Culture Plays a Role

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Ever notice how many television ads you see tell you 1) how to lose weight and be happy on this diet or that diet, 2) why you should eat this food because it is healthy and will help you lose weight or lower your cholesterol, 3) that “bad” foods seductively portrayed as delicious, smooth, velvety, creamy, and luscious – will make you feel better emotionally? Ever notice how many magazine ads tell us how we should look in order to be happy, healthy, beautiful, sexy, desirable, and successful?

Ever feel bad, ugly, fat, undesirable, and unhappy while seeing these ads?

When I worked at a drug store as a cashier, I stood across from the magazine racks filled with models and titles telling me how to lose weight, dress right, get the perfect man, etc. I felt bad about myself every time I stood at the register, but didn’t know why. Even after I figured it out, I still couldn’t stop my mind from believing what the magazines told me. Have you ever felt this way?

Reality check – only 2% of us look like the models on the magazine racks yet we are told we should look like them. Because this is the portrait of beauty and success, the rest of us may try to diet to obtain this impossible standard.

This can lead to a cycle of dieting and regaining the weight (often more than you lost), binge/purge cycles, restricting certain foods, or excessive exercise. All of these methods are unhealthy for your body as well as for your soul.

The diet industry knows this and spends billions of dollars every year reminding us through television and radio commercials, magazine ads and stories, news media, television and movies, that fat people are ugly, unhealthy, stupid, sad, angry, undesirable and unsuccessful.

Who wants to be those things? So we diet, we try not to eat, we vomit or use laxatives, we exercise too much or feel bad because we don’t exercise enough. Yet 95% (or more) of diets don’t work.

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Most of us will gain back all the weight or more and feel increasingly out of control with food. In addition, gaining and losing weight is hard on your body and can lead to more health risks, including a full blown eating disorder.

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ome interesting statistics taken from the Council on Size and Weight Discrimination (www.cswd.org):

• Americans spend $50 billion dollars annually on diet products. This is more than the GNP (Gross National Product) of more than half of all the nations in the world, including the entire country of Ireland.

• 70% of normal-weight girls in high school feel fat and are on a diet.

• Over half of the females studied between ages eighteen and twenty-five would prefer to be run over by a truck than to be fat, and two-thirds would choose to be mean or stupid rather than fat.
For more statistics and great information on “sizism,” see the Council on Size and Weight Discrimination website: www.cswd.org.
A Harvard study of Fiji culture provides a grim example of how TV ads impact self image. The study found that before the introduction of TV 3% of women reported vomiting to control weight; only 38 months after the introduction of TV that number climbed to 15%, with 74% reporting feeling “too big or fat” at least sometimes.

Media, society, and diet ads contribute to how we feel about ourselves. How we grow up and our parent’s (and other’s) attitudes about food play a large role as well. You can’t blame these factors (although don’t assume that your past has defeated you…see Council on Size and Weight Discrimination www.cswd.org for ideas).

You have the ability to stop the cycle. You can learn to stop dieting, binging, purging, over exercising or resisting exercise, hating yourself and your body, and feeling shame every time you eat.

Some behavioral changes can make a big difference (see my report “5 Steps Toward Living a Diet Free Life” on my website). I have found that making changes to your relationship with food can have a big impact on how you feel about yourself and your body.

Several books, websites, and articles address the subject. Some of my favorites are: When Food is Love by Geneen Roth and Fat!So? by Marilyn Wann.

If you want or need extra support, consider counseling. Counseling can help you heal the emotions that may be driving your dieting behaviors and holding you back from living your life. You can learn to stop spending all your time thinking about food and your body.

You can have more energy to spend on the important aspects of your life: family, children, friends, and relationships.

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