Taking control through nutrition, positivity and self-acceptance

Interview with Margaux Permutt, a registered dietitian at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, on the importance of promoting body positivity and self-acceptance among women.

Every day women are inundated with images of beautiful, flawless women in magazines, on billboards and movie posters. These images are discouraging for any woman struggling with body positivity and self-acceptance – and it doesn’t matter how many hours the models spent in the makeup chair. As a society, we have placed immense pressure on women to look picture perfect, when it is simply unrealistic. We sat down with Margaux Permutt, RD, registered dietitian at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, to discuss how women can flip the script on negativity and learn to love their bodies through a healthy diet and positive mental attitude.

1. Can you briefly reflect on the notion of “women battling their bodies?” As a nutritionist, do you see this mentality often?

Every day women sit across from me and hopelessly grab their love handles, tummies, arm fat – you name it – and exclaim, “Why do I have this, I work out and eat well, why can’t I lose THIS?” I can see it in their eyes; they feel hopeless and betrayed by their bodies.

Women are at odds with their softer parts and uncomfortable in their own skin. This kind of negative self-talk creates a battlefield between their mind and body and is one of the reasons I decided to become a registered dietitian. I want to help women of all ages learn how to live healthfully and love their bodies.

This battle between mind and body often translates into an unhealthy relationship with food, which is the reason many women end up in my office. There is this permeating notion that food leads to fat, and fat leads to failure, creating a disordered eating epidemic that affects both men and women, but primarily women. First, it starts with negative, self-deprecating thoughts about their bodies and the food they are choosing to put into it. I encourage my patients to pay extra attention to their thoughts while eating and stop negativity in its tracks. So often we focus on treating others with respect and compassion, but we forget to show ourselves the same courtesy. Creating harmony between mind and body is not a selfish act; it is the best thing you can do to be present and supportive of the world around you. 

2. What do you say to a woman who looks in the mirror and says, “If I could just lose 10 pounds, I’d be happy”?

I start by asking them what else makes them happy – besides food and looking good. In fact, one of my favorite things to do with new patients is to help them create a ‘joy list.’ It’s a list of nourishing behaviors and activities to help them disrupt self-destructive patterns.

Next, I focus on creating sustainable lifestyle changes and perspective shifts that support health and well-being. My strategy isn’t a quick fix; when you’re focused solely on weight loss, you’re only treating a symptom, not the condition or disease itself. You need to find the source of the disease and attack it head-on; otherwise, body dissatisfaction will continue to grow.

I believe happiness is an inside job, and vanity is superficial. If you want to be truly happy, get to know your authentic self, and make your decisions from there. The ‘joy list’ is a terrific tool to help women break down mental barriers and become the person they are meant to be. I advise my patients to respect their boundaries and practice internal kindness. If you rely on external factors like appearance, money or status symbols, then anytime one of those is threatened, your self-worth and mental well-being are at stake.

3. In a study, 63 percent of women said weight was a key factor in determining happiness. Is this healthy?

Big NO. This is absolutely NOT healthy. Unfortunately, our society tells women that in order to be successful and happy, they need to have a certain body type by promoting an unrealistic ideal of beauty.

I recently read that according to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), 70 percent of women aged 18 to 30 dislike their bodies, and 50 percent use unhealthy behaviors to control their weight. Equating weight with happiness creates a dangerous and slippery slope that could result in an eating disorder or disordered eating patterns. I’d like to point out this interesting difference because people can suffer from disordered eating without having a clinical eating disorder. Most people, especially women, are subject to disordered eating at some point in their lives (sometimes daily). Some disordered eating thoughts and behaviors include obsessions over food, intense fear of gaining weight, inability to control cravings and portions, avoiding food altogether, and adhering to extremely restrictive diets because they fear being unhealthy. A person has a clinical eating disorder when these thoughts and behaviors interfere with the individual’s ability to function in daily life.

If I could make a public service announcement to everyone reading this it would be: Please don’t wait for an eating disorder diagnosis to shift your perspective. If these words resonate with you, start making changes now. You can begin by how you talk to yourself and approach your one beautiful body.

4. How could/should a woman change negative thoughts to develop better mental health?

We need to take our power back from media outlets, food and self-judgment. We need to cut ourselves some slack by shifting our mindset from what we perceive as wrong or inadequate and focusing on what is right and what we love about ourselves.

A couple of years ago, I participated in the Clifton StrengthsFinder®test. It is an online personal assessment tool that outlines the user's strengths into five talent areas. The goal of the test is to emphasize the importance of building upon strengths, rather than correcting weakness. This test was a real eye-opener for me and pivotal in my approach to life.

Women should focus on our unique set of strengths rather than the endless to-do list of things that we want to change to be better. That being said, I do believe in thinking critically and personal transformation. I am not suggesting complacency, apathy or ignoring our problems; I am just saying relax a bit.

5. What do you think contributes to so many women being dissatisfied with their bodies?

There are a number of factors contributing to this. Let me describe a few. The weight-loss industry is a nearly a $20 billion dollar industry according to ABC News. And it’s no wonder; think about how many times a day women see images and promises of the ‘perfect life’ or ‘perfect body’ when they purchase the latest and greatest weight loss program. People believe if they could ‘just lose 10 pounds’ they would be happy, and finally, have a perfect life. Now more than ever, weight loss advertisements inundate everything from radio, magazines, computers, TV, devices, to being in line at the grocery store or gas station.

According to analytics firm Flurry U.S., people are spending up to five hours a day on mobile devices, which doesn’t even include television or desktop computers. On top of that, predictive advertising uses your search history to display ads for you. If you’ve ever Googled “quick weight loss,” you’ve probably noticed a slew of weight loss-related advertisements appear on your newsfeed and favorite websites. We are so saturated with online adverts, and this often leads to dissatisfaction that is untraceable. My recommendation? Unplug! Turn off your phone, laptops, iPads and get out into nature. Feel your heart beat in your chest, the air move in your lungs, and feel the joy of simply existing on extraordinary planet earth!

6. How do you respond to women who come to you with negative body image issues?

I listen, empathize and affirm their existence. I understand these women are feeling vulnerable and unhappy, so I never judge or compare. I am here to help and am completely supportive of their struggle. I also help to change their internal script. I have a low tolerance for negative self-talk in my office because it is a barrier to treatment. So when I hear it, I make sure to call my clients out – in a humorous way, of course! The first step to nourishing your mind, body and spirit is eliminating negative self-talk. I don’t shy away from the big issues (when the issues are out of my scope of practice, I refer to other health professionals), and often times there are tears when there is a breakthrough. Don’t ever apologize for them! Eating and body image are emotional, and each individual’s triggers are so different. Providing individualized treatment to each patient steers my practice and helps tailor my approach.

7. How do you treat/respond to people who seem more focused on being skinny than getting healthy?

I am committed to helping you feel your best on a holistic level – mind, body and spirit. Sometimes that includes weight loss, and sometimes it does not. Most women who say they want to get ‘skinny’ really just want to be healthy. I help them understand the difference between being skinny and being healthy. For too long people have justified poor nutrition under the guise that being thin is equal to being healthy, and it’s simply not true. There are countless gyms and health coaches committed to helping you look your best.

Negative self-talk and body image issues plague many women. We hope these tips help readers adjust their habits to live healthier and happier lives. To get individualized advice and a health plan that’s right for you, contact your nearest registered dietitian.

About Margaux Permutt, RD
Margaux Permutt is a registered dietitian nutritionist with a Master’s degree in Public Health Education. She has been teaching yoga and meditation all around Los Angeles (and beyond) since 2009 and is a self-titled “hybrid wellness professional.” She serves in multiple capacities at Providence Saint John’s Health Center providing community education classes, one-on-one nutrition counseling and inpatient clinical nutrition care. Her personal wellness practice combines yoga and Ayurvedic medicine with a passion for life and learning (and eating). She believes one diet does not fit all and finds joy in guiding her patients and clients toward an eating plan and lifestyle that inspires, motivates and uplifts them to be their fullest, most authentic selves.


About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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