( ENSPIRE She Did That ) Ilene Leshinsky Has Created Her Own Program to Help Women Get Healthier While Creating a Healthy Relationship with Their Bodies
ENSPIRE Contributor: Natalie Dean
Ilene Leshinsky, a body image specialist of nearly 30 years, is showing women how to love and embrace their bodies. With so much pressure from social media and society, it can be difficult for people, especially women, to ever feel content with the way they look. This pressure and past trauma, negative emotions, and other factors can lead women to feel chronically discontent with their images. Leshinsky is here to help women unlearn these feelings.
Leshinsky believes women can improve their self-image and their relationships with their bodies. Her program, Find Body Freedom, helps women who struggle with these self-image issues find peace and appreciate the way they look.
To tell us more about Find Body Freedom and her own journey to a positive relationship with her body, Ilene Leshinsky spoke with a representative from ENSPIRE:
What inspired you to start Find Body Freedom, and how has the company evolved since its conception?
Here’s how it all started…
I grew up a fat girl. By the time I was five years old I was very overweight and was put on diet pills when I was in the fourth grade. I remember my mother telling me that my grandmother thought I was too skinny when I was a baby and wanted my mother to feed me more. So, my mother, trying to please my grandmother, devised creative ways for me to eat. One story is that she would dance around the kitchen with a mop on her head. And when I laughed, she would shove another spoonful of food in my mouth.
Cute story – but by five years old, I was overweight and had lost my hunger and satiety signals, those messages from my body about when to eat and when to stop.
That led to childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood filled with negative commentary from family and peers (and later, myself) about how much I ate and the size and shape of my body.
For the first three and a half decades of my life, I lived in fear of my body; I was disconnected from my body, and I fluctuated from highly restrictive eating to compulsive overeating episodes.
This is the part of my story where I tell you how a graham cracker changed my life and inspired me to create Find Body Freedom. And it’s the part of the story where I tell you that in my early thirties, I joined Weight Watchers.
I was so lost and finally realized that I could not do “this” stuff alone – the stuff of eating like a normal person. So, I became a WW member, leader, and trainer. I loved Weight Watchers! It introduced me to a food group I previously had not befriended – fruits and vegetables. And I loved the community of women.
So, one night at a meeting, I’m looking out at ninety women who are expectantly waiting for the answer to the secret of weight loss and maintenance which I have – and they want. And… I had just binged! A voice in my head is screaming at me, “Ilene, you are such a fraud and a hypocrite. You just binged!”
So promise you won’t laugh when I tell you about the binge. Before coming to the meeting, I ate four graham crackers. Not four boxes! Not four sleeves of crackers! Just four graham crackers, but in those days the serving size was three – and I had just eaten four. And, to me, because I was, and in some ways still am, a rule follower, that one extra cracker constituted a binge.
I know. I know. How ridiculous! But here’s the part where I experienced an epiphany, the big “aha”. As one voice is yelling at me, another voice is asking, “Why are you letting any person or program tell you what to eat and how much to eat? You hold that knowledge and wisdom. YOU, Ilene, are the expert about YOUR body!” And it was at that moment of confusion and then complete clarity that Find Body Freedom was born.
Find Body Freedom was first called The Gateway Group in 1992, and then morphed into BodySense in the mid to late 1990s. I rebranded in 2018. The program became Find Body Freedom when I wanted to help women focus on their body image concerns, not just their relationship with food.
The emergence of social media exacerbated the issues that women have had with their bodies for hundreds of years. The time was right to include a focus on body image, the innate wisdom of the body, and my desire to help women feel at home in their bodies, regardless of shape or size.
What, in your experience, most impact the relationship a woman has with her body, and why do so many women struggle with self-image?
When I stopped dieting and started to pay attention to the innate wisdom of my body, I believed that there were many women also struggling with body image, weight, and eating issues. I couldn’t be the only one out there who failed every diet she tried. As I created my program, I learned so much about why diets don’t work, that we are born knowing how to eat, that focusing on how our bodies look, rather than if they are healthy, keeps us women trapped. How can we write books, create art, be business owners and CEOs if we’re starving ourselves and at the gym 24/7?
I created a program for clients who wanted individual counseling and also a group format, a community in which to do the challenging work of learning to love their bodies and to eat with joy. And I decided to go back to school to become a psychotherapist, working primarily with women. I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years!
What continues to challenge most of us women are being torn between wanting to embrace the wisdom of our bodies and wanting to look like the beauty ideal that is promoted by the diet, exercise, and fashion industries. Women want to feel at home in their bodies but they also want to feel and be attractive. What if my natural weight is not thin, they ask me? Will I gain weight if I stop running and start walking for exercise? Will my partner still love me?
I understand these questions and fears because I lived them.
What I also discovered is that in the history of women in which we have more power and control over our lives than ever before, we have rising numbers of women and more disturbingly young girls and boys who are in the throes of life-threatening eating disorders. I have made it my mission to stop this madness. We owe it to our daughters and sons, to our grandchildren, to the little girl next door, and to future generations of women to stop – to learn to eat well without dieting or compulsive overeating, to adopt the belief that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, and to know that our bodies have innate wisdom that will guide us to health and well-being.
As a trained psychotherapist, I know how complex these issues are and how we often want the quick fix of the latest diet or exercise program. I have so much compassion and empathy for women who are still believing that if they can change their bodies, they will change their lives. I wanted that too. I learned that I was wrong. And they are wrong. Everything changes when we learn to love our bodies!
I’ve often said that I feel like a salmon swimming upstream to spawn. The voice of what we want all too often gets drowned out by the voice that drives us to diet and exercise to lose weight. So maybe you can see how my mission sometimes/ often leaves me feeling like that salmon. But I do it anyway because it is a worthwhile goal.
So, I continue to write, teach, counsel, and coach women and girls.
What is the thesis or main goal behind Find Body Freedom?
It is our birthright to feel at home in our bodies. I see this as the main goal of Find Body Freedom. For too many years, so many women have struggled with trying to fit into the beauty ideal of the decade, the year, the moment. This is one of the reasons that we still have alarming rates of eating disorders in this country.
Another “thesis” is that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. To prove my point, all we have to do is look at the natural world. So much beauty in flora and fauna, in so many shapes, sizes, and colors.
And the third main goal I will mention here is that our bodies have innate wisdom that will guide us to health and well-being. However, we have been programmed to minimize the wisdom of the body and to elevate the mind. I’m not the only one who believes that the mind can trick us – but the body cannot!
How does Find Body Freedom help women in ways that other programs cannot?: what makes Find Body Freedom so unique?
This is how Find Body Freedom helps women and what makes it so unique.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could feel at home in our body, to appreciate all that it does, to feel free to eat our favorite foods, to not worry about the resulting number on the scale, to smile when we looked in the mirror? What if we stopped battling with our bodies and took all of that wasted time and energy to pursue our passions and purpose? Sound good?
Find Body Freedom is not about dieting or following someone else’s prescription for eating or weight loss. Statistics dramatically reveal, time after time, that 95% of us who have dieted have gained back our weight within one to five years. Over and over we’ve been left with extra weight, the nagging question, “Why can’t I do this?” and most harmfully, lessened self-esteem because we failed yet again.
Find Body Freedom is about finding our way to becoming strong and healthy for life. Find Body Freedom is about exploring our relationships with our bodies, with food, and with ourselves. It’s a program for women built upon the philosophy of intuitive eating and the foundation that problems with weight management are signals that something is out of balance in our lives.
Find Body Freedom is created from the beliefs that:
~ our bodies have their innate wisdom and will establish their own natural
~ that we can manage our lives without turning to food for comfort or protection
~ that we can eat what we love without believing that food is the enemy
~ that we can learn to be at peace with our bodies – to celebrate our bodies
~ and that we are worthy of love and respect, right now, exactly as we are.
How does your background as a psychotherapist influence the strategies being implemented by Find Body Freedom? What do these strategies look like?
For twenty-five years, I practiced as a clinical social worker in both New York and Massachusetts. I worked primarily with women who were struggling with issues similar to mine, and who believed, as I naively did, that if they would change their bodies, they could change their lives. They came to me with feelings of depression, anxiety, and relationship challenges. They came to me with unresolved past and present traumas. And they hoped that if they could change their bodies, all of these things would magically disappear or at least become less significant. They were wrong – and so was I!
What does change our lives, and it changed mine, is a belief in the body’s innate wisdom, a commitment to self-love and self-care, and a shift from transforming the size of our bodies, to a focus on health and well-being. As a therapist and a coach, time and time again, I have encountered women, my clients, my friends, the women I know at the gym, who want the magic. The magic pill, the magic formula, the magic diet. And they want it NOW!
Tell me what to do and I will do it, I have heard. Unfortunately, if “the magic” is not in alignment with the body’s innate wisdom, at some point the body is going to rebel. And by the way, each of us is our MAGIC!
All of my strategies, tools, and “homework” are about helping women get in touch what with their bodies have been trying to tell them for a long time. Feed me well. Nourish me. Pay attention to my need for sleep and exercise. Adopt an attitude and belief that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes and that a healthy body is a beautiful one.
Many of the techniques I use with women are cognitive-behavioral strategies. And others ask women to dig deep, underneath the social pressures of trying to obtain a thin body to discover body love.
When it comes to women’s relationships with their bodies, what are some of the most important lessons women can learn?
Here are eight important lessons that I learned and hopefully pass on to my clients.
1. We owe it to our daughters to love the bodies we’re in.
2. Your body has innate wisdom.
3. Your body is your master teacher.
4. Your body is your home in this lifetime.
5. You were born knowing how to eat.
6. Beauty comes in all shapes and sizes.
7. Diets don’t work.
8. When we heal ourselves, we can heal the world.
#9 is my fantasy…
9. If I were taller, I’d be thinner. (Hey, indulge me. I’m a woman of this
culture and… I’m five feet tall!)
Find Body Freedom is a program created for women by women. It operates with the goal of helping women overcome the societal pressures they feel to look a certain way. By improving one’s self image, they are prioritizing their own health and wellness over societal expectations.
To learn more, click here to visit the Find Body Freedom website!
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