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How Weight Loss Groups Can Bridge Cultural Divides

March 21, 2013

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Is weight loss the solution for peace in the Middle East? According to a new New York Times article, probably not – but it can successfully foster dialogue and forge bonds between cultural adversaries.

A new support group outside of Boston called Slim Peace is uniting Jewish and Muslim women to overcome their cultural differences and support each other in a shared goal: adopting a healthier lifestyle. The group is the American chapter of a non-profit organization, founded by documentary filmmaker Yael Luttwak, that connects Israeli and Palestinian women who want to improve their eating habits for weekly support sessions in Jerusalem.

The vision of Slim Peace is to create at least 400 healthy lifestyle groups for women from all religious and ethnic backgrounds who normally would never have the chance to meet, much less bond over universal challenges such as sugar cravings and emotional eating.

The idea of an inter-cultural weight loss group dawned on Luttwak more than a decade ago when she was in a Weight Watchers group in Tel Aviv and wondered if the Israeli prime minister and the Palestinian Authority president would be more likely to communicate if they tried to lose weight together. “We are not a peace dialogue group and not a conflict resolution group,” said Luttwak. “But we are bringing dialogue and exposure.”

The two leader of the Boston group have been surprised by how quickly discussions have wandered from calorie counting and portion sizes to deep conversations about the women’s backgrounds and communities. The challenges that participants share – ranging from motherhood to work to how to refuse an extra serving of food from your mother-in-law – show that when it comes to weight loss, the commonalities between Jewish and Muslim women are stronger than their differences.

The success of Slim Peace also highlights the power of primary food, the energy in our lives that’s often more important to our health than the food we eat. Just as bonding over healthy eating helps these women overcome steep cultural barriers, discussing relationships, career, physical activity, and spirituality is crucial to helping them establishing healthier lives.

Have you ever had to put your differences with someone aside to work on a common goal? What was the result?

*Photo courtesy of Slim Peace