Janet's Blog:


Who Says "Diet" is a Four Letter Word?

When anyone mentions the word "diet," feelings of dread and distaste are often conjured up. But what if that nasty word wasnít used to describe a food plan? What if it were used instead to identify an alternative to self criticism and reproach? Our lives are inundated with messages that attack our self worth. Every time we turn around we are told that we donít measure up. Whether itís our financial assets, our retirement plans, our decorating blunders, our education, all aspects of our lives are open to comment. It takes a strong constitution to feel good about oneself given the critical climate we live in. Thatís why I propose the following: Start by focusing on one area of your life. For instance start with a positive body image. And go on a diet lean in criticism, rich in self respect.

We can practice a diet of positive thinking, a diet free of self-loathing and harsh judgments. We have a wonderful opportunity to live a life in which we experience our own beauty from the inside out. We can abstain from the general consensus in our society that the 14-plus crowd are second rate citizens. Weíre rarely given a break from being reminded, time and again, that anything larger than a size six is unacceptable. With the assistance of non diet, non-deprivation philosophies we can cut out that ideology from our thinking. We can go on the personal growth diet. Rather than counting calories, we can count how many individual traits of which we are proud. Food diaries can be replaced by journals of our thoughts and feelings. Or, if preferred, we can affirm our intrinsic value as unique human beings. The possibilities are endless. Rather than repeat an all too common theme on how much we hate our bodies, we can go in many different directions by placing pride in our accomplishments. If itís hard to begin, then just think of everything youíve been through to get to this point in your life.

Since nobody really looks like the women in advertisements and commercials, including the models themselves, we might as well set a new standard of beauty based on real-life women. Weíve already made great strides, and will continue to do so in every venue from malls to the media. By living our lives with joy, and comfortably speaking up for ourselves, we have a wonderful chance to be heard. By celebrating diversity, and promoting individuality, we are reclaiming ourselves.

The next time someone mentions a diet to you, you can tell them youíre already on a diet, a diet which renounces anything less than self-acceptance.


A New Kind of Diet

Published for a positive body image E-zine By Janet Zinn, LCSW 2001

It seems as if yet another recycled diet concept is in vogue now. Itís amazing that the diet industry, one of the most prosperous sectors of American commerce, is so successful even though ultimately it fails us. The industry has convinced us that it is our shortcomings that have caused us to gain weight back that weíve lost. Or, itís insinuated that we are failures if weíve been unable to lose weight in the first place. In no other business have sales been continually attained by re-merchandising a lemon. It is the rare occasion that we would buy a car of the same make and style that has caused us nothing but problems. Nor would we blame ourselves again and again because the car had transmission trouble. We know the product is culpable. Yet, when it comes to diets, we always think maybe this time it will be different.

So many of us have tried fad diets, herbs, support groups, diet pills, and anything else that came our way. We have viewed food as the enemy, with the possible exception of lettuce and celery. Some of us do the best we can to take care of ourselves with proper hygiene, getting regular check-ups, going for massages, reading good books, and going out socially. Nonetheless, we are quick to punish ourselves by either restricting our intake of food, exercising excessively, or hating ourselves for eating something weíve deemed forbidden.

Although there is no precedent, what a change it would be to eat what we want with no thought of good and bad foods. Of course, this would take some getting used to. Weíd have to relearn how to eat. Imagine what it would be like if we ate when our bodies told us we were hungry. And we stopped when our stomachs communicated our fullness. That means listening to our individual bodies. Since each one of us is unique, what and how we eat is particular to each one of us. Unlike the diet industry, there are no other programs or businesses that dictate other bodily functions. No one has come up with a better way to regulate when we go to the bathroom. We go when our bodies tell us we have to go. There are no advertisements that suggest we breathe a certain amount of air per hour or day, and that we are weak for breathing on an as-needed basis. And, yet, we allow ourselves to be bamboozled into thinking that by following someone elseís food program, and paying good money to do so, we can gain control of our lives.

There was a time in infancy when our bodies regulated our hunger and satiation. We fed on demand. There is no denying a crying baby who is hungry. However, once we move into solid foods, the rules change. We start moving away from our own instincts and start listening to those who tout the latest "health" or diet fads. Part of the problem is that, as a society, we buy into the propaganda, which tells us that thin is in. Since so few people have the bodies we see in magazines and commercials, and this includes the models themselves, we fight a losing battle of the bulge. We learn early to be dissatisfied with our bodies. This way we fall prey to the multi-billion dollar diet industry.

Eating is no longer pleasurable, but becomes an imaginary test of our willpower. Even when we enjoy an abundant and luscious meal, we feel guilty. We are made to believe that we should consistently deny one of the most gratifying experiences. To replace that experience, we have the choice to over-exercise, drink artificial shakes, prepare prepackaged meals, weigh food, weigh ourselves, and invariably feel bad about our bodies and ourselves. And, yet, we still keep trying another diet, or we go back to the same old program that didnít work the last time.

Itís a vicious cycle. The fashion and diet industry contributes to our feelings of inadequacy. We go on a diet, it doesnít work, and we are again left to feel inferior. What does work is a drastic and scary prospect. Donít diet. Our bodies have an intelligence all their own. We have to learn how to follow our hunger. This may sound simple, and it is, but itís not easy. It takes work to feel worthy amongst overt and subliminal messages that tell us weíre not good enough. It behooves us to focus on the positive rather than the negative. And, yet we are compelled to listen to an industry that has let us down for as many times as we have gone to it for solace. Often we try a diet, a pill, or even an operation because we feel desperate. If there were a possibility of feeling comfortable with our own bodies, perhaps we wouldnít need to take such extreme measures.

We can reclaim our right to honor ourselves. We have the freedom to celebrate diversity in size and shape. We neednít continue to feel like failures and go back to the source of our suffering. Why stomach anotherís regimented diet when we know our own schedules, our likes and dislikes, and our lifestyles better than anyone else does? The greatest secret is that we have a right to respect ourselves with food choices and our body image. We can practice a diet of positive thinking, a diet free of self-loathing and harsh criticisms. We have a wonderful opportunity to live a life in which we experience our own beauty from the inside out.



Having It All Isnít All That

ďHaving it allĒ is a tempting concept for working moms. It implies that we can have balance in our lives, suggesting it will be easy to enjoy all that our lives encompass. I suggest the phrase ďhaving it allĒ appeals to those of us who have struggled with perfectionism for a long time. It is a ubiquitous thought as we go through our days trying to accomplish all the small and large demands in front of us. Perhaps itís just half a phrase, the entire phrase being ďhaving it all, except peace of mind.Ē

The truth about having it all is that you have to be a multi-tasker. You end up juggling with too many balls in the air. At any given point you are focusing on the ball that is most likely to miss your agile grasp. To translate this in circumstantial terms, imagine that you have an important meeting coming up at work. Add to that an early publishing party in your childís class. Plus, you have to complete employee reviews this week. And, every day you have to check homework, talk to your children about the struggles in the school yard, make sure the babysitter has all the playdate information, check the household spending account so you can buy birthday gifts for your childís friends and have more than enough for miscellaneous purchases. And, thatís just this week. On a daily basis, you get your children to school, a little early so that you can get to work just in time not to be too late. You never know when the phone will ring to let you know the babysitter canít come so that you have to make alternate plans. Or, your child is sick and you have to pick her up just when youíre supposed to meet a new client. Then, when at home, youíre fearful the phone will ring with an extra project you hadnít expected to handle, or your boss letting you know you dropped the ball on some arbitrary communication. Of course, more is going on both at home and at the office, but the list could go on forever.

Any sane person would find this juggle anxiety provoking. However, if the scales tip too far to one side, it takes a heroic effort to get things back to the overwhelming norm. Although the pace is set to challenge your immune system, getting sick is out of the question. And there is little chance of feeling as if there is relief in sight. So, whatís the alternative? Having less.

It is a humbling fact that we are limited. When faced with our limitations, women tend to push back. We are socialized to take care of everything. And, as the demands in our lives increase, we think we have to take them on. Itís not easy to slow down. We have to be told, again and again, on an airplane to give ourselves oxygen before getting it for our loved ones. This goes completely against our training. And, yet, taking care of ourselves is a tricky business in and of itself. We tend to keep trying to do more even in the face of sure defeat. We are determined to make it work the only way we know how to make it work. More often ďmaking it workĒ is a skewed concept based on othersí wants and needs. As we learn that having less works better and takes less energy, we will be able to retrain those who demand more of us to ask for what is more reasonable, thus humanly possible.

And, as we admit our own limitations and take a break to breathe, we have taken a huge first step on the road to sane living. Next we have to take a break from the anxiety producing pace. Ask for help, even when itís not the way we would do it. Allow for less than perfection in ourselves and our family. Make sure there is laugher, thatís a great break for everyone. Allow NO to be a part of your vocabulary. And, allow YES to be an answer you can give yourself.

Mostly it takes practice. It sounds like a simple plan to set limits, allow for less than perfection, and enjoy more freedom. But itís not always an easy strategy. Just remember, when allowing for less than flawlessness, you are giving yourself room to make mistakes. And, it is with mistakes that we grow and learn. But for now, you can acknowledge yourself for reading this article since itís a first major step in giving yourself a short reprieve from all tasks at hand. Now thatís a job well done.


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a diagnosis given following an experience in which one feels as if onesí life, or the life of a loved one has been threatened. It is marked by a heightened sense of fear, lack of focus, sleep disturbances, a low tolerance threshold, or depressive symptoms. Janet Zinn has extensive training and experience working with individuals who suffer from Post Trauma. She was a first responder following 9/11. And, has been a consultant for the leading Employee Assistance Programs in New York City. In her private practice, Janet sees individuals suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder on a short-term basis. She facilitates moving clients from a protective mode towards normalcy.

Exercises to Reduce Stress

1. Breathing is essential for bringing ourselves back from feelings of stress or panic.

A simple exercise is to breathe in deeply through your nose (as if you are smelling flowers)

Then breathe out through your mouth (as if you are blowing out candles)

This should be strong and exaggerated, as it will take a drastic act to move you to a more peaceful place.

2. Count backwards, or try thinking of the alphabet backwards. This gets you out of your stressful thoughts and into something that can be challenging. However, if you get stressed using this exercise, donít do it. Or, you can start and check-in with your feelings to see if you feel calmer.

3. Go to a mirror. Look at yourself in the eyes and say, " Jennifer, you are doing the best you can. It will be okay." Repeat the phrase as needed.

4. Find a website, read something, or find a person who makes you laugh. Laughter is one of the best remedies for stress. If you can laugh then the stress will automatically be released.

5. Will yourself to laugh. You may not be able to do this in private, but you can pick up the phone as if youíre speaking with someone. Try different types of laughter.

6. Write your thoughts. Start a "Stress Journal." When something upsets you or disturbs you, or if you canít concentrate, start writing. This will help you pinpoint your thoughts and feelings and get you back to yourself. It really helps to do this when you feel overwhelmed. One minute can save you hours.

7. Go through your body first tensing then immediately follow each muscle group by letting go and relaxing the muscles


By Janet Zinn, LCSW Published, 2002 for Ambassador Publishing Ė Manhattan Yellow Pages


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