There are two things I can always count on as a new year arrives: more clients at the gym and more people dieting. Angst over body shape and size, fueled by trying to live up to impossible standards, gets worse as we start thinking about trying once again to create change and avoid the same old disappointments. The nagging fears about weight and the I’m-not-quite-ready-for-prime-time thinking follows us past midnight on December 31st, no matter how we try to party it away. We may think we’re hiding our insecurities, but if we’re a parent (or an adult who has kids watching and listening to them) the kids are not only picking up our body-image angst, but also dealing with their own stress; not only about their own bodies, but social, academic and athletic performance. And as anxiety increases, self-control decreases, as well as overall health and well-being. Just look around, it’s not hard to see.
Americans spend 42 billion a year on dieting and diet-related products, more than the federal government spends on education. This doesn’t even include what we spend on fitness products. What we don’t realize is by our words and actions, we encourage children as young as 8 to buy into the tragedy of measuring self-worth by the numbers on the scale and their ability to be “perfect”.
The results have been an explosion of eating disorders in every segment of the population, but especially teenagers and young adults, accompanied by poor self-esteem, shame, fatigue, self-mutilation, mental disorders and disease. If you’re my age, you grew up in a time when kids and families ate well, got plenty of exercise, were healthier and more content, and obesity was a rarity. And noone was on a diet.
We have allowed food manufacturers and advertisers to usurp our responsibility to take charge over our buying and eating choices, which means we eat and cook less real food. So many of us today think that a processed muffin or Frappuccino is a real breakfast, chicken nuggets and fries are a meat-and-veggie combo, and a Lean Cuisine is the perfect low-calorie dinner. Faced by an onslaught of processed foods over the last 3-4 decades, we’ve seen our waistlines expand and the rates of all major diseases dramatically increase - and we know there’s a direct connection.
Processed foods are sweetened, salted and chemicalized to appeal to our taste buds, so we’ll want to eat them compulsively. Your health is not the food manufacturer’s bottom line, money is. And these foods are very cheap to manufacture! Real food, with real flavors and natural vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber is much more satisfying, healing and strengthening, so we need and eat less. Try not buying junk food for a week and you’ll see your food bill go down. In a nut shell, REAL is always be the best choice.
According to cross-cultural studies, Americans are the world’s most anxious eaters. We worry more about food and derive less pleasure from eating than any other people on the planet. We’re also fatter and sicker than any other developed nation. For others, the French or Italians for instance, eating is about pleasure, not fear or obsession. As a nation and people, we’ve forgotten when food was good for us and we approached the dinner table with hunger and thankfulness.
It’s time for a change, time to push back against the media which saturates our minds and homes with images of unattainable thinness and “perfection”, courtesy of digital manipulation. It’s foolishness to strive for the “image” because that’s choosing to embrace the ”unreal” for ourselves and our families. Americans spent more than 11 billion on plastic surgery last year, and that’s mostly elective surgery for non-health reasons. That’s crazy. What’s the message this emphasis on fake and perfectionism sends to the next generation?
What about embracing uniqueness, fulfillment and gratitude? Not just in eating, but in every part of who we really are. Why do we try to beat ourselves up with exercise formats that are exhausting and unsafe, and are designed for professional athletes?
There is no magic bullet! It’s time to approach the table and the rest of our lives with a reality check, and to commit to a life that is healthy, real and lasting - not fake and temporary. Together, we can teach the next generation to be not only wiser than us, but healthier and stronger in every way.
Time to start a revolution!
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