The title of this post might seem a bit elementary. I mean, isn’t it obvious? On the surface, maybe yes, but Kathy Kater, LICSW, who I had the privilege of hearing speak at the recent Binge Eating Disorder Association conference, talks about it in a way that illuminates the problem so clearly, I thought it worthwhile to share some of her points here.
Kathy is the creator of BodyImageHealth.org, where she provides a “Model for Healthy Body Image” and a curriculum for kids titled “Healthy Body Image: Teaching Kids to Eat and Love Their Bodies Too!” I’m going to share below what Kathy presents as “four toxic myths that underlie the culturally mediated risk factors for most body image, eating, nutrition, fitness and weight problems.” She shared this at the conference but it’s on her site along with many other insightful pieces.
Myth 1: Image is valued over substance
What it means: “How I look” is more important than “who I am.” An essential criterion for the “right” look is a slim/lean body.
How it works: Mass marketing of ultra thin role models as if they were normal has been very effective in creating tremendous appearance anxiety and fear of fatness in individuals who naturally want to be normal and fit in.
Myth 2: Denial of biological diversity
What it means: Anyone can be slim if he or she works at it. Fatter people eat too much and/or are inactive. Fat is bad/wrong and inevitably unhealthy.
How it works: For the drive to be thin to be widely embraced, biological diversity of size and shape has had to be denied. Instead of accepting that weight is influenced by many factors, and that wholesome eating and fitness result in diverse BMIs, the current norm is to mistrust the body’s ability to regulate weight if/when the end result is or might be visible fat.
Myth 3: Denial of the effects of externally prescribed hunger regulation
What it means: Dieting is an effective weight loss strategy.
How it works: Since restrictive eating commonly results in short term weight loss, this is routinely presented as evidence that anyone can be slim(mer) if they “work at it.” “Dieting” continues to be viewed as the primary means to achieve this, even though the basis for its dismal success rate has been well documented and understood since 1950. At least 90% of weight lost through any type of weight loss plan is regained, often with added pounds.
Myth 4: Discounting the value of health; complacency about choices that do not result in the desired lean look
What it means: Eat, drink and be merry… Healthy choices for health’s sake (versus appearance) are too much work!
How it works: When appearance, the drive to be thin, denial of biological size diversity, and the diet mentality dominate, the primary purpose of eating and fitness is lost: “Why eat healthy (or be active) if it won’t make me thin?” Given a market flooded with entertainment foods and sedentary pastime options, the number of people who routinely override their internal weight regulatory system, are poorly nourished, and lack basic fitness increases exponentially.
Kathy presents this as a cycle, with each myth feeding into the next, and the last one restarting the cycle over again as it feeds into valuing image over substance. Her solution: Help people connect with health as a value in its own right, and to take the steps needed to support this value:
- Eat well. Satisfy hunger completely with wholesome foods that provide the varied nutrients your body needs on a regular basis. Enjoy entertainment eating after health needs are met.
- Make fitness an active choice. Spend time and energy in activities that promote lifelong vitality. Enjoy sedentary entertainment after fitness needs are met.
- Accept the size and shape that results as your natural predisposition. Choose role models that make you feel good about who you are.
One of the reasons I love what Kathy has to say is because it agrees with what we’ve been saying at Green Mountain for years. But more than that, it just makes sense. And while it can be hard to take this approach in a society that is so otherwise focused, maybe this FitBriefing we wrote several years ago on accepting our wonderful selves can help get you started.
We’d love to know what you think about what Kathy says.