Recently I had the chance to ask Margarita Tartakovsky, an associate editor at Psych Central, a few questions about eating behavior. She blogs regularly about eating and self-image issues on her blog Weightless.
Q. Why doesn’t the current model of treating obesity — only telling people what and how much to eat — work for most people?
A. Great question, because the current model definitely doesn’t work. I can’t remember who said it, but there’s a saying that if you want to gain weight, go on a diet. Diets have a failure rate of about 95 percent. People may lose weight initially but then they usually gain it back and then some.
So this model doesn’t work for many reasons. For one thing, genetics plays a prominent role in our weight. This is why you can have two people who eat the same foods in the same quantities look very different. One may be thin; the other may be considered “overweight.” Our bodies are more complicated than the “calories in, calories out” equation assumes.
Instead of putting people on diets, which don’t work anyway, why not promote engaging in healthy behaviors directly? (By the way, many people have to do some pretty unhealthy things to lose weight and maintain that weight loss.) Instead of focusing on weight loss, focus on moving your body by doing activities that you enjoy — research has shown that fitness is critical for health — eating nutritious foods, getting enough sleep and listening to your body, along with other healthy self-care habits. Practicing these habits does help a person become healthier, whether they lose weight or not.
On a side note, there are plenty of skinny people who aren’t healthy, who smoke, lead sedentary lives and don’t nourish their bodies. But because they’re genetically predisposed to a slimmer frame, we don’t single them out and just assume that they’re healthy. The key is to encourage everyone to engage in healthy habits.
Health At Every Size is an approach that shifts the focus from weight to health. You can learn more here. Also, check out these interviews on Weightless with Linda Bacon, author of Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight — Part 1 and Part 2 and Evelyn Tribole, co-author of Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works — Part 1 and Part 2.
I also just wrote a post about healthy eating on Weightless, which readers might be interested in.
Q. Are there reliable predictors for individuals who may become anorexic or bulimic?
A. Eating disorders are complicated and serious illnesses. A variety of complex factors contribute, including genetics, neurobiology and the environment. There’s a saying that genetics load the gun, and environment pulls the trigger.
Eating disorders tend to run in families. Also, traits such as perfectionism and cognitive rigidity can increase risk. Our appearance- and diet-obsessed culture serves as a trigger along with dieting. For people who are genetically and biologically vulnerable to eating disorders, dieting can serve as a gateway to an ED. But, again, there must be a genetic or biological vulnerability in order for the environment to play a role.
Q. Is there a relationship between ethnicity and anorexia? Or ethnicity and bulimia?
A. In the past, eating disorders were thought of as illnesses that solely strike white women. While the rates of eating disorders seem to be lower in ethnic groups like Asians and African-Americans, eating disorders can affect anyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, age, income, size, shape or sex. As one of my fave bloggers, Carrie Arnold of ED Bites, wrote in a post, “If you’re human, you can get an eating disorder.”
Q. What is the most commonly diagnosed eating disorder? Is there a substantial difference between the number of men and women diagnosed?
A. The most common eating disorder is binge eating disorder. According to the Binge Eating Disorder Association, it affects more than eight million men and women.
In general, more women do struggle with eating disorders. But plenty of men do, too. We used to think that about 10 percent of people with eating disorders were men. But it may be as high as 25 percent. Again, anyone can struggle with an eating disorder.
Q. What is your resolution for the new year?
A. My resolution is to listen to myself and my needs more when it comes to the decisions in my life, big or small. It could be everything from moving my body to eating to pursuing certain creative projects.
Q. Where do you see yourself in five years?
A. I see myself running after a few kids and writing my heart out.