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Courtesy of Judith Matz/MEDILL

Judith Matz, co-author of the book "The Diet Survivor's Handbook," discusses dieting issues in the documentary "America the Beautiful 2."


Skokie therapist calls for 'size diversity' in thin-crazed society

by Alexia Severson
Nov 30, 2011


ABT2 poster

Courtesy of America the Beautiful 2/MEDILL

The Chicago premiere of "America the Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments" will show at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., at 7 p.m. this Friday.  

scale

Alexia Severson/MEDILL

"We need to stop using body mass index as a proxy for health," said Judith Matz, a contributor to the documentary "America the Beautiful 2."   

The documentary “America the Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments,” directed by award-winning director Darryl Roberts, will have its Chicago premiere at 7 p.m. Friday at the Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave. As a follow-up to Roberts’ 2007 documentary “America the Beautiful,” this film focuses on America’s obsession with weight-loss and the misconception that you have to be skinny to be healthy.


In this interview, Judith Matz, a Skokie-based licensed clinical social worker and a contributor to the film, discusses her role in the documentary, as well as ways people can stay happy and healthy in spite of all the pressures to fit an impractical body image. 

 
Matz and her sister Ellen Frankel co-authored “The Diet Survivor’s Handbook: 60 Lessons in Eating, Acceptance and Self-Care" and "Beyond a Shadow of a Diet."

 
Q: How did you get involved in the documentary "America the Beautiful 2"?

A: I attended a conference this summer where I viewed a director’s cut of the film.  After the showing, I went up to director Darryl Roberts to introduce myself and give him a copy the book I co-authored, ‘The Diet Survivor’s Handbook: 60 Lessons in Eating, Acceptance and Self-Care.’  He stopped, turned to me, and said, ‘You’re Judith Matz? I’ve been looking for you!’ Two weeks later, Mr. Roberts came to my Skokie office to interview me for the final version of ‘America the Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments.’

In the film, I talk about why people should stop blaming themselves when they gain the weight back from dieting, and how anyone who can break the yo-yo diet cycle is a diet survivor.

 Q: How does this second documentary differ from the first documentary, "America the Beautiful"?


A: The first America the Beautiful focused on the beauty industry, but didn’t deal specifically with weight issues. After Darryl Roberts’ doctor told him he needed to lose weight for health reasons, he went on a journey that took him across the nation as he spoke to experts about issues related to weight, health and dieting. 

 Q: Why should people see this film?

 A: I think everyone should see this film because it dispels so many myths that we have in our culture about weight and health. It will surprise people to see that there are fat people who are fit, happy and healthy.  Or that the so-called obesity epidemic is overblown; for example, in 1998 the number used for the overweight category of body mass index (BMI) was lowered, and overnight, 29 million Americans instantly became ‘overweight!’

 Q:  Do you think that the one-body-type image--skinny--will ever change for the better, or do you think our society's view of beauty will become more distorted? 

 A: I’m hopeful that our culture will ultimately embrace the concept of size diversity—that people naturally come in all shapes and sizes. At this moment in time, the pressures to be thin are as intense as they’ve ever been, and yet I also see positive signs that there’s greater acceptance that people can be healthy and happy at different body sizes. For example, actress Ashley Fink plays a self-confident, wise-cracking member in ‘Glee’ who is comfortable in her larger body and popular singer Adele also rejects the pursuit of thinness and feels comfortable in her own skin. It’s great to see more and more role models of women who are refusing to base their self-esteem on body size.

  Q: As a licensed clinical social worker, what is your experience with eating disorders and what is a common misconception people have about eating disorders? 

 A: I’m not sure that people realize how serious eating disorders are – anorexia nervosa has the highest death rate of any psychiatric disorder. People with eating disorders will often get compliments for losing weight from friends, family, and even medical professionals who haven’t taken the time to find out what’s behind the weight loss, and that’s really disturbing.

  Q: How do you suggest young women/men/kids maintain a positive body image in spite of all the pressure out there to be skinny?

A: Get rid of diet books, don’t buy magazines that have weight-loss articles and turn off commercials for weight-loss products. Refuse to participate in diet conversations and become media literate, understanding that many of the models you see are airbrushed to create an image that doesn’t really exist.

Build a positive body image by making sure you have clothes that fit well and that you like (rather than waiting to be thinner to buy clothes you enjoy). Instead of exercising for weight loss, find ways to move your body that feel good to you and feel joyful. Learn to become an attuned eater, connecting with your internal, natural signals for hunger and satiation. All of these sustainable practices will help you to strengthen your body image.

Q: What is a common eating disorder that people are unaware of?

A: While most people are familiar with anorexia nervosa (severe restriction of food) and bulimia (binge eating accompanied by purging) they may not be as familiar with binge eating disorder (BED). In 2013, the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, which is used to classify mental disorders, will be released, and it will now list BED as an eating disorder. Some of the characteristics of BED include feeling out of control with food, eating until uncomfortably full, eating when not physically hungry, feeling guilty after eating, and eating alone. People with BED often don’t realize that many people struggle with this eating issue, and there is treatment.

Q: In your opinion, where should the line be drawn between being healthy and being skinny? 

A: You really can’t tell anything about a person’s health status just by looking at them. Unfortunately, many of the behaviors people use to get thin are actually quite unhealthy, such as chronic undereating, skipping meals, and over-exercising. Many people who look like they are at a “normal” weight are actually struggling with an eating disorder. Instead, people should practice healthy eating behaviors-- eating when hungry, choosing from a wide variety of foods and stopping when full – and their bodies will stabilize at the weight that’s natural for them.

Q: Do you think there is more pressure on women than on men to be skinny in our society? 

 A:There is definitely more pressure on women to be thin, and women in the public eye, such as female politicians, are often scrutinized when it comes to weight in a way that men never are.  At the same time, there is more and more pressure on men when it comes to appearance and weight--usually to bulk up. Just look at the popular men’s magazines and you’ll see that unrealistic images of “perfection” are now held out to men just as they are to women.

Q: What inspired you to help write ‘The Diet Survivor's Handbook’ and ‘Beyond a Shadow of a Diet’?


A: While just about every diet works in the short-run, for the vast majority, the weight returns, and when it does, the shame and blame is placed on the dieter’s doorstep. 

My sister Ellen Frankel and I wrote ‘The Diet Survivor’s Handbook’ to let people know that they haven’t failed their diet; their diet has failed them. ‘The Diet Survivor’s Handbook’ offers 60 lessons to develop a healthy relationship with food, your body, and yourself –each lesson has an activity to practice the concept and a quote that is either humorous or inspirational.

We wrote our first book, ‘Beyond a Shadow of a Diet,’ to teach therapists how to help their clients who struggle with overeating. Our book is the first comprehensive guide for treating compulsive, or binge eating, including how to become an attuned eater, deal with emotional overeating, body image issues and prevention.