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AIWA-SF: Healthy Lifestyle & Positive Body Image

AIWA San Francisco Affiliate Holds a Workshop Promoting Healthy Lifestyle and Positive Body Image in Collaboration with IGEFA 

An Event Sponsored by IBM

By: Gaiane Khachatrian

On Sunday, March 8, Women’s International Day, twenty five Bay Area women gathered at the St. Vartan Armenian church hall for a day of networking and expanding their knowledge on the key factors involved toward leading a healthy and happy life.

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The guest speakers at the event were Dr. Mariam Manoukian, a board certified physician practicing internal medicine in the Bay Area (also the author of “The Alpha Plan: Healthy Living and Eating in College and Beyond”), and Dr. Ruzanna Ohanjanian, a California licensed Clinical Psychologist with over twenty years of extensive clinical, educational, and corporate consulting experience.

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Dr. Manoukian opened her session with Bernard Show’s words, “There is no love sincerer than the love of food”, followed by highlighting the importance of making better dietary choices to stay healthy. “Food can cause disease or it can heal. Let us choose food for health not food against health”, said Dr. Manoukian.

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During her presentation Dr. Manoukian maintained her focus on obesity, a wide-spread medical condition, with many contributing factors like genetics, age, increased food intake, increased portions, sedentary lifestyle and low physical activity, inadequate sleep, increased stress, and endocrine imbalance. She also discussed the role of gut bacteria, otherwise known as microbiome, as a new emerging risk factor for obesity. Particular attention was given to damaging effects of sugar on the body, mechanisms of sugar addiction, and cravings and withdrawal.

Dr. Manoukian recommended the diet called GDM – Grandma’s Modernized Diet (also known as the Alpha Plan) – a diet that our grandmothers were raised on – without packaged food, daily deserts, small amount of animal protein and lots of vegetables, no seconds at dinner time and an active lifestyle. She then underlined that in today’s world the optimal health requires an attention to our own body, and emphasized the importance of teaching our children healthy habits – staying away from sugary drinks, processed foods, eating fruits for desserts and plenty of vegetables.

Dr. Manoukian led her session in quite an interactive manner, keeping the participants engaged throughout the process. The takeaway for the participants was that healthy living is a long-term commitment, and everyone should take necessary steps to make today healthier than yesterday, paving the way for healthy living tomorrow.

In her presentation, Dr. Ruzanna Ohanjanian addressed issues related to the effects of body image on self-esteem, and emphasized factors that can play big role in forming unhealthy behaviors and increasing the risk of developing various eating disorders.

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“We are not born with a body image – it’s the mental picture that we have of our body: what it looks like, what we believe it looks like, and how we feel about our body”, said Dr. Ohanjanian.

She then highlighted the factors that contribute to body image – family, peers, children toys, the press, movies, television, and social media, underlining the reality that students, especially females, who consume more mainstream media and social media, place a greater importance on sexiness and overall appearance than on   healthy lifestyle. She revealed some statistical numbers highlighting that approximately 80% of women report being unhappy about different aspects of their body and resort to dieting to achieve their ideal look and body shape. Sadly, only 5-8% of women naturally possess the body type often portrayed as perfect and desirable by American mass media. As a result young woman often develop low self-esteem, choose unhealthy diets, over-exercise, use drugs, face cosmetic procedure complications, develop eating disorders, depression and other mental health problems.

Dr. Ohanjanian conducted an interesting historic review of women body images through classical paintings, from canvas of Raphael and Rubens, to modern era. “The unfortunate reality today is that the published image of almost every single celebrity and model is photo-shopped creating unrealistic expectations and affecting self-esteem among young girls and women”, remarked Dr. Ohanjanian.

During this session some tips were provided to help the participants differentiate eating disorders from eating difficulties in children, and how to educate them to make right choices, serving as role models by being a healthy and happy person. Dr. Ohanjanian’s closing remarks were “Focus your thoughts and energy toward the unique and amazing person YOU ARE, rather than focusing on what you believe YOU ARE NOT”.

Throughout her session, Dr. Ohanjanian created a positive and safe environment in the room, which led one of the participants speak up about her own eating disorder that she faced years ago. Dr. Ohanjanian thanked her for opening up and sharing her story.

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There was a questions and answers session for the attendees, who were eager to learn more. The participants also completed a survey to provide valuable feedback and guide the AIWA SF team to plan future workshops and seminars in the Bay Area community.

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To learn more about AIWA, to learn more about AIWA-SF, visit or email usat

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