Is food your enemy and your best friend? Do you despair when you catch sight of yourself in a mirror or even when friends applaud your slender figure? A nagging voice in your head warns, “Watch out! The pounds are just waiting to sneak in there.”
Women in particular wrestle with how they feel about the weight and shape of their bodies. According to surveys, four out of five women in the United States are dissatisfied with how they look. Weight control is a hot topic in every magazine for women.
“It’s not fair!” complained Janelle. “How come I suffer like this when my sister, Aunt Patti, and Carol at work eat exactly what they want and never step on a scale?”
Like Janelle, do you restrict yourself to lettuce and celery for days — or even months — only to find yourself racing for that double frosted mocha cake just when you swore you’d never touch the stuff again? You’re not alone.
Food deprivation, purging, and dieting are common reactions to society’s obsession with being thin. Yet more than half of American women are overweight. Conflict about what and how much to eat suppresses the normal body responses of hunger and satisfaction. Restricting food intake stifles the instinct to satisfy hunger.
Ann peered at herself in the mirror, then focused on her stomach. “Just like a balloon,” she complained to herself, pinching it irritably. Heaving a sigh, Ann regarded her body critically. Breasts not bad, a 34, maybe a tiny bit small, but a good shape, high and well formed. She scanned her stomach again. The morning sit-ups had done nothing to flatten her tummy.
Ann went on and off diets regularly, sampling them from the sensible to the outrageous. Low fat, high fat, low carb, high protein, no grains, liquids only. She even tried diet pills. Still she kept losing and gaining those same 15 pounds above her goal weight over and over again.
Each morning, before her weigh-in ritual, she denied herself even a sip of water, scared that it would add hated pounds. She supported herself with one hand on the bathroom counter to keep the numbers on the scale from creeping up. Then she was overwhelmed with relief if the pendulum swung to the left; but if it went to the right, she plunged into desperation.
“The last three men were disasters,” Ann moaned. “I’ll never attract Mr. Right unless I can get down to goal weight and slim this stomach!”
Ann was a veteran of the diet wars. She failed with each one because when faced with a shortage of calories the body naturally reacts by conserving fat. Overeating is a reaction to dieting. When the strict routine is broken, the weight is regained in fat. Metabolism slows down so it becomes progressively more difficult to lose weight. Statistics show only a 2% to 5% permanent success rate with diets.
Charisse Goodman, author of The Invisible Woman, says our culture is “diet-happy.” America is obsessed with thinness. We have the diets and the dieters and the diet clubs. Before and after diet testimonials promise nirvana. 65 million Americans and half of all women are dieting at any one time.
The roots of standards of beauty being imposed on women are economic. Each year, the diet industry earns between 40 and 60 billion dollars. This includes diet centers and programs, diet camps, over-the-counter and prescription diet drugs, weight-loss books and magazines; exercise clubs, and sugar-free, fat-free, and reduced calorie (“lite”) food products. While many weight loss foods are necessary for medical conditions such as diabetes, they do contain harmful ingredients such as high sodium and unsafe flavorings and preservatives.
Certainly the diet industry is flourishing as never before despite the high failure rates of diets. During any one year over 50% of Americans go on a diet to lose weight. Two-thirds of dieters regain the weight within a year, and 97% have gained it back in five years. A third of dieters develop serious eating disorders. Estronaut, a forum for women’s health, cites a recent study showing that adolescent girls who dieted severely were 18 times more likely to develop an eating disorder than girls who didn’t diet.
The solution? Don’t diet. Rather look at what you really are hungry for. A new job, partner, place to live? What are your dreams and desires? Feeling lonely and alienated? Disconnected? What do you need for life satisfaction? And what steps do you need to take to get it? It’s your heart that’s hungry — not your body!
Dieting photo available from Shutterstock