This year, make a resolution to accept your body

I was recently at my favorite female-centric sporting goods shop when I eyed the book “Slow, Fat Triathlete.” Dang. Someone wrote “my book.”

And then I stopped and smiled. I realized that I had embraced both the terms “fat” and “triathlete.” Amazing.

Let me preface this by saying that I am not fat by medical standards. My BMI (body-mass index) is within a healthy range. In fact, having lost 25 pounds more than three years ago, I am now a part-time Weight Watchers leader.

And yet, I will never be described as thin, willowy or anorexic. Last fall in Napa, joining a pack of more than 300 women swimming, biking and running, my stereotypical Jewish body (thick waist, large breasts, wide hips) deemed me slower and heavier than most. But I was out there, doing it. A half-mile swim, 15-mile bike ride and a 4-mile run. And that alone is reason enough to celebrate.

It wasn’t always that way.

I grew up in the heavily (no pun intended) Jewish suburbs of Detroit. Like many of my friends, I was put on my first diet by an overzealous but well-meaning Jewish mother who only wanted the best for me. “Life is tough enough. Kids are mean. Why make it harder on yourself by being fat?” That was the message. Or something like it.

Suddenly at age 9 I was relegated to lunches of carrot sticks and Melba toasts. Packaged meals in pink-and-white boxes (Weight Watchers’ color theme through the 1970s and ’80s) filled the kitchen while the rest of the family ate “normal food.” I lost 10 pounds, gained some troubling messages about weight and worth, and was never encouraged to move my body.

You know all those old stereotypes about Jews not being athletes — Sandy Koufax and my uncle, [Wayne State University basketball star] Myron “Susie” Schecter, notwithstanding. That message was so well-ingrained that when I failed gym class in high school my parents found it a source of amusement and only fought for my passing grade so I could move on to college.

Through those teen years and into adulthood my body was a constant source of debate and concern — debate among family members, concern by both doctors and myself. Friends asked me if I was capable of eating a meal without calculating how many “exchanges” or “points” I was ingesting. (No, I couldn’t. Still can’t.) At one point I stopped menstruating but continued obsessing about the circumference of my upper arms.

I wasn’t alone. It seemed that smart, attractive Jewish women were at either side of my elbow at nearly every support group I tried and exercise class I attended.

I have yet to find any statistics regarding whether or not Jews are disproportionately overweight and/or body-image obsessed, but I have all sorts of theories about why we might be:

Pure genetics — our bodies morphed into these stocky, zaftig shapes to better withstand Russian winters.

Mixed messages about food and hunger, being the descendants of people systematically starved and killed during the Holocaust.

A need to fit in, to “pass” in the angular, Anglo world.

Regardless of the reasons, I believe there is hope and the ability to step off of the weight-obsessed body-image treadmill.

For example: A few years ago, Ophira Edut, an Israeli woman also raised in Detroit, created a small media stir with her book “Adios, Barbie: Young Women Write About Body Image and Identity” (236 pages, Seal Press, $15.95).

Edut parlayed the book into a Web site, www.adiosbarbie.com. Among other things, the site invites viewers to “love your body through thick and thin” and play a game called “Feed the Model.”

AdiosBarbie.com describes itself as “a one-stop body shop, where women and men of all cultures and sizes can learn about their bodies; feel proud and comfortable in their natural shapes, sizes, and colors; speak out against impossible beauty standards and share their experiences.”

Another Jewish girl burned her diet books in a bathtub more than 20 years ago and devoted herself to feeding physical hunger, as opposed to emotional hunger. Geneen Roth has helped “hundreds of thousands” of people become saner and healthier by teaching them to relax their relationship with food through her workshops and lectures.

Her many books include “When Food Is Love” and “When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair,” and can be found at www.geneenroth.com.

For those who need more help getting on track to a positive body image, Jewish Family and Children’s Services offers “Begin from Within.” The 12-week support group led by licensed psychotherapists aims to help individuals struggling with body image, weight issues and eating disorders to “create lasting change in their relationship to food.” Groups are based on the JFCS-authored workbook “Don’t Diet, Live It,” and meet in San Francisco and Palo Alto. (Information: For groups in San Francisco, contact Rene Beck at (415) 449-1241 or [email protected] For the Peninsula, contact Laurel Woodard at (650) 688-3073 or [email protected])

As for me, I’ve let go of fantasies of a certain size or much-dreamed-about number on the scale. I found like-minded people to cheer me on in my efforts. And, perhaps most significantly, I became an athlete.

With the support of my husband, a former bicycle racer, I learned the fine art of spinning in my bike’s “granny gear” just fast enough so that I don’t tip over. Also, to laugh hysterically when picking myself up out of the snow following yet another failed effort at mastering cross-country skiing. And to admire his backside when we run, for that’s all I ever see.

I enjoy my food, my activities, and on occasion, my image reflected back in the mirror.

I think Coach Downs, the gym teacher that failed me 20 years ago, would find my efforts “passing.”