Extremes are not healthy

This is a post I wrote a few years ago, and I think now is a good time to re-share it as a reminder for you to live happy, healthy, and balanced.  Choose to love yourself, your body, and who you are 🙂

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This past Tuesday, I was one of many who watched the finale of NBC’s The Biggest Loser.  I was also one of many who’s jaw literally dropped when the winner took stage for her final reveal.  I’m rather horrified by the show.  As each season has progressed, contestants seem to lose more and more weight.  The challenge to out-lose the last season’s contestants seems to be raising the stakes.  It’s not only disturbing, it’s unhealthy and a terrible way to promote weight loss to a country of people who already struggle with extreme dieting issues.

Eating disorders are a terrifyingly disturbing health problem in this country.  Up to 24 million Americans suffer from an eating disorder.  About 20% of people with anorexia nervosa will die from complications related to their disorder.  We have extreme ideals in America.  A shocking 42% of 1st-3rd graders want to be thinner and 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat (1).

Oftentimes, we are raising obese children who are afraid of being “fat,” and who then learn to dislike their body figure, feeling shame and embarrassment regarding their weight.  They are taught that being skinny or muscular is “ideal” and dieting is the way to get that figure.  Over 50% of teenage girls and about 1/3 of teenage boys use unhealthy methods of weight loss, such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and/or taking laxatives (1).

The Biggest Loser gathers together a group of obese individuals who are “unhealthy” and generally have a history of struggling with their weight and forces them to lose mass amounts of weight in a very short period of time.  The “biggest loser” wins money.  One of the show’s biggest “losers” lost 155 pounds in just 5 months.  Losing such a drastic amount of weight in a short period of time puts an individual at risk for many complications, including (but not limited to) loss of bone mass and lean body mass, an increase in bone marrow fat, heart conditions, electrolyte imbalances, and obviously psychological issues.

Those involved with the show generally try to defend its purpose, touting that the show is meant to inspire others to live a healthier lifestyle.  Healthier??  By what, drastically losing large amounts of weight in a short period of time?  Or by pushing themselves so hard in the gym that they are crying and vomiting?  Or by limiting their daily caloric intake so that their bodies are not even being supported in vital functioning?  Or by recommending super low-calorie, low-fat meal plans?  To top it off, trainers usually attempts to “help” and “heal” contestants’ past struggles by screaming at them until they break down and cry.  As if one moment of tears is the magical cure for their lifetime of weight struggles…  The contestants actually ridicule their former selves.  This doesn’t seem like a positive weight-loss journey to me.

I am biased.  I am negative when it comes to the entire format of the show.  I am a registered dietitian and beyond that a opinioned American who witnesses the imbalance of health in this country.  We live at extremes—obese or anorexic (or both)—and I think this show is the perfect example of the problems we are promoting in America.  Don’t fool yourself—little girls (and boys) watch this show and they watch contestants laugh their “fat” self and praise their new leaner body.  Those 10-year-old girls who are afraid of being fat watched this episode and prior episodes and learned to over-exercise, diet, and lose weight fast.  They will not ask for help or tell anyone what their plans are in regards to losing weight.  But when they do lose some weight, boys will notice them and adults will likely praise their efforts and “strong will power.”

Our country isn’t going to change overnight.  That can’t happen, just as we can’t lose weight overnight.  But what we can do—each one of us—is stop supporting unhealthy messages, products, and companies.  We can stop buying magazines that idealize thin girls and ridicule those who don’t live up to these standards.  We can stop teaching unhealthy USDA guidelines to our nation of adults and kids.  We can support a more natural lifestyle that includes eating real food.  There’s no need to understand everything about food labels; glance at the ingredients.  Don’t worry about fat-free or low-fat or even reduced fat products; purchase real food with less preservatives and you’re likely to feed your body and your children’s bodies in a balanced manner.  Understand what foods are proteins, carbs, and fats.  Eat a good balance of these foods at each meal-don’t cut out food groups in hopes of losing weight.  Be a good example for yourself and your kids.  Eat when you are actually hungry and stop when you are full, satisfied.  Learn to listen to your body and its needs.  Live intuitively.  Enjoy food without fear or guilt.  Disconnect what you eat from the shape and/or size of your body.  Focus on the full picture of life, including body movement and relaxation.

Yes, I could go on and on and on and on.  I can’t express enough how passionate I am about this topic.  To achieve true health and happiness, we must heal from the inside-out, not the outside-in. 

1.) ANAD. Eating Disorder Statistics.  2014.

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