The saturation of weight loss programs and diets in our society has reached unprecedented proportions. In the US, the private weight loss industry is a $58.6 billion a year industry. You can hardly turn on the TV, listen to the radio or read a popular magazine without seeing commercials announcing the latest and greatest weight loss techniques and methods. Coupled with the media focus on the “thin ideal,” it can be hard for one to get a handle on what a healthy body should look like. But more importantly, we’ve lost sight of what a healthy body should feel like.
Fortunately, health professionals and the medical community, as well as private organizations have taken notice and are working towards shifting our focus from weight loss to improving overall health. Eating disorder organizations are also urging a paradigm shift in thinking from a focus on appearance and weight loss to focusing on maintaining overall health.
Weight is just one indicator of one’s overall health status. Society’s focus on appearance and the thin ideal has been linked to the development of low self-esteem and depression, and an unhealthy body image, all of which may increase risk for the development of an eating disorder.
For a shift to occur, we must create realistic images of what that portray health first, then weight and focus on the following:
- Realization that weight is personalized and unique to an individual. There is not a perfect number on the scale for every person to attain.
- Discussions should be centered on gradual and moderate weight loss over time and not on one-size fits all diets or extreme diets that promise unrealistic results. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, a modest weight loss of 5-10 percent can significantly improve health and reduce risks for heart disease, cancer, stroke and high blood pressure.
- Understand that the amount a person weighs does not determine how healthy they are. Overweight individuals who are active and have healthy diets are at lower risks for health problems such as those listed above than are thin, inactive individuals.
- Since our earliest models for how we should feel about our bodies begin at home, it’s important for parents to be good role models for their children. They can do this by focusing on other assets or qualities their children exhibit other than just their appearance. They can also do this by avoiding negative conversations about their own bodies.
Evidence shows that when healthy choices such as eating more healthily and being more active are in place health risks are minimized. If we can shift our focus to health first, then weight we are more likely to reach our own individual healthy weight and to feel better as well!