I believe we can be anyone

To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best to make you like everybody else is to fight the hardest battle you can fight--but never stop fighting! E.E. Cummings

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Our Weight Obsession and Body Image

Every time I teach a class, especially in the beginning, I am always struck by the negative comments women make about their own bodies. Some women speak it out loud and others comment internally in their minds, picking themselves apart as they look at themselves in the mirror. It's a sad state of affairs that women still buy into the marketing ploys, negative thinking and ideas that say in a subtle and not so subtle way, "women need to be, look and act in a certain way to be loved and accepted". It is not true and women need to stop believing these lies they tell themselves and are told by others. We are in control of creating our own realities. Let's build a new and better world by creating new and positive beliefs that support us. Let us become positive role models for the women of today and of the future. Let us heal old outdated ideas and beliefs.

Weight management seems to be a regular part-time job for a lot of women. Millions of Canadians are trying to lose weight daily and dieting has become a "way of life" for many people, in particular women, despite the fact that 95% of dieters regain the weight they lose (Brownell, 1992). I recently took a Fitness Theory course and found it quite interesting, learning about subjects such as: anatomy, movement mechanics, physiology, nutrition, training, conditioning, health, fitness and leadership. There is a lot to learn but I'm finding it quite a fascinating subject and helping me to not only gain new knowledge but also give me different perspectives about what I can do to continue to shifts womens' perspectives of their body image.

Reading about "Weight Management", I was struck, once again, by how our own perceptions can cloud the reality of our situations. "Research suggests that 70% of Canadian women want to reduce their weight and at any given time 56% of women are actively dieting to lose weight (Health & Welfare, 1991; Nielson, 1979)". I don't necessarily agree with dieting. Sure it can work, but like it said above, 95% of dieters regain the weight they lose. It's generally a quick fix solution but doesn't solve the bigger picture. It's rare that quick fixes work. It takes a lifestyle change including how and what we choose to eat and exercise. Lifestyle changes take time, patience and work, sometimes a matter of 1 to 5 years. Quick fixes are just that and don't solve the underlying long term issues that need to be dealt with.

Below is an excerpt from my Fitness Theory manual that I hope you find informative and help to shift perspectives around the idea of what we weigh.

Over-Weight versus Over-Fat

(Taken from the AFLCA Fitness Theory Manual, Nutrition section)

High levels of body fat have been linked to a wide variety of health concerns. Because assessing body fat levels is somewhat inconvenient, body weight has been used as a quick way to approximate body fat levels. While this approach s widely practiced, it is important to understand its limitations. In particular, it is important to remember that "over-weight" and "over-fat" are not necessarily the same thing.

The human body is made up of four major components: fat, muscle, water and bone. All of these components contribute to an individual's total body weight. Body weight, however, does not describe how much of each component is present. As a result, it is possible for two individuals to weight exactly the same amount, but have totally different levels of body fat or muscle mass.

For example, a muscular person typically weighs more than a person with a lower muscle mass. Muscle weighs more than fat because it holds more water. As a result, lean and fit individuals often weigh more than their over-fat counterparts.

"Ideal body weight" is a term that is often used by health and fitness professionals. Typically, ideal body weight is based on height/weight tables used by insurance companies such as the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company (1983). People who are 10-20% above their ideal weight for their height are considered to be "over-weight". People who are 10-20% below their ideal weight for height are considered "under-weight".

Although height/weight tables are commonly used, it is important to remember that they are only a rough guide for determining ideal or health weight because they do not consider body composition. As a result, it is possible for someone to be "over-weight" while having relatively low levels of body fat. Because body weight does not take into account differences on body composition, it should be used only as a general indicator of health or fitness.

Body composition is a more reliable indicator of health than body weight. Body composition testing can determine if an individual is carrying excess body fat or is "over-fat". The Canadian Physical Activity, Fitness and Lifestyle Appraisal assesses body composition using body mass index (BMI) and the sum of five skin folds to get an indication of overall amount of body fat. Two other measures, waist circumference and the sum of two trunk skin folds provide a means of assessing fat distribution patterns. All of these measures "together give a full 'picture' of body composition".

The importance of body weight is over-emphasized by many people. At best, body weight gives only a rough estimate of body composition, and overall health.

Besides this information which I hope you found useful, my goal is to support women in learning to love themselves for where they are at in this moment. My job is to get them to focus on what they like and/or love about themselves, both physically and personality wise, not what they don't like or cannot change in this moment. It's all a process and it doesn't happen overnight but it is possible. Start by loving what you love and focus on that.