Feb 222010
Authors: Helen F. Bowden, Ph.D.

The week of February 23rd to the 26th, it’s time to celebrate EveryBody Week. It’s a time to depart from calorie counting and dieting and to thank your body for all the wonderful things that it lets you do each and every day.

“You are beautiful the way you are!”

Now, there’s a message you rarely, if ever see on TV. In today’s world of mass media and advertising, we are constantly bombarded by images of ultra-thin women like Angelina Jolie and men like Tobey Maguire.

“So what?” you may be thinking. “That’s life.” Well, unfortunately, there is a well-documented connection between TV and magazine consumption and body dissatisfaction/disturbed eating.

Many men and women gaze upon those bronze, muscled Adonises and skinny, unnaturally proportioned goddesses and naturally feel inadequate by comparison. Nowhere in a disclaimer is all the suffering, starvation, hours of make-up and computer retouching that’s involved in creating these seemingly “perfect” images. We are not only made to think that it’s easy, but that we should want to lose weight and become fitness gurus.

That’s why Americans spend $30 to $50 billion dollars a year on weight loss products and $51 billion a year on cosmetics. One study showed that people were spending $180 per pound lost.

Considering that 90 percent of those who lose 25 or more pounds regain the weight that they lose (and usually more) within two years, I’d say that an awful lot of people are being scammed.

The reason: The body has an internal weight that it strives to maintain (a set point), and its metabolism actually slows down when you diet in order to conserve energy and stores up more fat to protect against future restrictive eating.

Dieting, especially yo-yo dieting and restrictive eating, is associated with hypertension, increased serum cholesterol, kidney and heart problems, gastrointestinal problems and even death. Some research indicates that people who are on very low calorie diets have a death rate 40 times higher than the normal population.

But aside from the health risks, think about how much time you actually spend every day thinking or talking about calories, food, fat, weight and exercise. That’s a lot of time each week wasted. And the inevitable outcome is feeling more inadequate and dissatisfied with your body.
Unfortunately, most women do feel badly about their bodies. Women view their bodies unrealistically and believe that they are larger than they are. In fact, one study showed that 70 percent of young women in the U.S. and England thought that they were overweight even though they were within their normal weight range.
So, what can you do about the larger cultural obsession with thinness?

Imagine what would happen if instead of all that wasted time obsessing over body image and food, you funneled that energy into discovering your talents, dreams and unique qualities that make you special, and not what you look like?

Are you an artist, writer, engineer, director or healer at heart? Want to find out?

Invest time in exploring your strengths rather than your weaknesses. Give yourself permission to take care of yourself. Self care does not equal selfish. Take a leisure course on something that you’ve always wanted to try. Make a list of all your great qualities that have nothing to do with appearance and remind yourself about them often. Take up yoga or meditation.

In other words, participate in activities that make you feel good about yourself and your body.

And if you find that you are becoming obsessed with food and exercise so much that it is interfering with your life and well being, get help. Remember, you are so much more than a number on a scale.

For Celebrate EveryBody Week, please join us for the Recovery Panel on Feb. 23rd from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in the Lory Student Center room 228 to hear remarkable stories of struggle and recovery from eating disorders. This week, make a concerted effort to celebrate your body and focus on your strengths. You are worth it.

Helen F. Bowden, Ph.D. is a Licensed Psychologist with the CSU Health Network. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

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