What does “healthy” look like?

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot lately, now that there are national movements like Let’s Move to fight obesity and improve our nutritional and fitness status.  For someone with an eating disorder looking healthy may have a negative connotation equated with gaining weight.  For someone who wants to lose weight, it means getting “thin”.

The shift that is occurring has resulted in shows like the Biggest Loser  that can be inspirational, as we can all relate to the personal struggles of the contestants whether we are facing a similar issue or a different type of challenge in our lives.  Many corporations are instituting wellness incentive programs to address health issues that drive up the cost of health care and insurance premiums.  One may argue that these are for the good of everyone, but here are the parts of this equation that are disturbing to me:

1) People’s reactions to weight loss – It makes me uncomfortable to watch the friends and family of the people who have undergone their huge weight loss and makeovers, telling them how good they now look and how happy they are for them.  I know this is all done in the name of encouragement but it also seems to imply that the way they were before was unacceptable. This is fine for those home makeover shows, but seems a bit more questionable when it comes to another human being.

2) Dieting in the Workplace – At the beginning of every new year, the Biggest Loser contests in the work-place start again, with people lining up for weekly weigh-ins, crowding the local fitness centers, counting carbs, fats, sugars, or all of the above, and incessantly discussing their successes or failures to eat “right”.  Many do lose weight, only to gain it back by the beginning of the next year. This is the time of year I hate the most, because it brings back memories of all the years I wasted obsessing about my body. There is nothing more awkward than having to dodge a co-worker so that you don’t have to hear about what they ate that day.  Meanwhile, there is usually a pile of cookies or candy in the corridor that someone has brought in because they don’t want them at home any more.

3) Striving for the perfect body – In a time when increasing healthcare costs are a hot  topic, it makes sense to look at ways to decrease these costs and improve our overall health.  However, it seems like a lot of people are equating a certain look (thin) with health.  In addition, many people are now striving for a look that can only be achieved by countless hours of training and dieting that are typical of most elite athletes. This extreme attitude can actually lead to a different set of problems that may ultimately have a negative effect on one’s health.

4)  Lack of proof that dieting works  – In order to develop policies that will assist people to maintain good health and avoid developing an obsession that may lead to a rebound effect as many diets do, I believe it will take some time to figure out the best approach for keeping our bodies healthy, no matter what  body type. This is where good data can come in handy to sort out what works and what doesn’t.  In the meantime, I will resist the urge to get caught up in the latest fads which don’t really teach realistic ways to manage our health.

I found the concept of Intuitive Eating to be very helpful when I was recently struggling with body image issues that resulted from the changes that have occurred in my body after menopause. Whenever I have the urge to try to lose a few pounds, I remind myself to leave it be. The truth is, I am happier and feel better now than I ever did when the scale told me I was “thin”.  I will remain satisfied with my body as long as I tune out the images of a body type that I will never achieve.  I now prefer to focus on learning to create a loving environment for myself and those around me.

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