We had the good fortune of connecting with Ilene Leshinsky and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Ilene, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
Starting Find Body Freedom, the name of my business now, was more of an epiphany than a thought process. For the first three and a half decades of my life I battled with my weight and with my negative feelings about my body, and myself as a result of growing up a “fat” girl. I excessively dieted or I binged for many of those years. I had poor body image and my relationship with food was very unhealthy.
This is the part of my story where I tell you how a graham cracker changed my life. And it’s the part of the story where I tell you that in my early thirties I joined Weight Watchers. I was so lost and finally realized that I could not do “this” stuff alone – the stuff of eating like a normal person. So I became a WW member, leader, and trainer.
I loved Weight Watcher! It introduced me to a food group I previously had not befriended – fruits and vegetables. And I loved the community of women.
So one night at a meeting, I’m looking out at ninety women who are expectantly waiting for the answer to the secret of weight loss and maintenance which I have – and they want. And… I had just binged! A voice in my head is saying, “Ilene, you are such a fraud and a hypocrite. You just binged!”
So promise you won’t laugh when I tell you about the binge. Before coming to the meeting I ate four graham crackers. Not four boxes! Not four sleeves of crackers! Just four granham crackers but in those days the serving size was three – and I had just eaten four. And, to me, because I was, and in some ways still and still am, a rule follower, that one extra cracker constituted a binge.
I know. I know. How ridiculous! But here’s the part where I experienced the epiphany, the big “aha”. As one voice is yelling at me, another voice is asking, Why are you letting any person or program tell you what to eat and how much to eat? You hold that knowledge and wisdom, YOU, Ilene, are the expert about YOUR body!” And it was at that moment of confusion and then complete clarity that Find Body Freedom was born.
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
When I stopped dieting and started to pay attention to the innate wisdom of my body, I created a program in 1992, back then called The Gateway Group, that morphed into BodySense, and is now Find Body Freedom.
I believed that there were many women also struggling with body image, weight, and eating issues. I couldn’t be the only one out there who failed every diet she tried. As I created my program, I learned so much about why diets don’t work, that we are born knowing how to eat, that focusing on how our bodies look, rather than if they are healthy, keep us women trapped. How can we write books, create art, be business owners and CEO’s if we’re starving ourselves and at the gym 24/7?
I created a program for women who wanted individual counseling and also a group format for women who wanted a community in which to do the challenging work of learning to love their bodies and to eat with joy. And I decided to go back to school to become a psychotherapist, working primarily with women. I’ve been doing this for almost 30 years!
What continues to challenge most of us women is being torn between wanting to embrace the wisdom of our bodies and wanting to look like the beauty ideal that is promoted by the diet, exercise, and fashion industries. Women want to feel at home in their bodies but they also want to feel and be attractive. What if my natural weight is not thin, they ask me? Will I gain weight if I stop running and start walking for exercise? Will my partner still love me?
I understand these questions and fears because I lived them.
What I also discovered is that at this time in the history of women in which we have more power and control over our lives than ever before, we have rising numbers of women and more disturbingly young girls and boys who are in the throes of life threatening eating disorders. I have made it my mission to stop this madness. We owe it to our daughters and sons, to our grandchildren, to the little girl next door, and to future generations of women to stop – and to learn to eat well without dieting or compulsive overeating, to adopt the belief that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, and to know that our bodies have innate wisdom that will guide us to health and well-being.
As a trained psychotherapist, I know how complex these issues are and how we often want the quick fix of the latest diet or exercsie program. I have so much compassion and empathy for women who are still believing that if they can change their bodies, they will change their lives. I wanted that too. I learned that I was wrong. And they are wrong. Everything changes when we learn to love our bodies!
I’ve often said that I feel like a salmon swimming upstream to spawn. The voice of what we really want all too often gets drowned out by the voice that drives us to diet and exercise in order to lose weight. So maybe you can see how my mission sometimes/ often leaves me feeling like that salmon. But I do it anyway because it is a worthwhile goal. So I continue to write, teach, counsel, and coach women and girls.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I live in paradise – in South Florida. So I would take my friend to the beach every day, not necessarily to lay in the sun or even swim in the ocean, but to just sit and listen to the ocean sounds, the waves, the birds, to watch the majestic pelicans, to feel the warm sand in our toes and to collect sea shells.
I would take my friend to see the sea turtles and the manatees, these wonderful sea friends who make living here so wonderful.
Where I live you can eat outside in December and January so I would take my friend to a number of wonderful restaurants where we can sit outside and watch the waterways, the boats, and the sunset reflected on the water. (The Dive Bar has fabulous lobster rolls and overlooks a marina and the Intracoastal Waterway!)
And how about a boat tour? Up and down the Intracoastal from Jupiter to Palm Beach looking at the magnificent houses of the rich and famous.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
When I stopped dieting, I searched for other women who could guide me on my journey. Even though I never met her, I consider Geneen Roth to be my #1 guide. She had a tremendous impact on my relationship with food and my body. In all of her many books, Geneen talks about her own journey from dieting to a natural relationship with food. I was drawn to her wit and her wisdom. For anyone on this journey, she is a must read!
I want to thank Weight Watchers for teaching me to love fruits and vegetables – and for providing me with that “aha” moment in front of ninety women at WW meeting.
And a special shout out to my husband, George, who pushed and prodded me to write “Reflections of a Fat Girl” and who has supported every step on my journey – from graduate school in my mid 40’s to uprooting to Northern New York and to our now home in South Florida.
Linkedin: Find Body Freedom
Facebook: Find Body Freedom
Teri Roberts Photography