Paynesville Press - February 19, 2003

Community Perspective

Forget losing healthy

By Janel Meyer

America's obsession with dieting has increased steadily the past 30 years as our culture continually emphasizes the importance of thinness in order to achieve success, health, and happiness. The number of miraculous weight loss pills and magic diets indicate this desire to be shapely at all costs, even your own health.

Yet, the obesity epidemic is on a rampage. How is it possible that the two can coexist?!? Easy. Dieting, as you think of it, doesn't work, and society's ridiculous ideal body size is harmful, wrong, and working against us.

There are several socio-cultural factors that influence ideas about desired body image and dieting: parents, peers, and media. In a study from the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers were able to predict a child's ideas simply by looking at the mother's dieting habits. Children who had mothers dieting currently or recently were more than twice as likely to have ideas about dieting compared to children whose mothers did not diet. Weight concerns were also higher if a family member dieted. Remember that the next time you complain about shedding a couple of pounds in front of your child.

Peers influence each other through swapping information, modeling behaviors, exerting peer pressure, and teasing. This happens at all ages. Self-acceptance is very important and should be the first step at any attempt to improve health or lose weight through diet and exercise.

The media is highly responsible for creating the images we deem acceptable. Many magazines are filled with anorexic-looking models who are air brushed to look 'perfect' and then heavily advertise the products that promise to give just that look.

Diet pills are often endorsed by top fitness trainers and doctors and lead consumers to believe the product is safe. Not true. Approval by the Food and Drug Administration is not required.

Just like everything else in this society, consumers want a quick-fix to their problems. Unfortunately, there is no quick-fix to gaining health or losing weight. It takes hard work and perseverance.

Certainly this is not new information to you. Often, people view obesity and unhealthy eating behaviors as a physiological problem, but in actuality, it is largely psychological. Those who diet end up gaining more weight than those who do not diet. Why? The cycle of yo-yo dieting includes attempts to restrain food intake, followed by overcompensation. Dieting causes the dieter to become preoccupied by thoughts of food and eating, which leads to binge eating behavior.

Each failed attempt produces a greater negative effect, leading dieters to increased chances of body image disturbance, low self-esteem, eating disorders, inadequate nutrient intake, as well as medical and emotional problems.

End this cycle now!

The general idea of dieting seems harmless, but many unsafe practices have grown in popularity. Skipping meals, fasting, intentional vomiting, and use of appetite suppressants/diet pills/laxatives are not healthy!

Healthy dieting equals healthy eating. Eat when you're hungry, not for any other reason, and eat what you want. All foods can fit in a healthy diet. It's just some foods should fit less than others.

I encourage everyone to focus on health rather than weight. Picture this scenario. If one focuses on health, every time you go for a walk, take the stairs, or eat the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables, you WIN!

You may or may not lose weight, but you will be making great strides toward a healthier life. That is positive. That is what's important.

Throw out your scales, focus on health, and weight loss will most likely tag along.

The goal is to eat healthy and increase physical activity without encouraging weight preoccupation, inappropriate eating habits, and extreme amounts of exercise. This line is very easy to cross, which is probably why the problem has grown to such grand proportions.

Society, starting with you, needs to take a good look at what is truly important. Is it weight or is it health? I think you know what my answer is to that.

Janel Meyer is a 1999 PAHS graduate and is now a senior at SDSU majoring in dietetics.

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