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The American obsession with weight loss is unrealistic; moreover, it’s also harmful
by Kim Barto
CITIZEN-TIMES.com (Asheville, NC)
September 14, 2006
You won’t believe this, but Spain’s top fashion show recently rejected models for being too thin. That’s right—somewhere in hell, a snowball is having the last laugh.
The show’s organizers told the Associated Press that they want to encourage an image of health and beauty instead of emaciation. Hopefully, this unprecedented action will start a trend. As long as the starvation look is in vogue, millions of women and men will suffer from disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.
America is obsessed with dieting, and it’s taking a toll. The country that invented the fast-food greaseburger has now seen the rate of eating disorders double since the 1960s, according to the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Up to 60 percent of high school girls diet, and even more worry about their weight.
The Eating Disorders Coalition estimates that millions of Americans are diagnosed annually, and anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Worse, the patients keep getting younger. Something is deeply wrong with a society that fosters self-loathing in seven-year-old girls.
The problem is the prevailing attitude that equates thinness with good health and happiness. Combine this with a grossly distorted view of what is normal, and it’s no wonder that so many people hate their bodies.
In reality, a wide variety of body types are normal, depending on one’s bone structure, metabolism and genetics. It is fruitless and misleading to expect everyone to conform to the same weight. Whether you are naturally muscular, chunky, twiggy, curvy or tiny, trying to change your body can be frustrating and even dangerous.
When people try to make the body thinner than it is genetically programmed to be, it retaliates by becoming ravenous and vulnerable to binge eating, according to ANRED (Anorexia Nervosa and Related Eating Disorders), a nonprofit organization against eating disorders.
Ninety-eight percent of dieters regain all the weight they manage to lose, plus about 10 extra pounds, within five years.
The editors of the New England Journal of Medicine concluded in 1998 that, “(s)ince many people cannot lose much weight no matter how hard they try and promptly regain whatever they do lose, the vast amount of money spent on diet clubs, special foods and over-the-counter remedies, estimated to be on the order of $30 billion to $50 billion yearly, is wasted.”
There is no magic pill to keep weight off, no matter what the advertisers would have you believe.
Those that are effective are only minimally so, and they often carry serious health risks. Remember Fen-Phen?
What a paradox, that dieting should be such a lucrative industry in a country with such high obesity rates. Someone is obviously profiting from fat phobia in a big way. Take a nation of insecure people, bombard them with images of impossible beauty standards, and they will greet the latest fad with open wallets.
Couldn’t those billions of dollars be better spent? Instead of trying to buy happiness, think of all the good that money could do if diverted to cancer research or stamping out hunger.
Rather than focusing on weight loss at any cost, we should aim for good health at any size. Too many dieters harm their bodies and psyches by skipping meals, purging and popping pills in the quest for skinniness. We should eat for nutrition and well-being, not solely to lose weight. Amidst all the deprivation and guilt associated with eating, we often forget that fresh, simple food is a joy in itself.
Likewise, our use of language reinforces the idea of exercise as a punishment for the body. Instead of saying “feel the burn” or “no pain, no gain,” try “feel good.”
Exercising releases serotonin, the brain chemical that causes you to feel happy. Find an activity that you enjoy, be it swimming, cycling or salsa dancing — it doesn’t have to be a torture session on the Stairmaster.
When you make time to be active, feel your body growing stronger and stay away from the scale. Movement is supposed to be fun. If you doubt this, go outside with your kids, assuming they’re not video game addicts, and watch them play tag in the backyard.
Better yet, join them!
America needs a change in mindset — let’s embrace diversity of size and question the source of our insecurities. Find the weight that’s healthy for you, individually, without comparing yourself to the skeletal models on TV. Life is too short to hate your body.
Kim Barto is a senior at the UNCA majoring in photography with minors in mass communication and French. She also works in human resources for the U.S. Forest Service. Her columns appear on alternate Thursdays. Horray for Kim!