The Super Bowl is over – Fly EAGLES Fly! – but the effects of all those unhealthy snacks and drinks may last for a few more days or weeks. So it is with us Americans – we tend to live between holidays in a state of regret and shame. To make matters worse, we position these holidays every 3-5 weeks apart, barely giving us time to reset our lifestyle priorities.
But this gorge-purge or gorge-groan cycle has long-lasting consequences as well. For one thing, they tend to make us feel ‘bad’ about ourselves, prompting self-abnegating comments such as “I feel fat” or “I have bad self-control”, setting us up for repetitive patterns that reinforce those very self-impressions and self-expressions.
What prompts this conversation is a recent study out of Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. By exposing subjects to pictures of people of all shapes and sizes, and recording the time spent reviewing them, the researchers found that those who spent more time looking at “thin” bodies tended to judge “normal” bodies – and themselves – as “fat”.
Now turn on the TV, watch any movie, read any popular magazine and what do you see- thin bodies?
In other words, we have this constant bombardment of ‘thin’ which reinforces for most of us that we are ‘fat’ and subsequently lazy, uncontrolled/uncontrollable slugs not worthy of self- let alone other-respect. We are thus made to feel ‘fat’, a feeling that simply does not exist!
Could this feeling make some of us binge, purge or over-diet to the point of a true psychological disease like anorexia nervosa? I don’t know. But I do know, from years in the fitness business, that many people are overly concerned with their weight and body size for all the wrong reasons: looks vs health.
We fitness professionals make a living reinforcing the benefits of healthful exercise, and some venture into the realm of healthful eating. But this comes at a cost to many who obsess over body size and body image. It’s challenging, of course, to try shifting attention toward health when it comes to eating, let alone dietinghttps://stepsfitness.com/does-chronic-dieting-cause-hunger-signaling-to-fail/.
Having worked with what was once called the Eating Disorders Coalition of Tennessee, now called Renewed Support , which focused on disordered eating and body image issues that manifest as serious mental and medical health issues such as anorexia and binge eating disorders, I learned the power of the social consequences of a thinness-oriented culture.
My struggle as (1) a lean, fit, (formerly) athletic exercise professional (2) who’d always dated and twice married lean, fit, athletic women, and as the (3) father of two daughters was to navigate the tightrope of health vs appearancehttps://stepsfitness.com/diet-inclusive-vs-exclusive-or-both/ without making them neurotic about body image, food and/or exercise. The best I could have hoped for was and is that they’d grow up with solid images and concepts of who they were as people and as women such that diet and exercise were simply health measures.
I’ll let time and circumstances play out for them and for our relationship as a whole, but I do know that it has been a challenge for one of them and an internalized battle for the other to come to grips with their upbringing and their cultural surroundings. It is painful to hear one’s kids – they’re both adults now and can express things they could not or would not as kids – talk about themselves in negative terms despite their obvious successes; and to hear how their bodies contribute to or significantly define those challenges despite what I felt were my best efforts at not ‘going there’. (Yes, the mom plays a role in this issue, too, but I’d be a fool to point fingers elsewhere with objectivity.)
But back to my main point here: we live in a time and place where all of us are bombarded with anti-fat messages, where women are more at risk for these even as they are couched in health terms rather than looks terms, and where both genders have incorporated the messages in mostly-unhealthy social and psychological constructs.
When a picture can influence how we view others and ourselves, who we judge worthy and not, and when we accept a person for who they are vs what they look like, we’re beyond our caveman-ancestors in the wrong direction. They drew pictures to represent those who struggled to survive, without judgment on if they deserved to survive. Today, we show pictures of who deserves to be well-judged, who deserves to succeed, who deserves to prosper, who deserves to be happy – and doing so, we consign a significant majority of our fellow humanoids to a place no one should have to live for such a superficial qualification.
It’s not yet time but maybe we’ll get there, to a place where people will judge themselves and others on qualities other than appearance, and especially not on thinness. Until then, though, get up, move around, have a piece of fruit or something wholesome, for health. And let the chips fall where they might.