Mixed Messaging: The Ideal Body Image and The Obesity Epidemic
We live in a media-saturated culture consisting of movies, magazines, television and internet messaging emphasizing the “ideal” body image and the desire to be thin or muscular. Many people believe that society’s depiction of the “perfect” body size and weight equates to achievement and acceptance.
However, constant exposure to various forms of media may be damaging to one’s body image, which refers to one’s perception and beliefs surrounding the attractiveness of their own body.
Psychologists found strong evidence linking increased media exposure to body image concerns, dieting and a drive for thinness. Approximately 91 percent of women are unhappy with their bodies and resort to dieting to achieve their ideal body size, yet only 5% of women naturally possess the body type often portrayed in the media6.
Studies also report that males have issues with body image. Over 90% of men struggle in some way with body dissatisfaction and negative thoughts towards themselves7.
At the same time, society has also seen an increase* in body weight and nutrition-related diseases. With almost two-thirds of the U.S. population being overweight or obese and heart disease and diabetes on the rise, it is no wonder* that people are looking for ways to lose* weight and/or change their diet1.
According to the 2017 Food and Health Survey, almost 96% of Americans seek out health benefits from what they eat and drink, with the top benefit being weight loss*. In fact, 57% of Americans are trying to lose* weight. However, in find conflicting advice about what to eat and many doubt their food choices10.
The current food and diet discussion is gaining momentum and information found in the media is driving beliefs and changes. With 57% of Americans trying to lose* weight, more and more people are turning to online sources for advice about diet and nutrition15. Out of 2 million Americans online, 44% report searching topics on diet and nutrition4.
In most cases, media headlines and articles were at or near the top of the sources that altered consumers’ opinions10. With today’s vast information, it is easy for companies to mislead people with false, exaggerated claims* often offering, “The Magic* Bullet” to weight loss*; the diet industry alone makes almost $20 billion per year9.
The Low-Down On Diets
Today, the term diet is commonly associated with weight loss*. Using diet in this context often includes restrictive eating that seeks to reduce* calories and/or eliminate* certain foods and food groups in an attempt to lose* weight. However, the true fundamental meaning of diet is, “the food and drink regularly provided or consumed.”
It can also be used to describe the kind and amount of food someone eats for a special reason including religion, beliefs or medical conditions (i.e. vegetarian diet, diabetic diet)3. Neither of these definitions focus on weight loss* but rather an eating lifestyle.
An estimated 45 million Americans go on a diet each year9. Unfortunately, many restrictive, weight-loss driven diets are not only detrimental to one’s health, but can also be counterproductive.
The adoption of yo-yo dieting, where someone jumps from diet to diet in an attempt to lose* weight, can be the most detrimental. Yo-yo dieting behavior slows down metabolism, making weight loss* more challenging.
In addition, deprivation and reduced* calorie diets may lead to over eating and bingeing, which often results in regaining weight. In fact, around 8 in 10 of those, who lose* weight by dieting, regain the weight within a year5.
Demand For Transparency
The good news is that there is a shift occurring – less* people are going on deprivation-type diets and instead, shifting their attention to an overall healthier lifestyle.
According to Business Insider, one of the three most important factors that consumers look for in determining whether they would use a diet plan was whether it encouraged “long term healthy habits.2” This might explain why programs such as Whole 30 have become so popular!
The 2016 Label Insight Food Revolution Study confirms that our society is in the midst of a food revolution. Ten years ago when people wanted to eat healthy, they would turn to low calorie, frozen meals and “100 Calorie” snack packs.
However, when purchasing food today, more than 71 percent of people consider whether they have access to the full list of a product’s ingredient information8.While counting calories is going out of style, Americans are changing behaviors based on what they know about their food and moving towards a more holistic approach10.
Adopting A Lifestyle Vs. A Means To An End
So what is healthy eating and is it the same as dieting? The answer is simple. Healthy eating is a lifestyle, while dieting for weight loss* is a means to an end. Dieting focuses on restricting and limiting the foods you eat, while healthy eating focuses on adding and including better* foods into your diet.
Eating healthy involves a balanced intake of all key food groups, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, dairy and healthy fats.
A good rule of thumb is to imagine fitting the food you eat on a daily basis onto a plate – half of your plate should consist of fruits and vegetables, while the other half is comprised of whole grains and lean proteins. Variety is key to any healthy eating pattern. Although it is tempting to stick to the same foods every day, varying the foods you eat allows for a better* mix of different nutrients.
The emphasis is no longer based from a number on a scale, but rather the feeling and overall health of an individual. Healthy eating is an empowering approach that allows you to make educated decisions about the foods you eat. It embraces balanced with wholesome, nutritious foods that you enjoy.
Does that mean you only eat organic foods, fruits and vegetables? No. A healthy eating pattern allows you to enjoy all kinds of foods; the key is moderation. For instance, if you have a slice (or two) of pizza for lunch, then try to have something lighter for dinner (maybe a salad or broiled chicken with steamed veggies).
By focusing on healthy eating habits versus dieting to lose* weight or have the “ideal” body image, you learn to incorporate small changes that lead to an overall healthier lifestyle and improved* well-being; the pressure to follow rules and eliminate* foods is over.
What it comes down to, is recognizing foods to eat more and the foods to eat less*. Healthy eating is not a “one size fits all” approach. It includes finding what works best for you and your lifestyle.
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In-Post Image: Shutterstock.com & unitypoint.org