June 2009

Sisterhood of the Spandex and One Degree of Separation

This past weekend I attended the Body Design by Gilda reunion in NYC. In the former basement studio (now turned club), where we used to lead hundreds of women to push themselves one more rep, one more jump; we convened; but no, not in spandex.

In 1982 I moved to NYC at the urging of one of Paul Taylor’s dancers who I had gotten to come teach in Toronto: “Come to New York! Paul is opening a school!” she said. I had just broken up with my boyfriend, packed my stuff, and figured I would take class, audition, try my luck.

In order to survive while I was training and auditioning, I got a job teaching aerobics at a studio called Body Design by Gilda. Little did I know, that I would be teaching some of the most famous actresses from movies, television, stage as well as women who were some of the biggest names in business, publishing, philanthropy, the fashion industry. At that point, health clubs and gyms were mainly for the die-hard weight lifters; Gilda and her former student Jane Fonda were doing this thing called aerobics, and it seemed like everybody who was anybody walked through our doors those days! I remember you all and what leotards you used to wear; Arianna, a special nod to you, the statuesque brunette in navy blue at the 57th St. studio in the 80′s!

As each of us stood up to re-introduce ourselves and say what we had been doing these last 25 years or so, I could not stop shaking my head. PhD’s, Professors at NYU, Yale, the Alvin Ailey School, Atlantic Theatre Company, Hollywood casting director, hugely successful businesswomen, actresses, writers, editors. The children, marriages, divorces. Life. The energy from the studio had made its way into the world! (I need to also mention that when they were wheeling me into the O.R. to have my first daughter; who was there, a Gilda instructor! Only this time in scrubs not spandex; she had been studying for her MCATS while teaching aerobics and now was helping deliver my daughter! )

But the most important thing I felt that evening and always felt during my tenure at Gilda’s was the support we gave each other as we struggled with our various ups and downs. Gilda’s was a place we could go to whether we were a teacher or a client, and find incredible comfort. And then of course, crank up the music and sweat!

So for all you teachers, staff members and clients out there who ever attended a Gilda class, we lift a glass and remember the sisterhood of the spandex!

Visit me at: www.huffingtonpost.com/donnafish 


I have a confession that for some reason comes a surprise to the audiences I usually speak to,  (not my friends and family who know this well!).    I am a massive ‘foodie’.  I love, love, love to eat, and to eat well.  I can get ridiculously excited about the prospect of good food, and like many other Jews, call food ‘beautiful’. As in:  “That was a beautiful piece of fish!”  (Wasn’t that on some Seinfeld episode ?  Maybe a Jackie Mason show). 

I am not sure why this comes as a surprise to the audiences at my seminars or lectures.  Perhaps since I wrote a book on kids and healthy eating habits, they think I am coming armed with strict rules against sugar or junk food. 

To combat that notion, when they ask me what I might like to eat while lecturing, I ask to have plenty of Twizzlers on hand, my favorite candy. 

Basically, I wrote my book and have spent the last 20 years of my practice trying to help people combat their guilt, negative attitudes and all kinds of ideas that promote unhealthy eating.   It doesn’t take rocket science to understand why Weight Watchers tends to be the most successful program to help people lose and maintain weight loss.  It helps people basically learn how much they can eat of what they like.  Emphasis here on the idea of WHAT THEY LIKE.   

Restriction and deprivation never works.  Short term, but never long term. 

But enough of my diatribe and no, I am not working for Weight Watchers.  All this simply to express my passion for food, and when I find a dish I call “UTTER PERFECTION”, I just have to tell you about it. 

This past weekend I spent with my 3 best friends from high school, doing our annual reunion thing.  I gotta tell you that this year, one of the big draws, aside from the girlfest we have all weekend, were the meatballs that were calling my name.  Last year, during my visit, I made the mistake of not listening to my friend Deb when she recommended the meatballs at the restaurant we always go to on the opening night of our reunion weekend.  As I had said, “How good can meatballs be?” 

Well, too bad for me, because I landed up with the biggest case of ‘food envy’ to date.  I was offered bites, but you know how it is when your friend has the dish you suddenly prefer, no matter how much they offer?   You are simply left wanting. 

So this year, I was prepared.  Despite the initial temptation to order different things to have ‘tastes’, we agreed:  “No sharing!” 

These things can be tricky though when the expectations are high.  When you have spent a year wistfully thinking of meatballs, never quite finding them made in any other restaurant in quite the same way.  Hoping upon hope that they will live up to your dreams.  

Well, people, this is why I am writing my “Ode to Meatballs”.   The dish went beyond my ‘trying-to-not-have-but-you-can’t-help-it,’ expectations.  Not only were the meatballs beyond mouth savoring, (this is why I am not a food critic and simply aspire to be the friend of a food critic; they can actually write about food!)  

 I noticed the other aspects of the dish, which all put together, was  “PERFECT EXACTLINESS”.  Now I know I am making up words here, but perfection doesn’t quite cut it.  It is the combination of flavors and textures:  the crunch of the perfectly toasted orecchiette coupled with the savor  of the kale and mushrooms (not sure what kind; shitake?) in the broth, along with the meatballs, (made of pork veal), that do it.  What can I say?  This dish nails it.  The tastes combined put me in ‘foodie’ heaven.  

So if you happen to be in the Boston area and want to know where to eat, hightail it to this place:  Rendezvous, at 502 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge MA



And please, if there are any food critics out there that need tasters to join them and eat a lot, please do not hesitate to contact me at  www.donnafish.com


Happy eating!






As I have pondered a request for a piece on tweens and body image for several weeks now, I realize that I need to present the brutal truth:  Most adolescent girls’ body image ‘sucks.’  According to the hundreds of  tweens I have worked with over 20 years and the vantage point of  being the mother of 3 girls, (two teens, one tween), and the input of their friends:  there is no escaping this brutal reality.  So rather than focusing this article on how to help your tween maintain any kind of positive body image, I will be giving you thoughts on how to survive this time that gets everyone through it with the least amount of angst and the most amount of humor and open communication 

A few things to consider in understanding your tween’s world: 

Our kids are presented with images of the body that are far different than the average size for any girl.  The celebrities and models in these images have body weights that are roughly 25 – 30% thinner than the average girl.  On top of that, the images are photo shopped. 

These images, (even if your child doesn’t watch t.v. or buy magazines,) are insidious.  They are in advertising, they are part of popular culture.  All kids want to be popular and part of things.  This is what they think they are supposed to look like and what they aspire to look like. Tweens  I have interviewed over the years state openly:  “Everything is about what others think about you and everyone thinks they’re fat and ugly.  Not everyone admits it, they may even act like they don’t feel that, but they do.” 

So what is a parent to do who is hoping to help her tween emerge into the teenage years and adulthood with any semblance of self esteem?  Here are some tips: 

1)  Don’t EXPECT them to maintain a ‘positive body image’.  If it happens, terrific.  If not though, don’t worry that they are abnormal.  In fact, they are completely normal. 

2) They will try to ‘off load’ the ‘bad feelings’ about themselves onto you.  This is done by telling you things like: “I hate my thighs”, or: “I always look terrible”.  They need to ‘off load’ the intensity of their feelings and unfortunately or fortunately depending on how you think about it, you are their target.  That way, they get to relieve the pressure.  Oh, the joys of motherhood! 

3) Their negative and critical comments may trigger in you feelings of responsibility for needing to help them have ‘good self esteem’.  This is not your problem.  Your job is to help them ‘tolerate’ the feelings without acting in a self destructive manner.  You do this by surviving their ‘dumping’ their feelings onto you at times, and otherwise, ‘get out of the way! 

4) Their self criticism may trigger your own self criticism. About yourself as a parent, or about your own body.  Be aware of anything that you notice and separate your own feelings out as much as you can.

5)    If they say nothing, don’t think it is necessarily a reflection of a positive body image.  They might be hiding their feelings for some reason.

6)    Watch out for drops in weight and ongoing weight loss. Seek professional help if this continues and/or they are starting a binge/purge cycle.

7)    Try not to get sucked into their drama.  They will do everything as I said, to ‘offload’ the feelings, often in the form of a fight.  This actually might help distract everyone and will inevitably happen at times, but try to decrease the amount of times you get sucked in.

8)     Take many deep breaths.  Remind yourself that it is not your job to help them ‘feel better’.  It is your job to give them space to work this out and feel it themselves.  Become a little hard of hearing. 

While this piece may not satisfy your urge to find anything constructive to change your tween’s attitude about their body, perhaps it will help you survive this time with a sense of what is realistic and doable.  At least then you will be working with their reality and validating their feelings, rather than giving them the sense that you can’t handle their feelings.  Most importantly, in speaking with many other moms who hear complaints from their tweens and struggle to figure out the right thing to do, this is the good news:  Your kids are comfortable enough with you to air these complaints.  A friend of mine and I were talking about it and realized that we never would have dreamed of letting our moms hear of our body complaints when we were growing up.  I realized that for myself, I was more ashamed of my own vanity and concern of my appearance, than I was even of my body.  Seeing it in that light, I have come to appreciate my daughters’ comfort with airing their concerns in front of me. 

However, despite all of your efforts at understanding and patience, it can get wearing to hear your kids’ complaints about their appearance.  So at times, you can always say as I do when I have had enough:  “Please keep that as your inside voice and stop insulting my daughter.”