Overcoming the "Diet" Mentality
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I read a great article by Jeffrey Zaslow in today’s Wall Street Journal. In this current piece, he writes about his experience working on an article in the late 1980’s that revolved around a study that showed a high prevalence of dieting behavior among fourth grade girls in California. As part of his research, he asked 100 4th grade girls at different Chicago schools “Are you on a diet?” In the current article, Jeffrey revisits the topic and interviews a few of those he questioned in the 80’s who are all grown up. To this day, many reported they continue to feel the pressure to be thin.
Like many girls, most of my childhood (and especially during my teen years), I stuggled with my weight and my body image. I had pictures of Madonna hanging on my wall and could only dream of weighing 115 pounds on my 5 foot 2 inch frame. During most of high school, I weighed upwards of 30 pounds more than what I considered ideal. Fortunately, though I did not feel great about my body and felt heavy most of the time, I never resorted to behaviors such as bingeing or fasting (though I did sneak some diuretics out of the medicine cabinet thinking a little extra peeing could painlessly make me drop a few pounds—dumb, and potentially dangerous I now realize). I overate and under-exercised (though I was always on the go) and it wasn’t until late college/early adulthood when I was finally on my own that I started improving my behaviors one by one, studying nutrition, and taking better care of myself.
I ultimately became a registered dietitian and author. Since my high weight in high school, I have successfully lost and maintained a significant 30 plus pound weight loss. My weight and body fat have incrementally gone down, as my muscle mass has increased and as my mental attitude about food and my body shape and weight have improved markedly. I gave birth to two boys who are now 11 and 7 which only enhanced my motivation to get healthier. I am mostly a healthy eater, rely on small portions, love to cook, and love to exercise and move my body.
How did I do it? Somehow, over the years (and no doubt in the process of becoming a registered dietitian), I made the mental connection that helped me transform my body and attitudes in a healthy way. I am not in perfect shape, nor do I have even a close to perfect body (whatever that means!), but have learned to accept and embrace my body (and the physical and emotional scars of weight fluctuations and bad self-esteem that go along with it). Through my work, I have tried to turn my negative, challenging experiences into positive ones and use them as well as the science of nutrition and behavior modification techniques to help others change their habits and their lives. I have worked with women, mothers, and even grandmothers to help them once and for all come to terms with their own bodies, whatever size and shape they are, nourish themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually, to enjoy food and fitness, and by their example improve the likelihood they will pass on these qualities to their children and/or others around them– to get rid of the guilt when they indulge, to practice positive self-talk, to stop dieting once and for all, and to start living and enjoying life.
I can tell you from my own experience that spending time and energy taking care of yourself, playing up your strengths and good qualities as well as those of your family members and friends, and making time to be physically active and do exercise you enjoy pays unlimited dividends. Isn’t it better to spend time doing that than to lament about how big your thighs are, or how much you weigh, or how you wish you could look like someone else? There really is personal power in positive thinking. Life is too short to sweat an imperfect body; instead we should focus on what we love about ourselves and others, set personal goals for creating and maintaining healthful food and fitness habits, and set a powerful and good example for those around us (especially our children, male or female) so they have a good shot at growing up without all the body image and weight baggage many of us still carry around with us.
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