Friday, May 6, 2011

Happy Friday! Setbacks, motivation, and muscle vs. fat

I had a great week of workouts and training sessions with clients. I went to a Tabata class with Heidi at the Y, which was very humbling! I was seriously sore the next day.

On staying motivated during weight loss:

I had a client recently ask me for some inspiration: after lots of hard work with Weight Watchers and working out, not only did she not see the numbers go down, she gained a pound!

 Extremely frustrating.

It could be a lot of things: a heavy meal the night before, water retention, or a gain in muscle mass.*

My advice to her was that whenever you reach a setback it doesn't matter what you do in the following week- it matters what you do the moment after. It's okay to take a second to say "Ugh. That's annoying. I've been working so hard!"

But your next immediate thought should be a positive one "I''m doing great so far and I will keep it up." Don't let yourself waver- that's when giving up, skipping the next workout, or having an unhealthy meal will step in.

Your next immediate action? Something healthy or nourishing for yourself- take extra time to prepare a healthy and nutritious meal, for for a long walk, take a yoga class, spend time with your dog or kid.

We can't let setbacks define our progress, especially in weight loss efforts. There will always be days where we can't/don't eat healthy or skip a workout. There are vacations, events, illnesses, injuries, long stressful weeks at work, holidays. The important thing is to hop right back on the wagon- this will start to adapt your weight loss efforts into your life as a whole. For example, I never diet. I eat very mindfully and healthily 85% of the time, and "forgive" myself for indulgences. For example, this Mother's Day my mom wants to go to this yummy and amazing all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. This is gonna be a calorie fest. I know it. A serious calorie fest. But I can't wait! I am going to relax, indulge, and enjoy every second of it because I know the next day I will go right back to eating clean and putting healthy things in my body. With enough time, this kind of habit will become part of your lifestyle. The former me would have been anxious about the dinner, limited myself, not truly enjoyed it, felt guilty after, and consoled myself in a sugar or food binge. Pointless!

Weight loss and lifestyle changes are all about balance, hard work, persistence, and compassion for yourself.

 Have a happy and healthy weekend!

*Muscle does not "weight more" than fat. A pound is a pound is a pound. Muscle is, however, much more dense than fat, so that, by volume, it seems to weigh more. So a pound of muscle occupies less space than a pound of fat.That's why when trying to lose weight, it can be more helpful to focus on your pants size, inches lost, body composition, and how strong, healthy and fit you feel as opposed to the numbers on the scale. Example below: 5lbs of muscle versus 5lbs of fat, for those of us more visually-minded.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Back in action

It's been nearly a month since i've written- bad blogger! I'm happy to say it's been a result of a busy training schedule and a rigorous and exciting school workload.

In an attempt to make my blog more readable/consistent and not lame and boring, I am following the advice of my wise boyfriend Nick and will be setting a schedule for my blog posts. As of right now I will be blogging on Fridays- this is a great chance for me to reflect on my week of training and workouts and compile a list of links I've collected over the week on health, diet, fitness, and wellness to share with readers. It will also help me stay accountable to blogging- just like working out, it's hard to maintain it when no one is telling you to do it! Stay tuned.

For now check out this recent success story from Diane, one of my most badass and dedicated clients and full time working mom of 3 young kids! Quite impressive!

"I want to share a mini-success story with you.  Finally this morning after this horrible winter and being sick for too many weeks to count, I headed out for a run this morning.  I could not believe how good I felt.  I ran my "long" run in 30 minutes (usually takes me 45) this morning.  So thank you for sticking with our crew, it is making a real difference in how I feel and how good I feel during and after my workouts."

With motivated, enthusiastic and persistent clients like Diane and her group members Kayla and Amy getting in fantastic shape is fun and you see results fast!

Monday, April 4, 2011


Typically not one to toot my own horn, but..


"Rachel is amazing to work with.  She does not support the "no pain, no gain" style of workout.  Rachel is incredibly knowledgeable about current exercises and was very creative in adjusting exercises to meet our groups needs regardless of prior or current injuries.  Rachel’s energy is encouraging, upbeat and serious about getting you the results you want.  She has helped me see my potential and continues to push me to do things that I would not normally do." -Satisfied client!!!!

So appreciative of the wonderful people I get to work with, and the West Suburban YMCA for creating the opportunity.

I feel:

Thursday, March 31, 2011


I am sad to say I haven't blogged in nearly a month- between my busy training schedule (yay!) temporarily losing my cat (BOO) and managing a full time school schedule (yay....?) I've been incredibly busy.

The "Take it Off" Program at the Y has ended, and unfortunately none of my teams won. However, my teams lost A TON of weight- one group of 4 lost 54 pounds! Amazing!

Thank you, teams, for all your hard work!

Now that the program is over, hopefully I will have a little more time for blogging. I'm taking a Pilates course soon so I'm sure that will inspire lots of writing.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Have no fear at the gym!

Does the idea of working out at the gym make you feel like this?

Then read THIS:!5775644/how-to-hit-the-gym-without-fear

This is an excellent article from that speaks to people who may feel uncomfortable working out in a traditional gym setting. I highly recommend it.

A gym can be a frightening and overwhelming place for some people at first, women in particular. Gyms are often male-dominated spheres. A bunch of men milling around, grunting and lifting, talking loudly to each other. It can bring up a lot of anxiety for both men and women about bodies- how they should look and what they should be able to perform, and how gender should be presented.

My advice for nervous gym-goers? Fake it 'til you make it. You may not know what on earth you are doing in that gym, but if you project an air of confidence, accept your inevitable ineptitudes in certain areas, and have a sense of humor, eventually the gym will become more comfortable. You have just as much a right as anyone to be there and be comfortable.

A great tip is to have a written workout. This will help from aimless wandering and eventual fleeing from the scary torture-device looking machines. Make a list of the machines you want to check out, and which body parts you want to exercise. Make a list of machines that totally befuddle you, and then ask a trainer or employee for help!

That brings me to the point of personal training to help feeling comfortable and safe in a gym environment. If you are a gym newbie, a personal trainer is your best friend. You don't have to sign your life away or pay a lot of money, just sign up for one or two sessions to get yourself acclimated to the gym environment. Ask the trainer any and all questions you may have and find out info that staff is privy to: what's the most popular equipment? what are the busiest times? etc. etc.

Many trainers want you to get "hooked" on them- you rely on them completely to get your workout. That's the opposite of my philosophy. I want to educate clients how to become comfortable, knowledgeable, and safe gymgoers who know how to exercise effectively for their specific needs. One of my greatest joys of training is seeing a client or former client performing an exercise I've taught them!

In conclusion: at the gym,

-be confident (or...just ACT confident!)
-be yourself
-be curious
-be humble
-have a sense of humor
-have FUN!

Happy no time you'll be feeling like THIS:

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Feed Megan Fox

I'm certainly not going to be someone who says that "beauty" looks a certain way- thin, curvy, short, tall, whatever. I think it's all gorgeous, especially if that person is healthy and confident and takes care of their body. That being said, although I realize people think shes super sexy, I honestly can't agree.


I realize some women are naturally thin, but honestly, this is eating disorder porn. Dislike. Even her eyes look hungry!

Here's a video I DO like:
*there are some images that are slightly sexual in nature. I do not condone hypersexualizing women, this video was meant to show that women of all sizes can be beautiful. There are also images of extremely thin women so if this is difficult for you, stop at 3:07*

And another:

I'd rather see this badass chick do workout moves all day than see that underfed, pouty Megan Fox rolling around for Armani. Not healthy.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Gym etiquette 101

Today I thought I'd take the chance to blog about the all-important GYM ETIQUETTE. I love working at the YMCA. I love working OUT at the YMCA too. But for some reason I find that some of my fellow YMCA-goers, while they are most likely very lovely people, are very lacking in gym etiquette. Example:

Today I was doing a balance exercise with a bosu ball (see Fig. 1) on top of a bench.
Fig. 1

The bosu ball was the perfect height for the exercise I was trying to do. I was just going about my business, doing the exercise, when a woman came into the room and plucked the bosu ball right off the bench I was using. When I looked started and confused, she said "I need it to work on my balance." When I looked pissed, she said "Sorry."

Lady, I don't care if you're gonna make a damn salad on it- I'M USING IT. What's funny is, if she had considerately asked me to use it I would have gladly agreed. But the fact that she felt she could just take it from me, without asking, when I was clearly using it, is just ridiculous.

Unfortunately, things like this happen all too often.

ANYWAY: A few tips on gym etiquette:

-Always ask if someone is using a piece of equipment if they are even somewhat close. It's considerate.

-Always wipe down the piece of equipment you're using when you're done.

-Always return a piece of equipment to it's proper place.

-DO NOT walk into a room where several people are exercising, decide you don't like the music, and turn it off. Likewise, do not enter a room where several people are exercising and turn ON music. Always ask a quick general consensus of the people in the room. It takes just a moment.

-Remember that you are not the only person in the facility!

-Don't pepper personal trainers with questions, especially when they are in a session with a client! *I'm more than happy to talk to a member or potential client with specific questions, but I can't give you a free session of training when I'm trying to get my own workout in, on my own free time, or when i'm working with a paying client*

-Don't complain to a personal trainer about things irrelevant to personal training (i.e. the paper recycling system, the heat, the parking lot, the leaky radiator.)

All that being said, the majority of members I come across are GREAT! There are just a few clueless, or plain old inconsiderate, people who can make things difficult.

My motto for gym etiquette: "Always err on the side of POLITE!" You can't go wrong.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Women's Health Magazines are Bull****?!5753287/womens-fitness-magazines-are-bullshit

Morning Gloria of explains why women's health magazines can actually make women feel terrible and overly emphasize excessive thinness. Sad.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Don't Feed the Stars

#1- came upon this image while perusing my usual list of feminist blogs:

This is SICK!

"I hate dieting, I'm hungry all the time"
"As long as I'm in this business, i'm going to be hungry"

Seeds and mugs of hot water as MEALS?? Subsisting on yogurt and cereal bars??

This is INSANITY. Human beings need food to SURVIVE. People in developing countries are STARVING. And yet American actresses starve themselves....voluntarily.

What a great irony- in the worlds richest country, the women we idolize and aspire to look like are spitting in the face of their privilege.

I always encourage healthy eating, portion control, moderation, and plenty of physical exercise- but "going hungry", and describing your diet as "awful"? Never. This is dangerous. And serious. Impressionable young women read these quotes from women considered "beautiful" and they will inevitably make the connection between starvation and beauty, fame, and success.

I encourage all my clients to NEVER go hungry. In fact, extreme hunger is detrimental to keeping a healthy weight because it slows down our metabolism and when we're hungry, we're much more likely to eat compulsively, mindlessly, or whatever is convenient, which is usually packaged and low in nutrients.

As dodai, editor at writes, "So let's get this straight: Actresses are starving to stay in the "business," which consists of making entertainment for us, the audience, many of whom often wish actresses weren't always so thin? Makes sense."

Enough said. Enough starving!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Trainer/Client relationship

I had a new experience recently in my training career when one of my clients sadly passed away. I called her because she hadn't come to our appointment, only to find out that she had very recently died. It was shocking, and I felt very, very sad.

I had only known her for a few months, but it is amazing when I think about how much I knew about her from just a few training sessions. I knew about her family- what her children were up to, how they liked their jobs, etc...her dog's names and all their silly little habits....her volunteer work and how that affected her she liked the new house she moved into, etc. etc etc....

The trainer/client relationship can be very close. It is an intimate thing, to entrust someone else with your body! There must be mutual trust, respect, faith, and a good sense of humor. Like many other industries that see clients one-on-one (hairstylists, makeup artists, cosmetologists, massage therapists, etc.) personal trainers often hear their client's deep thoughts, feelings, and fears. Alot can be learned in an hour training session!

I'm sure this will be one of many strange and sad occurrences in my career in the fitness and mental health field. Client's lives are full of ups and downs, wonderful joys and sudden tragedies. We share in the happiness of our clients as well as the hard times, and yes, even death.

Jody, I hope you are resting peacefully and I will remember you fondly.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Couldn't have put it better myself!

I wish I could somehow implant this info into every single person's head...especially those I see toiling away on the "ab machine"... I'll settle for lecturing about it to my clients every single chance I get and sharing this video with you all! Happy exercising.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Here's a shocker....

Groundbreaking news....Americans should eat less!

Sarcasm aside, i'm glad the The Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services are announcing this shift.

The last time the guidelines were revised was in 2005, where the Departments advised "More Whole Grains"...and I noticed that a bunch of sugary, processed cereals started emphasizing their "Whole grain-ness" in their advertisements. I'm sorry, I love Cinnamon Toast Crunch as much as the next gal, but that stuff is not healthy, no matter how many "whole grains" it has. You can have all the whole grains in the world, but if you cover them in sugar and eat a ton of're gonna gain weight.

I'll stop ranting for now. Remember folks- (particularly my Take it Off team members!) Lots of water, 3-5 servings of fruits and veggies, watch sodium, choose whole, unprocessed grains, reduce portion sizes, and MOVE!!

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Over a week since i've posted- ahh! I've been very busy as school as just started up again (I'm taking Theories of Holistic Counseling, Psychopathology, and Issues and Standards of Psychotherapy.) I'm also taking part in the Take it Off Challenge at the Y- training 5 different teams all competing to see which team can lose the most weight and make the most healthy changes in their lives! With 5 teams I have about 25 different people to train, track, and work with, so it's a challenge for me as well as the team members! So far it's going great- all the members are so motivated. It's great to see teams come together and encourage eachother. I'll keep you updated as the Challenge progresses!

On to the blog post title- Onslaught. The Dove Campaign for real beauty makes these fantastic videos that show the real struggle women of all ages face with the constant "onslaught" of media images about what "beauty" is. This video is a perfect picture of the barrage of images and messages sent to women every day, everywhere we go.

Studies have shown that body dissatisfaction in young women increases dramatically after viewing fashion or beauty magazines or watching television. (

I don't need studies to prove this- I experience it all the time! I can feel fantastic about myself and my body, especially after a great workout, eating a healthy meal, buying a new outfit I like, or receiving a compliment from someone (like my mom, my boyfriend, a friend, etc.) Then I watch TV or read a magazine about how to achieve the "ideal" body, or "lose that last 10 pounds!" or see a super-thin and gorgeous airbrushed model and I can sense that feeling of fulfillment and self-esteem start to melt's really sad. That's why I have armed myself with a critical eye- i'm always reading, watching, listening, and looking with the knowledge that much of what i'm seeing and hearing is DESIGNED to melt away my self-esteem and fulfillment, so that I go out and buy that gym membership/diet product/makeup/hair product whatever-it-may-be. While it may not leave me invincible to the "onslaught", it has been a valuable tool for me, and I encourage all women of all ages to consume, look, and listen with a critical eye and appreciate how YOU look and the body YOU have, without comparison to the images we see in the media.

How about a dose of REAL WOMEN photos? :) For more, check out my slideshow at the top of the blog page. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Her life depends on it

This article is from Bitch Magazine (a non-profit, independent, third-wave feminist magazine based out of Portland, OR.) They describe themselves as a "Feminist response to pop culture", which as you may have guessed by now, is right up my alley.

This particular article gives a little background on the history of women in the sports and fitness arena and reviews a recent report titled "Her Life Depends On It" by the Women's Sports Foundation. This extensive report which outlines some of the barriers for women in fitness, sports, and physical activity in general.

You can download the full report, and I recommend you do! Here:

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

My paper on eating disorders

I recently completed a paper I'm pretty proud of that explores a great interest of mine- the development of eating disorders in young women. This paper was a step in what I hopes to be a lifetime of research and advocacy for young women struggling with self-esteem and body image. I welcome any comments or questions you may have. Note: My teacher gave me an A/A- (I hate when professors do that...which is it? A or A-??) I hope you enjoy reading and even learn a thing or two.

A Feminist and Relational Reflection on Restrictive Eating Disorders

I remember as a young child taking a bath, staring at my legs and placing my hands on either side of them, “carving” away the excess flesh I wished would disappear. My mother remembers it too, and tells me I was in fifth grade, probably about ten years old. Not clinically overweight, deemed healthy and active by doctors, by age ten I wished for a different body. What were the causes? Why did they begin right around adolescence? My sister, who grew up in the same household, never had similar issues. I had loving, supportive parents, healthy, secure attachments, teachers who noticed my hard work and quick intellect, sports coaches who applauded my tenacity and teamwork. So why, at such a young age, had I begun to struggle with body image? If I had been a boy, would I still have struggled? What if I had been black, Latina, or lesbian? Had I never been exposed to mainstream media culture, would I have felt the same way? These questions drive my research on the topic of eating disorders.
Eating disorders have long been hailed a disease of the white, middle class, adolescent female (presumably heterosexual.) I certainly fit those descriptions. Yet eating disorders have been found in all ages and varying cultures, and cross socioeconomic and racial boundaries (Thompson, 1992). One specific aspect, however, has proven again and again to predict the development of eating disorders: gender. While eating disorders do affect males, the cases reported are overwhelmingly adolescent females. The National Eating Disorders Association reports that 10 million women are affected by an eating disorder, versus 1 million men. Forty percent identified cases of anorexia are in girls 15-19 years old (Hoek & van Hoeken, 2003). My questions are: why is gender a predictor in the development of eating disorders? Is there a determining factor in female identity development that leaves women vulnerable to cognitive, social, and environmental stressors that can trigger eating disorders? Why is adolescence such a common time to develop an eating disorder?
The development of eating disorders in adolescents, like the propensity for violence in children, is caused by a combination of “head, heart, and hand”, (Begley and Kelb, 2000). Leading research suggests that eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are caused by a combination of environmental, cultural, and biological factors. “Doctors now compare anorexia to alcoholism and depression, potentially fatal diseases that may be set off by environmental factors such as stress or trauma, but have their roots in a complex combination of genes and brain chemistry” (Tyre, 2005).
These issues of risk and resilience are particularly important now, as rates of eating disorders are on the rise, and thinness is prized in the media more than ever (Goodwin, 2010). Eating disorders are a complex medical and clinical issue with roots in genetics, biology, cognition, human psychological development, trauma, cultural values of beauty and femininity, and media pressure. There is no one specified, proven cause. I wish to explore how feminist and relational theorists shed light on the complex topic of eating disorders in adolescent girls. Many groundbreaking books and articles have been written in the past twenty years discussing eating disorders and female identity development, which I will discuss here while highlighting both past and recent research.

Biological bases of Anorexia

While my focus here is not the biological bases of eating disorders, it is important to note that genetic, evolutionary and biological factors that have been pinpointed as possible causes. There are several theories that argue that women are biologically and evolutionarily predisposed to restrictive eating disorders (as compared to men). Women have a higher percentage of body fat, allowing them to go without food for longer in times of need, and laboratory studies have shown that female animals are more capable of surviving periods of starvation. From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense that women more than men are more likely to starve themselves as a response to stress (Gordon, 2000).
Recent studies have attempted to prove, much like violence in teens, that genes that predict anorexia exist. Results show that eating disorders like anorexia do run in families. Anorexia is polygenic, which means it’s development is influenced by a variety of genes, and is closely associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety disorders, and depression, all which have genetic links (Gordon, 2000). Other biological traits specific to anorexics are: alterations in neuronal pathways, namely serotonin and neuropeptides, and the tendency to have disturbances in brain serotonin, which regulates mood, appetite and behavior. Yet eating disorders are never simply biological, like mental illness or a chemical imbalance. Those afflicted with an eating disorder, overwhelmingly adolescent females, are most likely genetically predisposed, and the distress of hormonal, biological, mental, and sociocultural changes at adolescence trigger the onset of the disordered thought patterns and eating behaviors.

Eating Disorders, Adolescence, and Relational Theory

There are obvious physical changes that typically develop in both sexes during adolescence. In addition to menstruation, young women develop the trademark “womanly” features, namely breasts and hips, with increased body fat. When this process happens earlier than normal, researchers argue it can lead to increased body dissatisfaction because the marked increase in fat that accompanies puberty distinguishes early-maturing girls from the thin beauty ideal (Randall, et al., 1991). This increase fat is thought to make early menstruation particularly stressful because it is developmentally deviant; it occurs before most girls’ puberty-related weight gain. Other physical changes that occur with puberty may foster feelings of bodily shame because our culture emits negative messages about this aspect of female maturation. Further, it is possible that “the hormonal changes that accompany menarche result in emotional lability” (Stice, 2002, p. 670) and a larger likelihood for psychological issues.
As women develop at younger and younger ages, their bodies are seen as sex objects, especially by older teens or young men, and they receive sexual and romantic attention when their cognitive and identity development hasn’t caught up to their physical development. This can lead to fear of sexuality and sexual advances and feelings of confusion and shame. They develop as young women knowing that being an object, particularly a sexual object, as part of their identity. For many adolescent young women with eating disorders, the restrictive eating behavior is not only a way to gain control over their bodies, but to literally “erase” the sexuality from their bodies by ridding themselves of the fat it consists of (S. Motulsky, class discussion, December 6, 2010).
Adolescence can be a difficult time regardless of gender, and not just because of the biological changes that occur. Noted adolescent scholar Arnett (1999) states that the “hormonal contribution to to adolescent mood disruptions...tends to exist only in interaction with other factors” (p. 322). There are separate, overlapping and oppressive forces acting against both boys and girls during the adolescent years. Yet eating disorders in adolescent girls are far more prevalent, and most occur slightly before or during adolescence (Steiner-Adair, 1986). “Epidemiological studies repeatedly cite adolescence as a time of psychological risk and heightened vulnerability for girls” (Gilligan, et al., 1997, p. 25). So what is it about this period that makes development particularly trying for young women (besides the issues surrounding the biological changes?) How would relational psychologists analyze the shifts that take place in adolescence?
Not surprisingly, prominent relational and feminist psychologists such as Gilligan, Jean Baker-Miller, Catherine Steiner-Adair, Janet Surrey, Susie Orbach and others have analyzed eating disorders and the crisis of adolescence from a feminist and relational lens. These women are experienced mental health clinicians, researchers, authors, and theorists. They argue that eating disorders are a symptom of a developmental and identity crisis in women, “rooted in systematic and pervasive attempts to control women's body sizes and appetites” (Thompson, 1992, p. 547). These theorists argue that anorexia is a symptom of cultural silencing, not just an individual medical or psychopathological issue but a result of a cultural epidemic of sexism and marginalization of women’s unique relational orientation.
Carol Gilligan defines adolescence as a time of developmental and relational crisis, filled with tension between what is asked of young women in their culture and what they desire for themselves (Gilligan et al., 1995). Adolescence marks a crucial paradox for young women: the struggle between independence and autonomy and the centrality and importance of relationships in their lives. Although they are encouraged to be autonomous and independent during adolescence, “the importance of strong relationships does not abate” (Stern, 1990, p. 73). When young girls reach a certain point, often marked by entrance into middle school, first menstruation, puberty, interest in sex and romance, and increased feelings of insecurity and self doubt, they are simultaneously being pressured into independence, individuality, and autonomy. Catherine Steiner-Adair notes the overwhelming sense of loss and confusion during this period: “How impossible it is to grow up as a girl in a girl’s body in a culture that at adolescence suddenly devalues connection, relationships, all the knowledge you have about life” (Robb, 2006, p. 283). Teenagers are expected to separate from their parents, establish themselves as “unique”, and shoulder more responsibility at school, at home, and often in the workplace.
Gordon argues that the female response to the added pressures and identity crises of adolescence is to “choose” thinness as a passive form of resistance to the contrasting cultural expectations set up for young women. Girls who were socialized to become submissive “clinging-vine” wives are asked during adolescence to show autonomy, individuality, and independence, creating intense self-doubt, uncertainty, and feelings of loss of control. In the passive way of many women, adolescent girls in crisis choose the “fashionable dictum to be slim as a way of proving themselves as deserving respect” (Gordon, 2000, p. 94). In a time of great inner conflict and struggle for both individual identity and strong relationships, restrictive eating is a way to both control their lives and honor their inner struggle, outwardly.
Ruellen Josselson (1996) states, “Nowhere in the modern age has the issue of identity been more vexing than in our society’s confusion over the roles it is willing to allot to women” (p. 31). For me, disordered eating that began at adolescence was absolutely wrapped up in gender. Once a carefree tomboy, a fierce soccer competitor who romped in the forest and caught snakes, my body image problems emerged around the time I realized fully that I was not a boy, and could not do the things they do. Not only could I not jump as high or run as fast, I was discouraged from trying. I felt a weight of impending womanhood that manifested in hatred of my own body, that which made me different, that which inhibited me from being loud, outrageous, and goofy. Other girls, thin, quiet, and feminine, were praised by adults and admired by boys. I wanted to be both pretty and admired and interact well with other girls, but I wanted to be myself, too. If I wanted to “be a girl”, I had to act and look like them, but inside, I was fighting it, hard, and the war was waged on my physical self.

Eating Disorders, Psychology, and Identity

Part of the reason why women are primarily affected by eating disorders is that “women have always constructed their identities in different phrasing from men” (Josselson, 1996, p. 31-31). That is, women build their sense of self through her connections to others, discovering their own unique self in the context of important relationships. Yet the focus in Western culture is on individual identity, autonomy, and independence. The dissonance is striking. Gordon argues that eating disorders stem from a struggle with identity, that eating disorders are “an obsession with food, weight, and body shape that becomes a defensive substitute for dealing with the conflicts associated with the achievement of an identity” (Gordon, 2000, p. 55). The conflict Gordon refers to is the marginalization of the female voice in mainstream society as well as psychological theory. Although gender is now considered an important element in developmental psychology, until very recently many pioneering psychologists in the field completely marginalized the female perspective- these developmental theorists basically ignored half the human race in their research and theoretical conclusions. Therefore, they also ignored the female orientation in psychological development, which is centered around relationships as opposed to individuation (Gilligan, 1982). Eating disorders, particularly restrictive eating, are seen by many theorists as a form of submissive resistance against this gender oppression. In a world they cannot control, eating disordered women have power over the one thing they can control: their bodies.

Environmental Influences

It is impossible to discuss eating disorders without mentioning the cult of thinness and physical perfection that pervades Western (and much of non-Western) media culture. Bandura’s social learning theory argues that we learn how to act by observing and modeling others, even symbolic models seen on television, which is a powerful influence on viewers (Crain, 2005). The feminist therapist Mary Pipher once said “Fat is the leprosy of the 1990‘s” (Martin, 2007). Not much has changed since then. As I write this, a reality show on E Television called “Bridalplasty” offers complete surgical makeovers to brides-to-be engaged in various trivial competitions. In 2009 the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, a known culprit of the overt objectification of the unthinkably thin female body, brought in 8.3 million viewers, bested only by the extreme reality weight loss show “The Biggest Loser”, which brought in 10.3 million viewers. The popular Victoria’s Secret “fashion” show, featuring women clad only in lingerie, is described as "eating disorder porn," by Harvard pediatrician Dr. Michael Rich. "They (the models) are a fantasy that drives you to extreme behaviors which require overcoming normal physiological and instinctual survival drive” (Katz, 2010). Unfortunately, this notion permeates nearly every aspect of media culture, even in rural areas with lower population. “Media permeation of even the most remote areas of the country makes it unlikely that any ethnic or racial group is unaware of the premium placed on dieting and thinness” (Thompson, 1992, p. 31).
A recent article in Marie Claire magazine stated “I think I'd be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other ... because I'd be grossed out if I had to watch them doing anything” (Kelly, 2010). Television programs and advertisements, movies, magazines, talk shows, and the fashion industry are obsessed with thinness. Even activists groups like PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) use hypersexualized, objectified female bodies in their campaign advertisements. From, "400-600 advertisements bombard us everyday in magazines, on billboards, on TV, and in newspapers. One in eleven has a direct message about beauty, not even counting the indirect messages” (Eating disorders and the media, 2007). Of course, not all women exposed to these images and messages will develop an eating disorder. The fact that current media culture sends out both overt and discreet messages that “thin is in” doesn’t determine anorexia, but it influences already young women struggling with biological changes, and psychological, and relational identity crises.

Eating Disorders, Cross-Culturally

Eating disorders were once thought to be an issue solely for white, privileged, educated young women- “starving amidst plenty” (Orbach, 1986, p. 50). I can remember my first year of undergraduate education, writing my first paper on eating disorders, and I confidently pointed out to my professor that “anorexia is an issue for white adolescent girls!” She kindly yet firmly pointed me toward Becky Thompson’s “A Hunger So Wide and So Deep”, work by Patricia Hill Collins, and other feminist scholars. These scholars and others, plus new research, have proven that while a large portion of those with eating disorders are white upper middle class adolescent females, that demographic is in no way the limit to the reaches of eating disorders. In fact, eating disorders among racial minorities are currently on the rise (Daverin, 2010). While feminist research has certainly made incredible bounds in the correlation of gender oppression and eating disorders, many of the arguments for sociocultural causes of eating disorders are focused on white, middle class, heterosexual women.
The claim that eating disorders afflict only rich white girls is partly due to the fact that very little research has been done on any other population: those in the Black, Latino, or Asian populations, or those in low-income communities (Thompson, 1992). The causes for eating disorders found in white, hegemonic populations cannot justifiably be generalized across race, class, sexuality, religion, and culture. For example, the idea that eating disorders are caused by societal and cultural pressures for women to be silent, passive, and dependent on men do not necessarily apply to African-American women, whose respective cultures don’t necessarily value passivity, or to lesbians, who don’t have romantic or sexual relationships with men (Thompson, 1992). As Meg Lovejoy states, “Feminist conceptualizations of body image disturbance and eating problems have traditionally focused on the experience of white women exclusively (Lovejoy, 2001, p. 240). But clinicians, doctors, and researchers cannot simply tell Black, Latina, and lesbian women with eating disorders, “No, you’re not anorexic, your culture wouldn’t encourage that. That’s for white girls! Research proves it.” Lesbian and women of color with eating disorders cannot be considered outliers- their struggles against racism and heterosexism must be examined for their role in the development of disturbed eating behaviors.
It is dangerous to assume that the pressures that white women in Western societies face do not affect women of color, for example, that women in minority populations are less affected by eating disorders because they experience less pressure from their respective communities to be thin. While “the sociocultural model of eating pathology predicts that ethnic minority individuals should be at lower risk for eating disordered behaviors than Whites because the former putatively experience less cultural pressure to be thin” (Randall, et al, 2005), this doesn’t mean generalizations should be made for all women of color. Results do show that women of color experience less internalization of external pressure to be thin than white women (Randall, et al, 2005), but this does not include, for example, women who identify as bi-racial, or women of color living in a homogenous white environment. As environmental pressures to be thin increase, it would be impossible for their influence to not leak into minority communities. “It is possible that ethnic minority status no longer confers a protective benefit for eating pathology because mainstream culture and values espoused by the media, family, and peers may reach all ethnic groups” (Shaw, et al, 2004, p. 12).
Adolescence is a particularly challenging time for women of color because of the addition of their minority status into the fray. Young black girls living in white environments, for example, may not receive the same attention from white boys because they are considered too different to be desirable. “These issues of emerging sexuality and the societal messages about who is sexually desirable leaves young Black women in a very devalued position” (Tatum, 1997, p. 57). Perhaps that devalued black girl will see the rejection of her self as a rejection of her body. Perhaps in an attempt to be more “white” and garner more male attention, she will restrict her eating, leading to an eating disorder.
In addition, racial stereotyping and mainstream health professional’s lack of familiarity with ethnic diversity may have also obscured attention to women of color (Thompson, 1992). In an increasingly diverse world and with the high mortality rate of eating disorders, it is absolutely necessary to evaluate and compare the prevalence and effect of eating disorders cross-culturally, and to be aware of not just gender but also racial, class, and sexual inequality in the dynamics of body image, self esteem, and eating disorders.

Heterosexism and Eating Disorders

Heterosexism has been largely present in the research done on eating disorders. The women in studies on eating disorders are typically assumed to be heterosexual, with the exception of a few researchers who employ current feminist methodologies, like Becky Thompson and her work with women of color and lesbians. An example of this dearth of research is with a 1996 article titled “Women, Sex, and Food: A Review of Research on Eating Disorders and Sexuality” by Michael W. Wiederman. In an article about sexuality and eating disorders, in the journal The Journal of Sex Research, there is zero mention of sexual orientation or homosexuality whatsoever.
In addition, like with women of color, lesbian women have been considered to be less vulnerable to feminine cultural pressures to be thin than heterosexual women (Heffernan, 1996). Yet just because a woman is attracted to women doesn’t make her any less of a woman in terms of gender identity, orientation, and desire for relationships- so why wouldn’t she be impacted by a sociocultural obsession with thinness that affects straight women? A gay woman is still (obviously) a woman, who, especially in adolescence, is dealing with the struggle between autonomy and desire for relationships. Not to mention the intense personal and psychological issue of coming out, which often happens during identity development in adolescence, and homophobia from parents, friends, communities, and the media (Hammack, 2005).
Recent feminist research has identified clear factors among lesbians that contribute to eating disorders. Lesbians who have internalized a high degree of homophobia are more likely to accept negative attitudes about fat, and lesbians who directly associate their eating disorder with heterosexism are those who knew at a young age that they were lesbians, and resisted heterosexual norms (Thompson,1992). Homosexual women who internalize the prejudice and oppression from the government, media, societal messages, family, and peers are at a higher risk for an eating disorder. In addition, women who resisted what felt inauthentic to them (heterosexual norms) were probably faced with criticism and shame, which they turned on their own bodies. It is clear this area requires more careful research, conducted with the knowledge that women are faced with multiple forms of oppression such as heterosexism, that while not often acknowledged, is damaging to the adolescent female psyche and may directly influence the development of eating disorders.

“Sub-Clinical” Eating Disorders

Throughout my adolescence and into my early twenties I was afflicted with disordered eating, though I never reached a low enough weight to alert friends, family or doctors, and I maintained good grades and healthy relationships. Yet for several years my thoughts were entirely consumed with my body and how much I hated it and wished to change it, which diet might work, which foods to avoid. I counted calories obsessively but would binge when feeling anxious or depressed. I constantly stared at other women and compared my body to theirs, never once measuring up. So while I was never clinically anorexic or bulimic, no doctor or clinician would ever consider my habits or thought patterns healthy or normal. My belief is that countless women wake up just like I did, feeling the very same way. There were times I actually wished for anorexia, just so my pain, shame, and longing could be physically acknowledged on my body. Given my own experience and from what I know of female peers, I believe it will be important to include not just clinically diagnosed eating disorder patients in prevention initiatives, but those who exhibit body dissatisfaction and unhealthy eating habits as well, also known as “sub-clinical” eating disorders.
Those afflicted with “sub-clinical” eating disorders do not meet criteria to be diagnosed with an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia and may not consistently exhibit patterns of eating disorders, but may starve, binge, or purge periodically, or take laxatives or diet pills to control their weight. They may engage in exercise purging, where they binge and exercise in excess to rid the excess calories. Some exhibit few or no symptoms, and may maintain relatively normal weight, but are wracked with obsessions about their body weight, shape, size, and calorie intake. They may think about food from the moment they wake up until the moment they fall asleep. Although these women, like myself, may lead relatively normal lives and appear healthy, they are anything but, and should be included in addition to symptomatic anorexics and bulimics in prevention initiatives.

Prevention Initiatives

Prevention of eating disorders are typically categorized into universal, selective, and indicated strategies. Universal strategies aim at educating the wide mainstream audience, selective methods aim to educate and prevent possible eating disorders in high risk populations, such as elite dancers and gymnasts, and indicated approaches work to treat individuals who have already demonstrated symptoms of an eating disorder (Luce, et al, 2003). As the internet becomes increasingly accessible and computers more affordable, researchers are seeking the value of eating disorder prevention using internet strategies.
Researchers at Stanford University in collaboration with the Stanford University Medical Media and Information Technologies group created an online program called Student Bodies, consisting of psychoeducational readings and spaces for reflection, a web-based body image journal, and a moderated chat room. Over several years they administered the program to high school and college-aged female students, and the students involved reported improvements in their body image, concerns about weight and body shape, attitudes about eating, and eating behaviors. The chat rooms were found to be especially useful, as they allowed anonymous users to speak with each other and discuss their feelings about cultural pressure to be thin and how to become more critical viewers. The same ideas of psychoeducation and an open-comment forum are being replicated in more widespread initiatives to improve body image and satisfaction and self esteem. Two examples of progressive, comprehensive internet eating disorder prevention strategies are with the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty and
As eating disorders become more and more prevalent and life threatening, writers, artists, activists, doctors, mental health professionals and members of the media are speaking out against unhealthy messages in the media and working to prevent the onset of eating disorders. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty and Dove Movement for Self Esteem, co-founded by feminist activist, psychotherapist, and author Susie Orbach, is a worldwide marketing initiative (workshops, television advertisements, and web pages) aimed at spreading images of real, natural women in all shapes, colors and sizes, celebrating diverse ethnicities and bodies, teaching girls and young women about body positivity, and increasing self esteem, Their website encourages readers to “Imagine a world where beauty is a source of confidence, not anxiety, where every girl grows up to reach her full potential, where we all help build self-esteem in the people we love most.”
Similarly, is a website aimed at combating sexist, objectifying, and oppressive media messages. Their website states that their mission is to “equip women and girls with tools to understand and resist harmful media messages that affect self-esteem and body image” (, 2010). Not all young women, like me, were so lucky to have had feminist professors that taught us to watch movies, television, and read magazines with an intensely critical eye, down to the body positioning of models and actresses, at times overtly portraying sexual submission, oppression, or gendered violence. To most women, the messages sent by mainstream media are taken at face value and consumed to be truth about the way women should look, act, feel, think, and be. offers galleries of advertising images with feminist critiques, advice on how to act as a critical media consumer, and information and statistics about the way images in the media are manipulated and targeted toward certain populations.
While I may never have all the answers to my questions about my personal struggle with body image, I can know that I’m not alone. Steiner-Adair (1986) notes that by age five, little girls have been socialized to literally hate the idea of fat. She argues that restrictive eating disorders are a symbol for a culture that does not value female development or female relational desires. Fortunately, as we have seen in preventative measures, over twenty years later some changes in that culture have been made. Female development and relational desires are no longer silenced. But eating disorders remain a symbol for gender oppression. More and more women, on diverse cultures, are developing them, despite knowledge and research done in the psychological, medical, and feminist fields of theory. It will take much more careful research, aware of the various forms of oppression women face throughout their course of their development, to fully understand, treat, and prevent this affliction.

**Note: I would like to add that despite my reflections in the paper on my own struggle with body image and self esteem, I am now (and have been for several years) in a really healthy place, physically and mentally. Working as a trainer has been a huge part of that, for which I am very grateful.**

You can be brainy....AND brawny!

Since two things I admire the most in people are an active brain and an active body, this article made me very happy!

I have to say, when I work out regularly I do feel more "sharp"- working out also helps me manage my time and stay on task, in addition to all those stress-relieving benefits!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Feelings before food

Many people, myself (kind of) included, are emotional eaters. We eat when we're bored, sad, frustrated, stressed, angry- or happy, drunk, and in love! It's always good to check in with yourself before eating and assess whether you're eating out of true hunger and desire or in order to soothe some uncomfortable feeling. This doesn't need to be a scientific experiment before any single mouthful of food- just a general awareness about why, when, and how you're eating. You may be surprised at what you find. That aside- there are times where I actually relish in mindLESSly eating. I enjoy just eating whatever tastes good at the moment, without a second of guilt. These are special occasions, though, and I try to practice mindful eating almost always. Below is a link to an article by Sark, a wonderful self-help guru (that title is lame and doesn't really do her justice, but for right now it can suffice) about mindful eating, or "Feelings before food". Enjoy!

Here are some cute pictures to illustrate:

MindLESS eating :

MindFULL eating!

Monday, January 10, 2011


In the future I will need to be very careful about which sources I blog my information and inspiration from. For example, many women's magazines actually print sexist, disempowering, and shaming images and information for women. The headlines on most all women's magazines start with "Wanna lose 10 pounds?" or "Get your new body in 2011!!" or some other similar headline regurgitated every single month. Well, as we know, healthy doesn't always mean skinny! And skinny definitely doesn't always mean healthy. Some magazines do get it right, and though I'm not always totally happy with their magazine, Glamour actually does a great job of presenting realistic body types and printing body positive articles and images. Check out the beautiful, normal-sized model in the article below- she proves that healthy and fit doesn't always mean flat abs.

Winter diet tip

Winter treats not to avoid totally, but to enjoy in mindful moderation:

Snowed in? No problem

The Boston area is getting hit with another huge snowstorm in the next 2 days! Here are some tips for working out indoors, while snowed in!

(Ok, so it's not indoors, but...) Shoveling! Amazing core workout that also gets shoulders and legs.

Jamie's awesome indoor plyometric workout:


My hero!

This photo is of Jamie Eason, one of my greatest inspirations. Her body speaks for itself, but she is such a valuable resource for fitness and health education. Her positive perspective on fitness and health encourages anyone and everyone to achieve their personal best fitness goals. She's sweet, humble, and has just the sickest body I've ever seen. She openly encourages all other female figure competitors and fitness models and fosters a spirit of sisterhood and solidarity in a competitive, body-conscious field. A smart, badass and amazingly fit woman.!/pages/Fitness-ModelWriter-Jamie-Eason/327738720573

Great resource for girls and women of any age.

Love this photo.

A beautiful and iconic portrait combining both masculine and feminine elements- the ultra-feminine and seductive Marilyn performing the very conventional masculine bench press.

I encourage all women, of any shape and size, to try not just the bench press, but all strength training exercises!

Back in action!

So, after not updating this blog for nearly 2 years, I can proudly say I've been a successful personal trainer since passing my exam with flying colors in June 2009. It was tough, so if any of you need help studying or tips on how to pass, let me know.

Since I got certified I have worked in a commercial gym environment in a thriving urban community, at a Bally Total Fitness in Lincoln Park, Chicago. There I built my business and met so many wonderful clients and learned a ton from my inspiring co-workers. I also learned quite a bit about the personal training business, and made some important decisions for my career about what environments work for me and which ones definitely don't.

Right now I am training part time at the West Suburban YMCA while attending graduate school at Lesley University. I love the Y- such a great family environment with health-oriented members. I'm so impressed by the level of commitment shown to fitness by the members- the place is consistently busy from open to close, with many dedicated members showing up before opening to get in their crack-of-dawn-workouts.

I've developed a small clientele and am looking to build as my school schedule will be lighter in the spring. If you want to learn new exercises, get into a consistent fitness routine, lose weight, gain strength, improve cardiovascular health, correct balance issues, and have fun while doing it, set up a session with me. I'll listen carefully to all your concerns and medical history, and together we can build a workout program that will work for you and create great results. My passion is helping people feel better about their bodies. My training style is nurturing yet demanding- I always challenge my clients with a smile and lots of positive encouragement. I'm up for anything, appreciate feedback, and love to collaborate with clients to come up with the most dynamic, fun, and effective workouts possible. I focus on safety, professionalism, client comfort, client education, and keeping things fresh. I will never push you to buy buy buy- instead I will prove to you the value of our sessions so you can see for yourself what a worthy investment personal training really is. I'm also available for couples and small group training, which is slightly more economical.

Right now I train out of the West Suburban YMCA. You don't need to be a member, but rates are slightly higher for non-members. I am also currently working on renovating my basement and transforming it into a personal training studio. I'll keep you all updated as this progresses.