. And this is the biggest Cubs therapy lesson of all. The joy we are feeling right now is higher than any other team’s victory has ever felt. Not because I’m a Cubs fan and feel selfishly that this moment was better than Boston’s moment, or the Sox’ moment. But because when you wait 108 years for it while truly engaging in the ups and downs, and really riding the drought of disaster, when you finally reach the pinnacle, the view is more spectacular than you could have ever imagined. Only because we have felt the suffering, stayed loyal through the down times, believing even though our hearts ached and our opponents gloated, do we truly feel joy. I know we will hit the skids again. I am a Cubs fan. It doesn’t matter. I will be hopeful. I will be loyal. And just like the Cubs, in our lives, we will struggle.

The ultimate message is, “Put yourself out there. Take risks. Know that pain is real and hurts. But if you keep at it, if you don’t give up, if you don’t lose sight of what you can contribute, the victories, no matter how infrequent, feel euphoric!”

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Top Five Parenting Questions

After spending roughly 25 years providing counseling services to children and families, I thought it would be interesting to reflect on the most common questions parents have asked during the course of counseling.

1.    Is this genetic? Did we do something to cause or create this problem in our child?
I think we’re taught from early on to look at cause and effect or problem and solution, so it’s natural for parents to want to get to the root of the problem when it comes to their child. However, finding the cause is not as important as directing the plan for managing the situation. Placing blame on a poor gene pool or looking into whose family has had the most dysfunction does not lead to healthy coping skills or problem management. Rather, understanding your child and meeting your child’s needs as best you can will most often take you down the healthiest path. When your child knows that you are walking with him, that you are supporting him through the struggle, and that you love him unconditionally, he will be more equipped to handle the rough road that may lie ahead. Don’t get me wrong; there are some conditions in which it is essential to know about genetics, and I encourage you to explore those as your medical team requests. But for the vast majority of behavioral and emotional concerns, beating each other up for something that is out of your control does not aid the situation. In many instances, the combination of one’s predisposition (genetics) and environment (experiences) dictate how that person will interpret her world.
2.    How can I expect my child to do certain things, like be a good student or not drink alcohol when I made those choices as a child?
First of all, we have learned a lot since we were children about the developing brain which influence the advice we offer to parents. When we set expectations for behavior we want in our children, they know what to reach out and achieve. They will make mistakes – we all do. And we teach them about consequences for those behaviors just like we show them the rewards of good choices. When we were younger, there were no seat belts so we did not wear them. Does that mean we don’t need our children to wear them? Of course not. We have learned that seat belts are a necessary safety feature, so we teach our children to use them even if we did not. Underage drinking? Drinking and driving? When we were younger, there were less cars on the roads and there was very little known about the effects of alcohol on the young brain. Now with stricter laws, more crowded roads, and the experiences of deadly car crashes resulting from teen drinking, we teach our teens to make smart choices when it comes to alcohol. We don’t need to share experiences with our children to guide them appropriately. We have adult brains with adult common sense and our children rely on us to help them in guiding them to make good decisions for themselves.

3.    Why doesn’t my child act his/her age?
Most likely, the behavior you are seeing IS age appropriate. Part of development is in making of mistakes, failing, falling on our faces, and misbehaving. So much learning can take place when consequences occur that teach children about the logical or natural cause and effect in life. So often, parents try to derail disappointment or give in to tantrums that we miss out on the beauty of life’s most natural lessons – acting his or her age and managing the consequences or privileges that follow.

4.    How can I make sure my child will go to a good college if he/she is not doing his/her homework?
One of the things you can do is to let your child NOT do his or her homework, and see the consequences. Certainly, the young child, under third grade, needs a lot of coaching in homework skills, work habits, and focus. As the child gets older, as a parent, you take steps backward each year to help your child gain independence in managing his or her work. This will mean homework gets left at home or work gets turned in incomplete. Rushing the papers to school doesn’t teach your child the independent skills to manage at college, now, does it? Bribing, nagging, and cajoling your child to do his or her homework doesn’t mirror how students learn to do their work at school. You can insure your child will make it into college by allowing him or her to own his or her work and be responsible for it, complete or not. Better to watch failure in junior high or high school, when lessons are not as costly as a $25,000 college year.

5.    My spouse and I don’t have the same views on parenting. How confusing is this to our child?
One of the neatest things to observe in children is their adaptability. They know what to expect at school, from grandma and grandpa, and how each parent responds to different situations. While the best way to manage parenting issues when two parents are available is to co-parent – communicate about discipline and guidance away from the child, present a united front to the child, and work together to manage the issues – when it comes to the day to day events, each parent’s creative  approach actually helps teach flexibility to your children. For example, I had a certain bedtime routine with my children. Bath, jammies, brushing teeth, stories, and a kiss goodnight, all by a certain time, worked well for me. My husband, on the other hand, had this unique song and march, his own creative stories and plays, and maybe a little less rigidity on the exact bedtime. Our children cooperated with both – but, truth be told, I even loved my husband’s style on this more than mine! When it came to cleaning up the toys, we had different styles again. But the common theme was that we both believed in some routine for each, and had the children participating in these events. So the discussions about what we wanted as our goal was done, and then each person allowed the other to develop his or her own style for carrying out the message. Your children will learn to adapt to each of your styles, but the consistency of the message will make their development as smooth as possible!

As Thanksgiving Approaches...

As Thanksgiving approaches, I realize it’s time to update the blog. We all use this time of year to reflect on our lives, feel gratitude for those around us and see appreciation in the blessings of our lives. I want to see if we can take it one step further, and make a bucket list of sorts. Not the extreme things we ‘have to do before we die’ list. But the ‘how can I make myself a better person’ or ‘what can I do to make the world I live in a better place’ kind of list. I’m going to share a few of my thoughts, and I hope my followers will add their ideas on self and world improvement.

1.     I had a conversation at a football game with some people from Canada, and I realized how very little I know about that great country north of ours. So one of my goals is to educate myself on Canada.

2.     I watched Marlee Matlin on television the other day. She has an app that teaches sign language. I want to learn this! I’ve already downloaded the app and can say, “My name is Debbie. What’s your name?”

3.     I ran into a friend – actually, I should say I walked into a friend who had been running that morning. He was up EARLY in the morning, while I was cuddly in bed getting a few more zzz’s. I also noticed a bunch of people I know that did the 5k run for chocolate and other 5k events. While I don’t see myself running with that dedication, I do want to strengthen my core and increase my flexibility and stamina.

4.     While shopping the other day with my husband, the clerk wanted to give me an extra plastic bag and I rejected it, while my husband wanted to sort our items into the different bags to bring to the girls at school. I am on a mission to use less plastic and recycle more. So, every chance I get, I will bring my reusable bags to stores. If I need to use plastics, I will fill them up to use as few as possible, and then recycle them.

So these items are the beginning of my list of want-to-dos. I am hoping these small additions to my life will help me feel more enlightened and enriched, and bring me a greater sense of appreciation and gratitude in the year to come. Please share your ideas as well, and have a very happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Latest on Cell Phones, Facebook and Other Technologies

Three years ago, I blogged about technology, and while so much of it still rings true, I realize that each year, younger children are accessing technologies, and we need to attend to what this means for your youth.

I will digress with a bit of history. When my twins were turning thirteen, we were purchasing their first cell phone. There was no camera, no internet and no texting. It was a phone. The intended purpose for them to have a cell phone was for those moments when they were out and about; they had an easy way to reach us. They actually shared the phone! When they turned fifteen, they had earned the privilege of having their own phones, with limited texting added. I can only imagine parents reading this and laughing. I feel like my kids’ experience with their first cell phone is as outdated as mine - my first cell phone was a box phone that I carried in a big black bag whenever I went to my car! And I thought I was cool!

I am aware that children are exposed to technology earlier and earlier these days. Watching a toddler maneuver apps on an iPad in the mall recently, I realized that the next generation of children will be more skilled at computers than coloring in a coloring book. Schools are even doing away with cursive. Students learn the basic letters and are learning to write their names, but the years spent learning cursive are making way for keyboarding and computer literacy. Children are taught in school to prepare Powerpoint presentations and are turning pages of a book with the flip of a finger on their e-readers. Backpacks, once weighted down by books going to and from school, are becoming lighter as school books are now on CD or accessible through the internet.

So my advice to parents is to supervise and assist our youth in getting connected, but remind them of two things always: 1) it is a PRIVILEGE to have access to the latest and greatest technology and 2) imaginative play, running around outside, and face to face interactions with peers still provides the healthiest opportunity for the development of strong social skills. Papers still can be written by hand, house phones, a.k.a. landlines, do ring up their friends, reading a book by the fireplace is still one of the best, most relaxing pastimes around, and spontaneous play outside in the fresh air is F-U-N. In other words, balance is key!

Set healthy limits. It is okay to set time limits on the computer, television, or X-Box. It’s also important to put all electronics away during certain parts of the day. As a role model for your child, practice disconnecting from the electronic world when interacting in the real world (dinners together, in line at a grocery store, out with friends, holidays…). And most importantly, find time to play – without electronics. Whether it’s a card game, board game, sports, art, or dramatic play, show your children how to HAVE FUN interacting in real time! If you start this when your children are younger, they will grow up knowing these non-electronic activities are also important parts of life!

I will end by sharing one of my favorite memories: when I was a child, I used to love to create forts. Fashioned between my sister’s and my beds, blankets topped the forts and were held in place by books and pillows. Flashlights, cards, more pillows, and toys were inside. Another blanket acted as the door to the outside world, and we hid away and played in the fort. I remember giggling often. Two D batteries to power up the flashlight were all the electronics needed for hours of fun!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


During the past few weeks, several people have approached me and asked what happened to PROUD. For those of you unfamiliar with this, I was the co-chair of a wonderful community coalition, Stevenson Community PROUD (People Rallying to Oppose Underage Drinking) for several years. It was born out of concern for our youth after several students in a neighboring community died as a result of underage drinking. We did not want our community suffer a similar fate. This coalition, made up of high school students, parents, educators, and community leaders worked together to educate the community on the dangers of underage drinking.

Last year, PROUD was disbanded. To all those actively involved, it was a sad time. We had worked together for four years and truly made an impact in our community. With guidance from the Lake County Lake County Underage Drinking Prevention Task Force, we worked to redefine the social norm around underage drinking in our community. We organized a parent folder to hand out during Stevenson’s parent open house, containing wonderful materials on the statistics of underage drinking in the north suburbs as well as educational handouts on the effects of alcohol on the developing brain. We collaborated with several other communities, Deerfield and Lake Forest/Lake Bluff, to share information and resources. We held 18 parent coffees where we shared concerns, stories, and strategies. And we helped the students find their voices – that being alcohol-free was a good norm to strive for. Five Stevenson seniors, who worked side by side with us from the beginning of PROUD in their sophomore year, earned Prominent Patriot awards prior to their graduation. This recognition of honor and distinction from their high school confirmed that healthy choices lead to positive rewards.

I’m sure all those reading this are asking themselves, “So why disband?” In the Stevenson High School district, which is fed by more than five junior high schools, we have roughly 4500 students. Considering each family has, on average, two children, those students represent about 2250 families. While many parents applauded the work of PROUD, very few attended meetings. The work of PROUD was carried out by a very small group of highly dedicated people, and the volunteers who began the coalition lost their energy over time. Some had children who graduated the halls of high school and had moved on. Some community leaders found the lack of attendance concerning, and shifted their energy to other causes. The students who had begun this mission moved on to college, and it was difficult to bring new ones on board when the adult leadership was dwindling simultaneously.

But the message of the coalition still remains an important one today, as I hear more and more stories of students as young as 12 years old drinking and mass arrests by our local police force of underage drinking parties and their host parents. With the increased use of cell phones by students, parents are communicating with each other less and less, and teens are empowered to embark on risky behavior without consequence.

So, to those parents who have been asking about PROUD, I will be dedicating the next few blogs to the information and resources that PROUD offered. With the summer upon us, it is my hope that parents will find support and guidance to help their children live substance-free lives. If PROUD couldn’t rally physical support at meetings, perhaps in the virtual world of blogging, facebook, or twitter, we can create such a buzz about prevention that the mission of PROUD can live on, and therefore, so will our children.

Mission Statement: “Stevenson Community PROUD educates and empowers parents, students, and the community to prevent underage drinking and promotes safety and well being for everyone.”