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Minding the Media: 9 Eating Lessons from Magazines

Women’s magazines are always filled with tons of tips. Here’s what I learned from December/January issues of popular fitness and health publications.

1. At your family dinner or office party, concentrate your efforts on making the right food decisions and always choose the lighter fare.

Women’s Health tells us to select sliced ham instead of a turkey drumstick, mashed potatoes over stuffing and large olives over a handful of mixed nuts. The magazine also dishes out recipes for “gravy that won’t go to your gut,” “finger food without all the fat,” and “don’t-get-fat French toast.”

2. Also, consider your choice of accessories wisely. It could end up ruining your dieting efforts.

On that same page of Women’s Health: “Carry a cute clutch. You’ll look great, and have only one free hand to reach for the hors d’oeuvres, says Philip Andriano, the chef behind the Chefs Diet meal-delivery service.”
— as opposed to the traditional purse option where you’ll have both hands available to pile on pounds of appetizer to your plate.

3. Everything is a quick fix away — it only takes days, minutes and seconds to transform your looks, body and even sex appeal.

  • Women’s Health: “Flat Abs! Firm Butt! Lean Thighs! Fit In Just 7 Minutes”
  • Fitness: Blast Fat Fast: Toned arms, legs in less than 20 minutes
  • Self: Look 100% Sexier in 7 Minutes

4. We should strive for health and finally stop fretting over five pounds.

Self: “Set a big-picture goal. Rather than obsessing over 5 pounds or trying to fit in to your skinny jeans, focus on being healthy and reducing your long-term heart disease risk. ‘When you realize you are making the choice to exercise because you want to be fit for life, you’re driven to the larger positive outcome,’ [health psychologist] McGonigal says.”

Self Magazine December 2008

Am I the only one finding it hard to stop worrying about my weight and slipping into those skinny jeans when there are photos of slim women wearing skimpy workout clothes, clearly illustrating today’s unrealistic thin ideal? Though this is perfectly good advice, these words of wisdom go right out the window when a photo speaks such contrary volumes.

5. Take your magazine’s advice, if you can understand it.

On page 22 of Health magazine, we’re told to add more “water-content foods,” which “each have at least 90 percent water” into our diets. This includes lush veggies, such as broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower.

Fast forward to page 70, however [in “Star diet tricks that honestly work (and two that just don’t)”], and tip #3 advises us to be picky about our veggies, just like certain celebs:

“A few days before a be-seen event, some Los Angeles nutritionists and trainers tell their clients to put gas-producing produce like cauliflower and broccoli on the blacklist. Nutritionist Carrie Wiatt has Denise Richards and Fergie stock up instead on watery veggies and fruits like lettuce, celery, cucumbers…”

If you’re thinking “but aren’t broccoli and cauliflower watery veggies?” like you mentioned earlier, don’t worry, we’re also confused.

6. A two-part lesson: Dieting is virtuous, but even though you think you’re a food angel, you still might be committing certain sins.

Health: “You get dressing on the side, you take your chicken grilled, not fried, and you’ve never met a vegetable you didn’t like. If you’re so virtuous, why can’t you shake that extra weight off? Stop polishing your halo, and consider this: You may be eating more than you realize.”

Let’s offer a word of advice to Health: When presenting tips on healthful eating, please do it in a way that doesn’t characterize dieting as a virtue and in general doesn’t make women feel bad if they haven’t been a “saint.”

7. Potatoes are “danger zones.”

Health: “Scalloped potatoes: 555 calories, 34g fat. Looks safe enough, but you can’t see the stick of butter and extra cheese in there…lose the danger-zone potatoes.”

True, over 500 calories for potatoes isn’t healthy — all the time. But isn’t it okay to savor a scrumptious meal at least once a year?

8. View food as calories you’ll need to burn off later.

Health: “Burn it off in three ways” features a small glass of eggnog at 237 calories and offers three workouts for shedding the sweet treat: sledding “on a snowy hill for 32 minutes;” 45 minutes of “preshopping power-walking”; and a “27-minute minicircuit.”
So, you can have that eggnog and indulge if you will, but just remember it’ll cost you.

But it isn’t the extra exercise you’ll punish yourself with in order to compensate for your eggnog transgression that will cost you. Or those extra 237 calories should you decide to skip the sled. Instead, it’s viewing a delicious dessert as something you must burn off, rather than kicking back and enjoying your eggnog. Working off those calories creates a mindset that forces you to focus less on health and more on weight loss and restriction. You turn exercise from a fun, feel-great activity into a compensatory one.

9. Don’t worry about your weight, but worry about your weight.

On page 82, Health tells us to relax: “Enjoy a little extra cushion. Don’t fret if you put on a few pounds over the holidays. The extra weight can boost your immune system by increasing energy preserves, according to research from Indiana University at Bloomington.”

Oh phew!

Not so fast: “Just make sure to burn off the added weight by winter’s end,” according to the magazine.

Also, don’t forget to steer clear of the “danger-zone potatoes” and to put your stress and body hatred on the side.

The Bottom Line

Because that’s really what many of these publications are promoting. Though you’ll certainly find valuable advice, the overall messages are more harmful than helpful, encouraging stressing over your food intake, worrying about your weight and constantly calculating your calories.

What you find inside these pages is rigid standards on eating and appearance with plenty of “musts:” You must be on a diet (with dressing on the side, of course); and if you aren’t, you’re somehow not “virtuous;” you must restrict how much you eat and inevitably feel guilty if you (gasp) indulge in a non-low-cal dessert; you must view food solely as fuel or something that must be burned off immediately.

During these holidays, however, instead of stressing about the spread or getting a clutch so you consume fewer hors d ‘oeuvres, savor your meal, savor the moments and savor the time spent with your loved ones. Leading a healthy, active lifestyle is very important, but unrealistic, stringent standards don’t need to rule your life.

Minding the Media: 9 Eating Lessons from Magazines

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor and regular contributor at Psych Central. Her Master's degree is in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. In addition to writing about mental disorders, she blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her Psych Central blog, Weightless.

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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2018). Minding the Media: 9 Eating Lessons from Magazines. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 5, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 26 Dec 2008)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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