Modestan's "guidebook" helps teens fight sometimes dangerous body image obsessions

Modesto's Signe Darpinian (right), who counsels teens with eating disorders, co-authors a book with Shelley Aggarwal left and Wendy Sterling center on a healthy approach to eating and celebrating your natural body type.
Modesto's Signe Darpinian (right), who counsels teens with eating disorders, co-authors a book with Shelley Aggarwal left and Wendy Sterling center on a healthy approach to eating and celebrating your natural body type.

Some people are born to live in larger bodies, some in small ones and some in the middle.

Having a healthy attitude about your natural body type is a challenge for teenagers and adults faced with the cultural messages that favor certain shapes and standards of attractiveness.

Signe Darpinian, a licensed family counselor, brought speakers to the State Theatre in March 2017 to introduce The Body Positive movement to Modesto, which urges young people and adults to value their health and natural appearance.

Darpinian has now co-authored a book entitled "No Weigh: a Teen's Guide to Positive Body Image, Food and Emotional Wisdom." Her co-authors are Wendy Sterling, a dietician and team nutritionist for the Oakland A's, and Dr. Shelley Aggarwhal, an expert on adolescent health and eating disorders who worked at Stanford's division of adolescent medicine for several years.

The detailed workbook published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers was released this week.

Connie Sobczak, co-founder of The Body Positive and the keynote speaker for last year's event, wrote the forward for the new book. As a teenager, Sobczak struggled with body hatred, like so many others — "I didn't like my body at all and I treated it terribly," she writes.

Sobczak was able to recover from the eating disorder that took hold of her, but her sister went from dieting to cosmetic surgery, with fatal consequences.

"No Weigh" is a concise book on the trappings of weight stigma and the diet culture, and serves as a comprehensive guidebook for connected eating. It's designed for quick reading with exercises for putting the concepts into practice.

Darpinian says they wrote for a teen audience, but the book also is meant to inform parents, coaches, doctors, therapists and teachers.

Darpinian, who has practices in Modesto and the Bay Area, said the book came together after she talked with doctors at Stanford while referring a patient with an eating disorder who needed to be stabilized.

Aggarwal, one of the doctors, asked if Darpinian had considered writing a workbook to help teens with the social pressures that lead to disordered eating. Darpinian already was working on such a book. She teamed up with Aggarwal and Sterling to cover all the bases.

Darpinian says a predisposition for disorders such as anorexia nervosa and binge eating is recognized, but teenagers also experience cultural pressures to be thin, try the latest fad diets and strive for perfection.

“With our cultural obsession with the unrealistic thin ideal and obsession with food, there’s an interplay that makes people vulnerable to a clinical eating disorder,” Darpinian says. “Several years ago, you would hear the phrase that ‘genetics loads the gun and environment pulls the trigger'."

Anyone interested in dieting tips or extreme fat-burning weightloss should look elsewhere.

"No Weigh" advises readers to understand their appetite by using a hunger meter, a scale from 1 to 10, for knowing when to start and stop eating. (One is for starved and 10 is for stuffed.) Connected eating is about knowing the body's self-regulating system so you start eating at "3" and stop eating at "6 or 7" or a feeling of "just enough".

Intuitive eaters should notice it's not as pleasant to keep dining in the 8 to 10 range. Darpinian explains the taste buds are toned down when hunger is nearly satisfied.

With connected eating, there are no routines of calorie-counting or weighing yourself, and you can't really fail.

"Sometimes you might eat without hunger, for example, or beyond fullness, no big," Darpinian says. "Just cultivate curiosity about your perceived mistake with food and put it in your rear view mirror."

Young adults who recover from severe eating disorders have lost touch with the natural sensations of hunger and are taught to rediscover their appetites, Darpinian says.

Brooke, a 20-year-old from Modesto, tells of getting the OK from a dietician to try connected eating techniques. "I thought it was going to be a cakewalk compared to what I had been going through," she writes. "Then I realized I had no idea where to begin with eating to appetite because I hadn't had hunger in such a long time. I thought that to be hungry my stomach had to be in knots and I had to hear dying whale sounds. After a while I began to realize hunger was a much less obvious cue."

Every few hours a food that sounded tasty would pop into her mind. With some further analyzing, Brooke would register the thought as a real craving for food.

In a telephone interview Tuesday, Sterling said young athletes are vulnerable to eating disorders. Often it occurs among those expected to shed pounds to compete in a weight class.

“There is a drive to get better, a drive for perfection, which unfortunately results in an insufficient diet that wreaks havoc on the body,” says Sterling, a former nutritionist for the New York Jets. “That creates a worsening performance and trouble with their health, which lands them in my office.”

To put readers in a healthier frame of mind, "No Weigh" has exercises for writing down the gifts you have to share with the world, for working on connected eating and counteracting negative body images.

Darpinian says people can maintain their natural weight through connected and balanced exercise. Sterling says in writing on the subject, the co-authors were encouraged by pediatricians and teachers who work with young people who threaten their health with fad diets and extreme weight loss.

“People in general have lost their way and are just confused,” Sterling says.

Residents can meet the authors at an event Aug. 18 from noon to 3 p.m. at Barnes & Noble, 3501 McHenry Ave., Modesto. "No Weigh" can be ordered from Jessica Kingsley Publishers at The book was priced on the website Tuesday at $18.95.