Okay, so this was not quite how my girlfriend put it to me. She actually said, “Why am I fat when I do not even eat fat?” Yet, I hear this comment from women all the time in some form or another. Basically the real question underpinning the panic is, “Why can I not look like the model in that photo/advertisement?”
There are many answers to this question. The first, and most obvious one, is that we are not built like TV and movie stars, and models. Our genetics have given us shape, some more than others. In the fashion and media industries, however, there has been a push in recent decades toward an androgynous look. Men are growing more fashion conscious and “pretty,” women are growing thinner and more muscular. One of the most wildly popular models these days is androgynous. Regardless of what anyone’s personal opinion on this subject is, and its consequences (for men too), the fashion and media industries promote these looks as ideal beauty and we are bombarded with it daily, from magazines to advertisements for alcohol (i.e. “a good time”) to the evening news.
When I discuss these issues with people, I always bring up media influence because it is vital to understanding our own self-perceptions. Women were meant to be shapely; we bear babies. Men lean out mostly because they can handle more physical labor than women can. Before anyone says that’s a sexist statement, let’s just state the cold, hard facts: men can physically lift more weight for long durations, period. Their upper bodies alone possess one-third to one-half more strength than a woman’s. I argue that there is beauty in or differences. Let’s face it ladies, when I talk to guys (which is frequently because I live in a military community), they always like looking at the fleshiest part of a woman’s anatomy–those same parts that turn us women off if a man puts on excessive weight. That’s right, the two B’s: the bust and the backside.
If we did not spend so much time fretting over how flat (or round) our chests are, or how big that unreliable mirror makes our butt look because we’re comparing it to 5′ 11″, 115-pound Giselle, our perspectives might be restored.
But, lets move on, because there is a lot more to this issue of “fat” than the media’s distortion of the human body. The next, and probably biggest, problem is lifestyle. We work harder, sleep less, sit more, move less, and reach for quick meals. With our stress levels blowing through the roof and our bodies wearing out from lack of use, we are hitting up doctors right and left for anti-depressants and other medications to keep us going in this cycle of destruction. Sleep deprivation, stress, and medications are three big factors in weight gain.
Diet, of course, is another. And I’m not just talking about fast food. I am talking about what we put into our bodies. The quick, easy, 5-minute boxed meals. Granted, these by themselves are not always bad to eat, but if we look at the actual serving on the box and compare it to what’s on our plates, the reality is many people are eating anywhere from 2-8 times the actual portion size.
Yet weight loss is more than what we are eating. It is about what we are not eating. My friend mentioned eating hardly any fats. Fats are vital nutrients our bodies need to maintain basic health. In fact, a deficiency in essential fatty acids have been known to cause dermatitis, but a healthy intake of them reduce major depression and improve brain function. Because our friendly media has harped on fat as being the source of our weight gain issues for so long, particularly with regards to heart disease and Type II diabetes, many of us fixate on the amount of fat in our foods. Yes, watch out for high-fat items, but don’t run screaming from something you like just because it has more than 2 grams of fat per serving. Eating something that has a little more fat but is less processed is, in my book, a wiser choice in the long run. Chemicals we cannot say, let alone spell, are not natural, no matter how much “fat free” security they provide.
What are some of the most common dietary pitfalls that increase our waistline? Soda and fruit juice, sugary and fried foods, and to an extent our beloved food friend, the carbohydrate. To prevent packing on extra pounds, switch processed carbs for whole grains and ramp up your intake of fruits and veggies. The NHANES II survey recently shows a big deficiency in the intake of these vital foods. The more you consume them, the merrier–and the happier–your body will feel. Here are some tips on how to boost your veggie intake.
And speaking of what we are not eating, how about not eating. Dieting is one of the most frustrating parts of a lifestyle behavior switch. One of my friend’s biggest complaints is that she’s so hungry, her tummy hurts. Well, dear friend, that isn’t what I suggested, so here’s my counterattack plan: eat more.
Whole foods are perhaps the best way to stay fuller longer. If you work long hours, make sure you consume a source of protein and a source of fat with every meal. Yogurt and nuts are great options, or add some olive oil to those veggies for a great stir fry. One study suggests that medium-chain fats may lead to greater weight and fat loss than even omega-3 rich olive oil. Studies have also shown that eating a larger breakfast helps curb hunger cravings throughout the day.
While there are many more factors with weight gain, including genetics, age, gender, unknown food sensitivities, and leptin resistance, there still are many
things we can do to combat what we may not be able to control about ourselves. With regards to families with children, it is vital to learn to say “no” to kids, as the media advertising heightens their “desires” for foods that are not healthy. With regards to ourselves, our bodies were designed to do things. If there is one thing that anyone can do today to help combat weight gain, it is incorporate more movement into their lives.
Most importantly, however, the biggest factor in weight loss success is simple. It is you. It is you saying that you will do what it takes, whatever it takes, to shed the pounds. It is you telling your doctor that you are tired of the aches and pains and poor self-esteem associated with overweight and obesity. It is not giving up, or getting frustrated when weight loss goes slower than you want it too. (Sorry, but the fact of the matter is that our bodies should lose weight slowly; otherwise, rapid weight loss can cause problems.)
Slow, steady, and positive wins the race! Remember, there is no overnight fix for weight gain. However long it took to put on the pounds, it will take that much time or longer to lose them. Be patient. Be persistent. Laugh more, sleep more, eat more, and look at yourself in that unreliable mirror a new way: with pride. I mean, honestly, don’t we all know that no two mirrors are the same, and that they distort how we look?