Women, Body Image, And Weight: A Troublesome Trio
January 17, 2014

Women, Body Image, And Weight: A Troublesome Trio

January is a time when people of all walks of life go on a diet, start (and often stop again) exercising, and just generally look at themselves and not like what they see. It is not so much that it is January as it is after the holiday season when we indulge in too many sweets, savories, drinks, and munchies. Queendom.com recently released data about just this, specifically on women, body image, and weight loss.

In the press release, Queendom explains that they studied 1,252 women who took the Diet & Weight Loss test and found staggering information:

  • Only 6 percent of women from the sample are happy with their bodies.
  • 32 percent are only moderately content.
  • 62 percent are unhappy.

Of that 62 percent who are unhappy, 1 percent are underweight while 20 percent have normal or healthy weights leaving 42 percent at overweight and 31 percent at obese. Oh, and of those who are not happy with their bodies only 39 percent exercise regularly whereas 63 percent of women who are content with their bodies do so. Regular exercise means at least three times a week.

Instead of exercising to lose weight and be happy with their bodies, women use other less safe methods including diuretics, laxatives, forcing themselves to vomit, using herbal weight loss supplements, using fat burners or diet pills, and resorting to fasting or starving themselves. Perhaps only the herbal supplements are not dangerous in this list, although they certainly are not as safe as healthy eating and regular exercise. Everything else, though, is really, really bad for us.

Let’s look at what the Queendom study revealed about unhappy women:

  • Have a more external locus of control. They feel they have some, but not complete control over their health
  • Are less likely/willing to adhere to a healthy diet & exercise program
  • Are less self-disciplined
  • Are less proactive
  • Are less self-motivated
  • Are less likely to believe in themselves and in their ability to change
  • Are less skilled at managing anger
  • Have a low tolerance for frustration
  • Are more likely to be emotional eaters
  • Have lower self-esteem
  • Are less emotionally healthy
  • Have underdeveloped or unhealthy coping skills
  • Have a higher tendency toward food guilt, i.e. feeling extreme guilt when after eating unhealthy food.

Moreover, women who are unhappy with their bodies tend to do the following:

  • “Graze,” i.e. nibble when not hungry or eat mindlessly
  • Eat a large meal late at night
  • Snack at night
  • Use food as a reward
  • Use food as a source of comfort
  • Binge eat.

Obviously these statistics are frightening. From the ways women (and likely men as well but the study focused on women) try to lose weight by cheating or simply killing themselves to personality trends to the eating habits, none of these are safe. So, Queendom provided some advice for weight loss and control:

“Calories in, calories out. As simple as it may sound, the bottom line is that weight gain is a result of an imbalance of caloric input and output. Basically, if you eat more than your body burns, you will gain weight. You need to burn more calories than you eat, whether it’s changing your food habits, or exercising more. And be wary of the “next big thing,” like a new-fangled diet or pill. Stick to what works – eat healthy and exercise.

Stock up on healthy food. According to a study by London researchers, the difference between emotional eaters and non-emotional eaters isn’t the quantity of food they eat – it’s the quality. Emotional eaters are more likely to eat fattening, high-calorie food. So change your grocery shopping habits and make it easier to comply with your regimen by removing unhealthy temptations and replacing them with healthier ones. For example, if you have a chocolate craving, stick to dark chocolate. Replace salty chips with air-popped popcorn or even baked chips. When you’re at the grocery store, indulge the foodie in you with high-quality of food with interesting flavors. Treat your taste buds to seaweed snacks, walnuts, sorbet, dried fruit, apple slices with peanut butter, avocados, and other healthy snacks.

Don’t completely give up your favorite foods. Just eat them less often. This doesn’t mean spending an entire day binging on your beloved chocolate cake, or having nothing but fast food. It means eating healthy most of the time, and allowing a moderate indulgence for one meal. Weight loss author Tom Venuto recommends a “90/10 compliance rule,” where 90% of your meals are healthy, and the remaining 10% are your “free meals” (rather than “cheat meals”).

Learn to identify when you are really hungry. One critical component to ending a cycle of emotional eating is re-learning to recognize your body’s signals for hunger and satiety. This innate response has been lost on many people. Emotional eaters no longer have the ability to recognize the difference between the biological need for food and the emotional need. Some tips for recapturing a sense of your appetite include eating on a schedule, moderating caffeine intake (because caffeine inhibits our sensation of hunger), and eating foods that are nutritionally satisfying. Also, pay conscious attention to satiety signals. It takes 15 minutes for the brain to get the message that you are full. When eating, use different tactics to slow yourself down. For instance, prepare multiple courses (they don’t have to be elaborate; a small salad or soup before the main meal and a little bit of cheese after can do the trick), rest between courses, take smaller bites, and chew more. Eat until you’re 80% full, and wait 15 minutes. If you’re still a little hungry, eat a small snack.

Eat your calories, don’t drink them. Two oranges will be more satisfying than a small glass of orange juice, and will offer the additional benefit of fiber. Beware of soft drinks, and don’t be fooled by artificially sweetened ones. Studies show that artificial sweeteners increase cravings for sugar. In fact, several studies demonstrated that drinking artificially sweetened beverages results in weight gain. If you must sweeten your beverages, go for Xylitol (sugar alcohol that tastes great and has many health benefits), honey, or coconut sugar.

Remember, exercise does not need to be extreme. The sweat-inducing, high intensity type of exercise is what often discourages people from keeping it up. The bottom line is, the best exercise routine is one that you’ll stick to. So if you find that you need to drag yourself to the gym or your treadmill at home, it’s time for a change in your routine. There are many exercise options that are fun and can help you stay fit, like swimming, dancing, spinning, kickboxing, nature walks, and step classes. You can also look into the latest advances in interactive video games. And remember, start small. Begin with 20 minutes a day, 3 times a week, and then add a day and 10 additional minutes every 2 weeks.

Ask yourself if you’re really ready to change. Committing to losing weight requires a great deal of discipline. Granted, you may fall off the wagon sometimes and indulge in that dessert, but that doesn’t mean you need to let it spiral down further. If you find yourself struggling or basically unwilling to stick to healthy food and exercise, you may not be mentally ready to change just yet.

Set reasonable goals. If you aim too high (e.g.. planning to lose more than 2 pounds a week), you are setting yourself up for failure, and that can be very de-motivating. It is advisable to focus on getting into shape and leading a healthy lifestyle, rather than judging your progress by the number you see on the scale. Keep in mind that muscles weigh more than fat, so you might be losing inches and replacing fat with muscle tissue without much change on the scale.”

Yep. That advice says it all. Really, the key is to watch what we eat, how much we eat, and make sure we get balanced meals including lots of fruits and veggies and water. Plus, we must exercise in some way regularly every week, and we must make sure we exercise in ways we enjoy. Not only will these help make us like our bodies more, but they also will improve our overall health.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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Rayshell E. Clapper is an Associate Professor of English at a rural college in Oklahoma where she teaches Creative Writing, Literature, and Composition classes. She has presented her original fiction and non-fiction at several conferences and events including: Scissortail Creative Writing Festival, Howlers and Yawpers Creativity Symposium, Southwest/Texas Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Regional Conference, and Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association National Conference. Her publications include Cybersoleil Journal, Sugar Mule Literary Magazine, Red Dirt Anthology, Originals, and Oklahoma English Journal. Beyond her written works, she successfully created a writer's group in rural Oklahoma to support burgeoning writers. The written word is her passion, and all she experiences inspires that passion. She hopes to help inspire others through her words.

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