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Home / 2013 Fall / Features / Healthy Body, Healthy Mind
Dennis Kerr in Nalanda meditation hall Traditional Eastern Arts student Dennis Kerr in the Nalanda meditation hall. Photo: Marc Piscotty

Healthy Body, Healthy Mind

By Lisa Birman
Diane Israel
Diane Israel
We've all heard this mantra. Inner and outer health, the body and the spirit. Sustainability also touches our lives in this most personal sense—how we occupy our bodies, and the daily kindnesses and cruelties we act out on our selves. A 2012 Gallup-Healthways poll listed Boulder as the skinniest city in the United States. What does that mean for the physical and emotional health of our residents? Does the culturally normative view of skinny as healthy actually obscure the larger issues of health and happiness?


Diane Israel (MA '91) explores these themes in her award-winning documentary Beauty Mark: Body Image and the Race for Perfection. The film critiques our culture's unhealthy beauty standards and obsession with weight. An elite athlete until the age of 28, Diane's personal experience of the damaging effects of body image obsession is central to the narrative. Now a psychotherapist, teacher, and Naropa board member, Diane finds that her focus has shifted from body to embodied. "My life mission is to be embodied, to be a vehicle of health, to walk my talk, to be the most authentic honest embodied human being that I know how to be."

An advocate of self-care, Diane sees the interconnectedness of caring for self and other. "I feel like I'm only as good as the care I provide for myself. I'm only as good as the belief system, the kindness, the compassion I can offer myself." She notes that this is especially true for care-providers, who so often forget to take time for themselves due to the great need of others. "The way to really do our work and keep our hearts open and be of service is to take immaculate care of ourselves. The amount of secondary trauma in therapists I see who have fallen victim to service and neglected themselves, it's dangerous."

In addition to her work with clients and students, Diane has been busy designing the Celebrate You program, a revolutionary wellness program for universities and schools. Based on the same principles as her film, Celebrate You aims to inspire healthier models of body image and wellness through art projects, rituals, education, and service.


Linda Bacon
Linda Bacon
Linda Bacon (MA '87) is also working to shift the focus from weight to health. Through a clinical research study funded by the National Institutes of Health and cosponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Linda established the Health At Every Size (HAES) program. Her bestseller Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, presents the findings of that study. Linda explains, "The results were not surprising: the program that was about body respect...led to all that we hoped: increased enjoyment in all realms, and improved emotional and physiologic health. This was in sharp contrast to the diet program, which took participants on a roller coaster of initial weight loss and health improvements, and then back to baseline or worse at the end of two years, with significantly reduced self-esteem."


A fierce advocate of community organizing, Linda has created a strong outreach program for the HAES movement. Her website invites people to sign the HAES Pledge, committing to celebrating body size diversity, eating in ways that value pleasure and appetite, and finding joy in movement. "Valuable change only comes from community," she says, noting the 6,500+ pledge signers to date. She's also gratified to see the diversity of work represented on the HAES Registry, a database through which HAES Pledge signers can keep in touch about their work.

With two new books coming out, Linda is continuing to advocate for health and body diversity. Body Respect, co-authored with Lucy Aphramor, sets forth her vision, "I'd like to live in a culture of Body Respect, where individuals can appreciate their own magnificence, and the larger culture can appreciate body size as another form of diversity to be respected." The second book, Eat Well: For Your Self, For The World, looks to integrate HAES principles and an understanding of nutrition with environmental and social justice concerns.


Carmen Cool
Carmel Cool
Photo: Joshua Levin
Carmen Cool (MA '01) is a fan and advocate of Linda Bacon's work. "All the work that I do is grounded in the Health at Every Size model. For me, Health At Every Size is a sustainable way to approach health and wellness." After encountering the Body Positive model, Carmen established a pilot program, Boulder Youth Body Alliance (BYBA) in 2004 at New Vista High School. A peer-leadership program focused on preventing body image issues and eating disorders, BYBA empowered youth to make positive change. "The whole work is based on a positive youth development approach, which means that it's not adult-down, it's really youth-up," she explains.


Realizing that activism is not only a useful tool in recovery, but also in developing youth voices and self-esteem, Carmen took a group of teens to Washington, DC for an Eating Disorder Coalition lobby day. BYBA ended up making eight trips to DC, with three students speaking at congressional briefings about why the FREED Act was important to teenagers. "Some had a history with an eating disorder, and many didn't. But what they all had in common was a passion for wanting to change the culture.... In my mind, it was definitely about the FREED ACT which I think is critically important and can save lives, but it was equally about them having the experience that their voice counts and can make a difference."

BYBA closed earlier this year, though the work continues both for Carmen and for the many teens who grew up in the BYBA community. "Any social change work has to be personally sustainable, and I think we forget that when we're out there working around social justice," she reflects. Passionate about youth voices and positive body image, Carmen is growing her private practice, writing, teaching, and exploring future possibilities for the BYBA message.

Watch a BYBA advocate speak at a congressional hearing