The hottest days of the year are approaching faster than any quick weight-loss program can promise to melt away the pounds you resolved to lose January 1st. Does the thought of wearing revealing summer clothing have you anxiously sweating more than the solstitial heat?
It’s no secret that we live in a diet-obsessed and beauty-crazed society. Just turn on the TV and count the seconds before you catch an ad for the latest weight-loss fad followed by seductive images of a perfectly proportioned supermodel biting into a fast-food chain’s hamburger. No wonder so many women and men are feeling the pressure to achieve society’s narrow definitions of “beauty.” As a matter of fact, weightism may be the last socially acceptable prejudice in our culture — occurring more frequently than gender or age discrimination (Puhl, Andreyeva, & Brownell, 2008).
Fighting our body’s natural weight and size may begin as an innocuous effort to increase self-esteem yet can quickly unravel to a serious and potentially life-threatening illness. Nearly 20 million women and 10 million men will suffer from an eating disorder in their lifetime — the deadliest of all mental illnesses. In a recent interview with PEOPLE magazine, Iron Man 3 actor, Ashley Hamilton, disclosed his struggles with bulimia and substance abuse as well as the shame associated with food addiction amongst men. He stated:
“When I speak at meetings I have people come up to me and say I suffer from it, too, but I’m too afraid to talk about it because it’s so painful. It’s almost like drug addiction is totally acceptable to talk about in Hollywood. But food addiction? Nobody wants to talk about that. It’s really shameful as a man to have that.”
Weight-loss obsession can lead to an unhealthy preoccupation with “clean eating” now commonly identified as Orthorexia. The term describes disordered eating behaviors often heralded by society as self-control yet hidden under the guise of health. What’s wrong with “clean eating” you ask? An extreme fixation with eliminating many types of foods or ingredients can lead to malnutrition, social isolation, and severe obsessional thinking. Dr. Steven Bratman, the physician who coined the term Orthorexia, described his experience:
“I pursued wellness through healthy eating for years, but gradually I began to sense that something was going wrong. The poetry of my life was disappearing. My ability to carry on normal conversations was hindered by intrusive thoughts of food. The need to obtain meals free of meat, fat, and artificial chemicals had put nearly all social forms of eating beyond my reach. I was lonely and obsessed. … I found it terribly difficult to free myself. I had been seduced by righteous eating. The problem of my life’s meaning had been transferred inexorably to food, and I could not reclaim it.”
“Fat” isn’t necessarily unhealthy according to Professor, Paul Campos. His book ‘The Obesity Myth‘ aims to derail the crazy train of weight-loss hysteria and explains that an “overweight” Body Mass Index (BMI range of 25-29) is actually associated with the lowest mortality rate. So if being a tad overweight isn’t deadly, why kill yourself to achieve an unrealistic weight-loss goal?
Check out this powerful video produced by Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty to see just how much negative impact an unrealistic and distorted self image has on self-esteem. Need tips on how to improve your body image? Read Finding Cloud9’s post on “Three D’s to Body Esteem.”
*If you suspect that someone you care about is struggling with an eating disorder, professional help is available. Find a qualified professional via Psychology Today’s comprehensive database. Also, consider NEDA for more information and eating disorder resources via its website and helpline: www.nationaleatingdisorders.org, NEDA Helpline: 800 931-2237.
Copyright © Jamie Long, Psy.D. | Finding Cloud9