May 27, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Activism, Labeling and What Not to Do

The internet can be a wonderful place, filled with answers to questions, ideas and community support. After my daughter was born, I turned to peer groups (and still do!) for guidance and camaraderie. Many people are attending work and school completely online and we rely on this for our connections to our values and careers, to learning and to fun. Recently I was contacted via email by a mother in the community who shared some anecdotes and asked me about a particular topic for my next column in the Link; she wanted to hear more about raising confident children with regard to body image and food choices.

Also recently, I found myself at the center of what may not always be the most pleasant part of the internet/social media; I have tried, as an activist, in the past few months to comment regarding “Health at Every Size” when I see friends or individuals in groups discussing themes that promote fat-phobia or value restriction/food rules. I do so subtly, both to promote the possibility of others learning and to invite curiosity. In doing so, sometimes I get “likes,” typically indicating that others know the reference. Other times, I receive angry remarks and comments that dispute my content and I also receive negative words targeted toward me, as a human.

Yes, this is hard. I’m a human being trying my best to help others and to pave the way for a different approach and experience with regard to food and body image. These experiences, though, have taught me a few important lessons about parenting, body image, and food judgments.

1. Not everyone is ready to hear it yet: While I believe and have read the research around the benefits of intuitive eating, not everyone is interested or there yet. Intuitive eating teaches folks to achieve permission around all food and this allows for freedom around food and tolerance/acceptance that one’s body may look different—but all foods do, in fact, “fit.” This allows for assessment of what one is in the mood for, rather than one what “should” eat. Intuitive eating does imply privilege in the sense that folks are able to choose—on some level—what is being consumed, rather than being limited by finances or access. Intuitive eating is backed by research and essentially highlights that we are meant to nourish—not just feed—our bodies, and that by allowing ourselves to do that, we can be liberated from the consumerist diet culture and instead focus on our other values. And, as noted, I know that not everyone is interested in this or ready for this. While a part of me wants to scream “WHY NOT?” from the rooftops, my priority is to always start from where the person is at and identify if there is interest and room for growth. It is not my role or job to push an agenda as a therapist/human. As an activist, human and therapist, I hope to invite curiosity and then provide support toward change.

2. There may not be just one way of doing it: There are a plethora of self-help books and experts, and yet everyone is different and environments have a strong impact. While there might not be one simple way, I can assure you that there are “wrong” ways. I plan to expand on this in further pieces (and in a group session I will be leading soon!) but hope to provide some nuggets of wisdom here, starting with: Do not label food as good or bad or call food “poison” or “junk.” Any labeling implies that if the individual consumes this food, they become the label. All foods fit. Sometimes some food will be available, or variety may be pushed or encouraged beyond what the child (or even adult!) claims to want. But this should not be explained by calling one food “healthy” and the other “not.” That may not only lead to defining the individual in this manner, but also promotes some foods as off-limits, which leads to judgment and also power: People often crave what they believe they are not allowed to have. Instead of, “this is not good for you, choose a healthy option” we can redirect by saying “right now the options for a snack are x and y, what would you like?” There is such risk in deprivation for the onset of a restrict-binge cycle and for disordered behaviors, if not full-fledged eating disorders.

Moreover, reflect on your use of language. Would you say what you’re saying to a child in front of an adult? Why or why not? What do you think this means? Young adults and children pick up on our judgments whether they be about others, food or ourselves. Children mimic, they poke at their bodies and speak negatively because they learn this from someone around them. Break the cycle. Be curious and be mindful of your words.

3. We are all trying and we will not always agree. But let’s use the points above and remember, with one another, to be curious, interested, patient and to not label. It is so essential that we come together rather than be separated when we approach topics differently. Our goal is the same and while we may know this initially, we must remember this.

My hope is that individuals in this world can feel a sense of value and self-worth beyond appearance. I don’t simply mean celebrities, and I’m not only referring to individuals with eating disorders. You may not feel like your exterior or appearance is a major priority, but I encourage you not to simply write this off and instead to reflect on how much of your self-worth is tied in to how you look or maintaining how you look. Do you want to change this?

Can we move away from the constant discussion in our community around diets and weight loss and fasting? Can we instead focus on lifting one another up and learning to tolerate, accept, love and applaud or whole-selves regardless of appearance?

I believe we can. And it starts with you.


Temimah Zucker, LCSW works in private practice in New York and New Jersey and is currently seeing individuals virtually and accepting new clients! Temimah specializes in working with those struggling with eating and body image concerns and also works with individuals struggling with other mental health concerns or diagnoses. Temimah speaks nationally on these subjects in schools and other institutions. To learn more, visit www.temimah.com 

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