Friday, February 12, 2010

A Radical Woman Q&A with Margarita Tartakovsky, MS

Today's post is the next in the Radical Woman Q&A series.  This Q&A is with Margarita Tartakovsky, MS; free lance writer and author of the FABULOUS blog Weightless on Psychcentral.com.   "Weightless is about well-being, not weight; about fostering body image, regardless of your size. It’s about exposing women’s magazines, other mediums and so-called experts, when they’re touting unhealthy tips and promoting restrictive standards."  Through her blog Margarita is clearly inspiring Radical Hateloss for her readers.  I hope you enjoy this Q&A session with her!


Q: I read that you researched Body Image & Eating Disorders in college, What made you decide to focus on this area?

A:  I think part of the motivation was how pervasive negative body image is along with disordered eating. And, unfortunately, the media is fantastic at promoting body hatred and unhealthy habits (I think of dieting commercials and “lose weight in two days” kind of magazine articles). I also struggled with poor self-image and unhealthy habits so I guess part of my motivation was personal, as well.



Q: What are your philosophies about food and eating?

A:  I used to think that being on a diet was a prerequisite for being healthy. But the more I turned to reputable sources (like Linda Bacon’s book, Health At Every Size) and turned away from magazines and TV, I realized that healthful eating has nothing to do with dieting. In fact, many times, dieting deprives your body of nutrients and the fuel it needs. It takes the focus away from listening and honoring your body to instead listening to outside factors like a certain diet’s rules. It also throws your body into famine mode, which slows down your metabolism and other body functions, so that when your body does receive food, it’s more likely to store it as fat.

So, one of my chief philosophies is to listen to your body’s internal cues of hunger and fullness and eat healthfully, getting nutrients from fruits, veggies, nuts and other foods. I also try my best to eat mindfully, to really savor my food. I believe in eating everything in moderation and being flexible about food (I love Ellyn Satter’s definition of normal eating). I love dessert so every day I like to have something sweet. Sometimes, that’s a piece of dark chocolate (my fave). Other days, it may be a cookie, ice cream or cake. My philosophy is that there are no good or bad foods, either. Of course, it doesn’t always work out perfectly. Some days, I may overeat, not eat enough veggies or have too much chocolate. But I try my best to see that as OK, because it is. Remember that food isn’t your enemy. The “expert advice” that says food is your enemy is!


Q: What are your philosophies about exercise?

A:  I view exercise as something to be enjoyed (like food!). Exercise isn’t something you do to punish yourself into skinny submission. I think many people view exercise as punishment, as something they have to do to keep the weight off. And that sets people up for a lot of pressure. No wonder many people give up exercise after a month or two. Who wants to do something they dread day in and day out?

So my philosophy on exercise is to do what you enjoy, and to keep it flexible. Some weeks, I exercise four times a week. Other weeks, I may get in just a few days, if I’m lucky. I no longer view exercise as something I do to work off a cookie. Many magazines and “experts” will promote this kind of thinking but not only is it unhealthy but it’s inaccurate. Our bodies require food as fuel to run bodily functions, so it’s a myth that what we ingest automatically makes us gain weight. I do feel much better when I’m active so I strive to make physical activity a priority. My workouts (and doing anything active) have become my stress relief saviors. I really believe in finding something you love and doing it for the sake of being healthy and strong.

Dr. Michelle May, author of the book, Eat What You Love, left a great thought-provoking question on my interview with Linda Bacon. Dr. May wrote: “Isn’t the fundamental goal of exercise to live to our fullest capacity? To have fun and increase your stamina, strength, flexibility, and health—rather than counteracting the food you eat?” And I say, yes, yes and yes!

Q: Why do you think so many women struggle so much with their body image?

A: Part of the reason is that at an early age, we learn that being pretty and skinny is important. We get compliments on how cute we are, and we see TV shows that illustrate how being attractive gets the boys. We might see our moms and their friends dieting and talking about how they hate their thighs or another part of their body. We hear mean comments geared toward individuals who don’t fit the current thin ideal. We see messages that equate being thin with success and happiness. And we learn that appearance is vital to who we are. And we better work on that, and we better only be proud of our bodies when we’re slim and trim. Until then, we should be ashamed.

So many women also think that being unhappy with their bodies is a normal thing. It’s like a rite of passage that welcomes you into womanhood. Of course, that’s far from the truth. And, undoubtedly, the diet industry and the media (i.e., women’s magazines, TV shows) just fuel the fire, telling us why we need a thinner shape and how to get there. We’re always hearing how we can improve our bodies and fix our flaws. We rarely get messages about self-acceptance, especially if we’re overweight. Then, forget it: You’re condemned by society, oftentimes your doctor and now the government.

Q : If you could change one thing about our culture in regards to body image what would it be?

A: The biggest thing is the connotation of skinny. I wish that we didn’t equate all the good stuff about life with being skinny, including success, attractiveness, happiness and health. Another thing – sorry I know that’s two! – is changing our perspective on weight. There’s this pervasive idea that if we just diet and work out hard enough that we’ll all be skinny. And that’s just not true. This sets people up for deep disappointment. Everyone has a set point and a genetic predisposition for weight. When people can’t get down to a certain weight (simply because their body wasn’t designed that way), they (and society) blame themselves for a lack of willpower, among other things.

Q:   Your bio says that your career as a writer started with an essay on Cinderella when you were a little girl? I’m curious, what did you think of Cinderella then? How about now?

A: Oh, I just loved Cinderella. My parents took me to Disney World for spring break in fourth grade and I remember getting her autograph, which was just thrilling for me! A few years ago, my boyfriend and I went to Magic Kingdom (now we live in Florida), and I still get excited (yes, perhaps it’s a bit sad). So I still look at Cinderella with fond memories, though now I realize that she’s probably years younger than me and just trying to pay for her college tuition. :-)


Q: Tell us more about your blog, Weightless?


A: Basically, the focus of Weightless is on building a positive body image and taking better care of ourselves. I say building, because body image is an ongoing process. I have days, for instance, when I feel “fat.” The difference, and something I hope readers come away with from Weightless, too, is that more often than not, now when I feel fat, I ask myself what I’m really feeling. Instead of stuffing myself with food or thinking I’m unattractive or hurling insults, I check in with my emotions. Or I try to be nicer to myself. It doesn’t happen all the time, but I try to work at it, and I hope readers learn different tips and exercises on improving their self-image.

And I hope they get some inspiration, too. I also feature Q&As with readers about their recoveries from eating disorders, emotional eating or other types of disordered eating. Reading how others have struggled and gotten better is incredibly inspiring! (Stephanie was one of the first to generously and bravely share her story with Weightless readers – thank you, Stephanie!)


Q: How does writing Weightless affect you personally?

A: Oh, I absolutely love it! It’s both challenging and rewarding. I’m learning so much about disordered eating, body image, eating disorders, healthy eating and self-care. Every time I write a post, I learn something new. I’m learning along with readers, which is exciting. I’ve also gained more respect for my body, and I’m working on becoming more attuned to my needs. It’s also helping me become more authentic and find my voice.

Plus, I’ve connected and collaborated with many incredible people, including health professionals, body image experts, advocates and women who’ve recovered from various eating disorders. I’m honestly amazed at their commitment and courage to share their stories and tackle issues head-on.


Q: I think most women would agree they want to be able to love and accept themselves. Despite the want, actually being able to accomplish this is very challenging. What advice would you give to women to help them move from wanting to actually doing? How were you able to do this within your own self?

A: Just like you emphasize on Radical Hateloss, everything starts with self-acceptance and self-love. This may be a tough concept, especially if you feel like you’ve been at war with your body your entire life. Start by taking small steps. One might be a change in attitude. Instead of cursing your figure, think about what your body does for you day in and day out. So be appreciative of and thankful for your body.

Instead of viewing exercise as punishment or torture, pick two to three physical activities that you enjoy. So view exercise as a positive thing that you’re doing for your health and well-being (again, it’s a super stress reliever!). Instead of berating your body, do something nice for it. You might create a list of five things you can do for yourself that make you feel genuinely happy and healthy.

This also makes me think of the idea of doing the opposite. So if you’d normally criticize yourself for eating dessert, do the opposite and instead accept it and move on. If you’d normally say, “I can’t believe I succumbed to my cravings and ate that! I’m so disgusted with myself,” instead tell yourself, “I’m glad I listened to my body, which wanted something sweet. It tasted great and I really enjoyed it. I’m proud of myself for not restricting.” (You can find additional advice here.)

For me, I think part of self-acceptance is growing up and realizing what’s important. When I was younger, I thought appearances were everything and I wanted so much to be part of the “in” crowd. The older I got, the more I realized that it doesn’t matter and I have so much more to offer than my outside, as cheesy as this might sound. I simply started caring less what others thought of me and wanting to be liked. Yes, it’s still something I struggle with, but, again, accepting yourself is a process. You have good days, great days, bad days and worse days. But you live and learn, right?


I also started working out in grad school, something I never thought I enjoyed and definitely didn’t think that I was good at. With the help of a trainer, I realized that I am strong. I was shocked at what I could accomplish and I felt so proud of myself. At one point, I was squatting 120 lbs and leg pressing over 300 lbs. (granted it was with the help of my trainer, but still proud moments!). I realized that I loved moving my body and it changed my perspective of myself as a person who wasn’t strong enough or athletic, or had no endurance or coordination.


Also tremendously helpful has been reading about the Health At Every Size movement, learning what being healthy really means and gaining a better understanding of how our bodies work. I also have people around me who don’t care what the heck I look like. I have a phenomenal support system of family and friends. My boyfriend loves and compliments me whether I’m in sweats or in a skirt and whether I’m at the lower or higher end of my weight range.

Q: Anything else you would like to share with Radical Hateloss readers?

A: I hope readers realize just how warped our culture is when it comes to weight and size. I understand that it’s tough to navigate the merciless terrain of women’s magazines and the obesity epidemic hysteria. Our society really fuels the idea that we must fear fat. And I know that it can be incredibly difficult to tune all that out.

But I hope that people put the focus back on health, instead of trying to lose weight at all costs, which is clearly unhealthy. The next time you watch some weight-loss show or see a commercial for a diet pill or an eating plan, remember that the diet industry has lots of big bucks, that diets don’t work and that the important thing is to honor and listen to your body. You’ve only got one, so your best bet is to learn to co-exist peacefully and happily!

Thank you Margarita, so much for sharing your insight with Radical Hateloss!  Your work is surely making self-love and acceptance less radical everyday.  However in this moment in time you and your work are RADICAL and for that I am greatful!
Links:


Check out Radical Woman Cindy Handler's New Health Counseling Website


Quotes:

"The more we can celebrate and honor our bodies, the better we can take care of them. Everything starts with self-love and appreciation for who you are. When you start there, it allows you to make changes in your entire life."    -Linda Bacon (from her Q&A on Weightless)

What a man (or Woman!) thinks of himself, that is what determines, or rather indicates, his (or her) fate.
- Henry David Thoreau

P.S.
I'm not a big advocate for a single day of love, since everday is a day of LOVE.  However I will gladly take the holiday with its candies, baloons and stuffed bears as another excuse to tell the people in my life I love them. 

To my friend, my lover, my husband.   You have always been a reflection for me to find self-love and acceptance.  Thank you for holding that mirror up for me through all these years, even when it wasn't easy.  I Love You.

To my children, I hope you are able to love yourselves, like I love you...passionately without condition.

To my Mother, thank you for loving me more than life itself from the very first sparks of life.   Without even knowing it, you planted the seed, that blossoms in my life today. 

To my friends & extended family, your support, love and care for me is AMAZING.  I am blessed to have so many amazing people in my life.

To those who read this blog, thank you for taking your time to witness my journey.  Your feedback has been invaluable.