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    fitjewess
    Participant

    Hi all!

    I’m excited to be hosting an AMA right here over the next week, and I thought it might be a good idea to introduce myself before we get all official and serious… (Just kidding, I’m all about mixing the intense stuff with some lightheartedness 😉

    I’m Sara Kupfer, and my favorite sport growing up was sitting on the couch with a really good book, munching on carrot sticks while wishing they were potato chips. Today, I empower orthodox Jewish women to increase strength, energy and confidence through body positive and weight neutral health. (Follow me on Instagram @fitjewess for insight, tips and more of how this can help you.)

    Beginning at age twelve, for over a decade, I jumped from one diet to the next, desperately hoping that the next one I’d try would be the last one I’d need in an attempt to satisfy someone else’s vision of how my body should look. And with every fad diet I tried, every new meal plan, every lifestyle change, I’d find myself gaining back more weight than I lost and wondering why I was able to achieve my goals in every area of life other than this one.

    Several years ago, I read an article about CrossFit and, intrigued by the idea of weightlifting, I decided to give it a try. And I fell head over heels in love with the feel of cold iron in my hands.

    Suddenly, instead of being weak and slow and kinda feeling like a lump on a log, I was discovering how incredibly capable my body is, and how good that feels. As I explored physical movement in a way that I enjoyed, that empowered me, I realized that I wanted to offer other orthodox women this same experience.

    I laughed at myself when I made that decision. Here I was, the kid who was always chosen last for dodgeball, whom you couldn’t pay to go to the gym… becoming a fitness coach. But hey, stranger things have happened.

    So I completed by CrossFit L1 certification, founded Fit Jewess, and began coaching clients one-on-one and offering small group training, still on the lookout for that one magical diet that would allow me to sustainably keep the weight off, and allow me to offer the same promise to my clients.

    But it wasn’t meant to be. In fact, my very first client was the one who introduced me to Intuitive Eating, and with time, it served as the entryway to the world of Health At Every Size, Body Positivity and weight neutrality.

    And, for the first time in my life, I truly realized that my body does not define my value or worth, and that all the limitations I had put on myself in the past were not because of my weight, they were because of society’s beliefs about my weight.

    I continued exploring the body positive, weight neutral realm, educating myself and reaching out to colleagues and mentors for guidance and support.

    I learned why all those diets never worked, why focusing on healthy instead of weight is significantly more logical, and the nuance between body image affecting women of all sizes versus fat discrimination being exclusive to those who are not thin.

    I became a HAES advocate and body positive activist in the orthodox community, and began speaking internationally.

    A big part of my personal journey, of standing up to our societal norms, of challenging the status quo, was due to my experience as a single woman in a larger body dating in a community that values thinness when it comes to matchmaking.

    I have been told over and over again that “I have the perfect guy for you, but he’s looking for someone thin,” or “It’d be so much easier to set you up if you just lost twenty pounds,” or “You’re beautiful… but you’d be even more beautiful if you were thinner.”

    And here’s the thing: He is not the perfect guy for me if he needs someone thinner. And setting me up if I was twenty pounds less would in fact be easier, but I’m not looking for more dates, just one marriage. And I don’t believe in dieting (read: torturing myself) in order to serve someone else’s beauty standards.

    So first, I ditched dieting. Then, I strengthened my emunah in the belief that G-d is the Master Matchmaker, and that He’s had my future husband picked out for me right from the very start, that He knows my address, and that He’ll send Mr. Right my way at the appropriate time.

    In the meantime, I’ve published articles and spoken out against this idea that the pursuit of weight loss and the achievement of thinness is to be put on a pedestal. And each time I thought to myself, “Here I am, a large single woman of 27 years, serving as proof to what they all say – that fat people don’t get married…” But I know that I am right and they are wrong. So I stand my ground and share my voice for all those other larger girls and women who aren’t ready to share theirs.

    I have so much to say about the shidduch system, but I don’t think I will. Personally, I admit that the system has some serious flaws which can be worked on… but instead of focusing on fixing a broken system, I’d so much rather create a safe, positive space to build something stronger, more long lasting and far more productive.

    I’d rather help women explore the idea that they can find their soulmate at their current shape and size. I’d rather offer them the tools to understand body acceptance, to develop positive body image, to learn to be comfortable with their bodies as they are, all from a framework of weight neutral health.

    So with time, I’ve taken a step back from exercise training and have pivoted toward coaching orthodox Jewish women worldwide to increase confidence in themselves and learn to be comfortable within their own bodies while developing healthy relationships with food, movement and their bodies.

    And that’s the long version of who I am and what I do in my role as Fit Jewess.

    I welcome you to ask questions, share your experiences, thoughts and insights, challenge my message (at your own risk 😉 and just be a part of this conversation!

    Cheers,

    Sara

    PS I want to acknowledge that body image struggles, the pursuit of thinness and resulting disordered eating and eating disorders, weight stigma in shidduchim, and the challenge of developing and maintaining habits of health, etc., are not exclusive to women, and many men are dealing with these issues as well. While I personally work with women only, I invite men to join this conversation as your voices are important, and I have some great recommendations for weight neutral dietitians, therapists and coaches who work with men. Feel free to reach out.

    PPS On March 1st, my Mr. Right proposed and we are currently planning an August wedding, bezrat Hashem. Guess I was right… I didn’t have to change my size to find love.

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    Chavy
    Participant

    First of all Mazel Tov!!!

    What a big milestone and joyous occasion! I didn’t read through your entire post (my attention span…), but I think you’re doing an amazing job at creating an awareness about body image and body size. True to your point that we don’t need to be a specific size to be loved and to have value. And yes, I WISH WISH the Frum world would subscribe to this this approach. Why is there such a heavy concentration on our body size and not on middos, character traits? Where did this rational come from? It’s very hard when our community is so heavily focused on weight. I’ll probably have more to say, but that’s it for now.

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    JED-Warrior
    Participant

    Looking forward to this conversation!

    And for everyone joining, Sara was the one who introduced me to HAES (Health At Every Size). It is comforting to remind myself all that she shares about HAES and it makes me feel empowered because I now have knowledge that so many others don’t. It makes me feel fortunate that I was introduced to this idea, because unfortunately so many others still believe in the myths that society spreads.

    They don’t know that body size is not directly correlated to health and I didn’t either, but now I do. They don’t know that it’s healthier to listen to what your body tells you, rather than cutting out certain foods and losing weight and I didn’t either, but now I do. They don’t believe that people of all sizes find Shidduchim and I didn’t either, but now I do.

    Sara, tell us more about HAES!

    What did you not know before you were introduced to HAES, but know now?

    -Chaya Bracha

    Profile Photo
    fitjewess
    Participant
    Topic Author

    In response to Chavy's post #9370:

    Hi Chaya! Thank you 🙂

    And I totally get that – it was mighty long!

    To be honest, I think that it originally sneaked its way in from secular media, and while this is something that the world at large struggles with, I believe that we, Jews with Torah values and a guidebook to living right, should hold ourselves to a higher standard.

    This idea of putting thinness on a pedestal is totally incongruent with our values.

    I think this is just one of those things where we can find “excuses” or “explanations” for how this came to be… but ultimately, there’s nothing about this that’s ok, and it’s simply up to us, individually and as a community to push past it.

    Profile Photo
    fitjewess
    Participant
    Topic Author

    In response to JED-Warrior's post #9371:

    Chaya Bracha, I get so excited when you remind me that I was the one who introduced you to HAES. I had no idea until a few weeks ago when we were talking about the Zoom hangout in the Fit Jewess Virtual Lounge.

    To answer your question “What did you not know before you were introduced to HAES, but know now?” there are two things that stand out to me.

    But before I get to them, I think it’s important to briefly break down what this is for any readers who might not know what this is. (Don’t worry guys, I got your back 😉

    The Health At Every Size approach is about recognizing that we all come in different shapes and sizes and encourages us all to pursue health at whatever size we are. HAES practitioners recognize that weight loss from dieting doesn’t work long term (95% of the population gains the weight back and up to 2/3 gain back more than they lost) and so instead of focusing on changing one’s size, which is unsustainable, it focuses on developing and maintaining habits of health.

    1. A big misconception is that HAES-friendly fans, advocates and professionals totally ignore the concept that weight could actually have a negative effect on one’s health. When I was new to HAES I used to believe that anyone could be healthy and weight wouldn’t impact that.

    I’ve since learned that while correlation is not causation (meaning the reason someone is diagnosed with diabetes might not be because they gained weight, but rather weight gain might be a symptom of diabetes, etc), that doesn’t mean that it has no impact on health whatsoever.

    For example, someone in a larger body who has arthritis will likely have worse symptoms than someone in a smaller body with arthritis. The weight on one’s legs affect the joints more significantly. BUT instead of looking to decrease the weight (largely out of our control), HAES professionals look to minimize the stress and symptoms by focusing on other aspects of health such as introducing movement or physical therapy in a way that will help the client.

    So while it’s not about the weight… we also don’t ignore the weight.

    Did that make sense or was it way too technical?

    2. Secondly, I also realized that while many people have the opposite experience, I actually loved my body long before I learned to accept and respect it. As a teenager and young adult, I’d look at myself in the mirror and love my curves. I can say with confidence that I loved my body. And I also wanted to change it. I wanted it to be smaller and I dieted for over a decade to make that happen. (Spoiler alert: it didn’t.)

    I wasn’t until I learned about HAES and fully recognized that G-d designing me with a bigger body is not a bad thing and that I have a responsibility and privilege to take care of this vessel that He gifted me with, that I was able to come to terms with my body being the size that it is.

    Loved this question, thank you!

     

    Hey Sara!

    Thank you so much for sharing with us. I like how you clarified those 2 points re HAES.

    I also realized that while many people have the opposite experience, I actually loved my body long before I learned to accept and respect it. As a teenager and young adult, I’d look at myself in the mirror and love my curves. I can say with confidence that I loved my body.

    I find it fascinating how you clearly differentiate body love from body acceptance. If you elaborate that would be awesome. ?

    Also, can you identify some things that you believe helped you to adult with this body love? Was it parenting? Or a specific experience?

    What can parents do to instill this in their children, if you have any tips?

    And, what can young adults do for themselves to bring themselves closer to body love and/or acceptance despite societal pressures and norms?

    Looking forward to learning from your thoughts!

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