What If Your Body Isn’t The Problem

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This blog was originally published here on November 7, 2014.

To anyone suffering with an eating disorder, disordered eating, body shame and anyone who has been convinced that their body is the only thing standing between them and inner peace, higher quality of life, increased self-esteem, meaningful relationships and finally feeling “okay;” To anyone that has tricked into believing that life would be “so much better” if they “just changed this one thing” about their body and I’m even talking to you “just five more pounds and I’ll be good” thinkers. Please ask yourself the following questions –

1. What percentage of my daily thoughts are centered around how much I dislike my body?

2. What percentage of my daily thoughts are centered around how much better my life will be once I lose the weight?

3. What percentage of my daily thoughts are centered around the food I shouldn’t eat?

4. What percentage of my daily thoughts are centered around how much I dislike my body and how much better my life will be once I change my weight?

5. Do I frequently compare my body and behaviors related to food and exercise to others around me?

6. Do I feel like I’m constantly waiting for my real life to start, after I finally have the body I think is acceptable?

7. How long have I thought this way?

If any of your answers are concerning to you at all; even if it’s just the smallest voice inside that says something like, “Wow; has this worry really taken over that much of my life? What am I missing out on by spending so much time and effort distracted by this pursuit?” Consider asking yourself one final question – “What if my body isn’t the problem?”

Dr. Evelyn Tribole said it most eloquently, “In our society, the pursuit of thinness (whether for health or physique)—has become the battle cry of seemingly every American.” In other words, you are not alone. It’s not a stretch for most to already understand and agree that we are indoctrinated with images all day long implying our bodies are unacceptable. Billboards, commercials, magazine covers, mainstream television, the fashion industry, the diet and fitness industries are all wrought with a very lucrative motive to make us not feel good enough. This bleeds over into everyday conversations with family members, friends, and even the workplace.

The National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA) reports, “Dieting and weight control strategies reflect how dissatisfied an individual is with her or his own body size and shape. Besides being associated with the onset of eating disorders, these behaviors alone can be dangerous to one’s health.”

Here is some more information NEDA has gathered, particularly with regards to how our youth are impacted –

  • 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner (Collins, 1991).

  • In elementary school fewer than 25% of girls diet regularly. Yet those who do know what dieting involves and can talk about calorie restriction and food choices for weight loss fairly effectively (Smolak, 2011; Wertheim et al., 2009).

  • 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat (Mellin et al., 1991).

  • 46% of 9-11 year-olds are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets, and 82% of their families are “sometimes” or “very often” on diets (Gustafson-Larson & Terry, 1992).

  • Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives (Neumark-Sztainer, 2005).

  • 35-57% of adolescent girls engage in crash dieting, fasting, self-induced vomiting, diet pills, or laxatives. Overweight girls are more likely than normal weight girls to engage in such extreme dieting (Boutelle, Neumark-Sztainer, Story, & Resnick, 2002; Neumark-Sztainer&Hannan, 2001; Wertheim et al., 2009).

  • Even among clearly non-overweight girls, over 1/3 report dieting (Wertheim et al., 2009).

  • Girls who diet frequently are 12 times as likely to binge as girls who don’t diet (Neumark-Sztainer, 2005).

  • The average American woman is 5’4” tall and weighs 165 pounds. The average Miss America winner is 5’7” and weighs 121 pounds (Martin, 2010).

  • The average BMI of Miss America winners has decreased from around 22 in the 1920s to 16.9 in the 2000s. The World Health Organization classifies a normal BMI as falling between 18.5 and 24.9 (Martin, 2010).

  • 95% of all dieters will regain their lost weight in 1-5 years (Grodstein, Levine, Spencer, Colditz, &Stampfer, 1996; Neumark-Sztainer, Haines, Wall, & Eisenberg, 2007).

  • 35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20-25% progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders (Shisslak, Crago, & Estes, 1995).

  • Of American, elementary school girls who read magazines, 69% say that the pictures influence their concept of the ideal body shape. 47% say the pictures make them want to lose weight (Martin, 2010).

Doesn’t it make you just a little bit mad? It’s sickening. If you read the above statistics and are wanting to try something different in your quest for inner peace, higher quality of life, increased self-esteem, meaningful relationships, and feeling a higher satisfaction and purpose in your life, I offer that altering your body is not the simple answer we would all like to believe exists and the answer is certainly not found by holding onto the idea that our body is the enemy and that it must be controlled.

For those who have known someone with an eating disorder, it doesn’t matter the actual size or image peers may have about one’s body, it’s their own perception that is the driving influence behind the constant feelings of inadequacy, unworthiness, and failure. The even scarier reality is that we don’t have to develop a full-blown eating disorder to still experience the same conflict, frustrations, and fruitless obsessions. It is heartbreaking to see how many amazing people, young and old, male and female, and cross-culturally are impacted by constant feelings of inadequacy related to the perception they have of their bodies. I made a choice years ago to never go back to that lifestyle and it’s been one of the most fulfilling parts of my career to get to witness so many others find their way out of that prison.

See below for more resources you find this information interesting or helpful.

Intuitive Eating, A Revolutionary Program That Works. By: Evelyn Tribole

Women, Food, and God: An Unexpected Path to Almost Everything. By: Geneen Roth

Beauty Redefined: Taking Back Beauty for Females Everywhere

The Body Image Workbook: An Eight-Step Program for Learning to Like Your Looks. By: Thomas Cash, PhD

National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA)

The Exercise Balance: What’s Too Much, What’s Too Little, and What’s Just Right for You! By: Pauline Powers, MD and Ron Thompson, PhD

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