Your Body Image: A Live Chat with Wendy Oliver-Pyatt, PhD, author of Fed Up

Finding self-acceptance -- and health -- in a sea of cultural misinformation

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Live Events Transcript
Event Date: April 29, 2003

What do you see when you look in the mirror? What do you want to see? What is healthy for you? Wendy Oliver-Pyatt, MD author of Fed Up: The Breakthrough 10-Step No Diet Fitness Plan, joined us to discuss how you can develop a healthy body image.

The opinions expressed herein are the guest's alone and have not been reviewed by a WebMD physician. If you have questions about your health, you should consult your personal physician. This event is meant for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Welcome everyone. Today we are talking about having a healthy body image.

Member Question: I have a terrible body image. I am 53, and find every excuse in the book to not lose all the weight I should. I do feel very hungry when I try to lose weight, and I do give up, eventually. I really hate being fat!! I don't remember what it like being really skinny. Can you help?

Oliver-Pyatt: I certainly hope that I can help you. However, I think what we ought to start out with is observing that much of the language you use to describe yourself seems to be filled with unloving comments and thoughts.

The first thing I would ask you is, what are the ramifications of self-loathing thoughts? One of the things dieting sets us up to do is to feel like a failure. We need to backtrack even further and become curious about where our definition of beauty or having a satisfactory body is derived from. The preoccupation with body size and shape so prevalent in our society negates the many wonderful aspects about ourselves that are often present and yet ignored or not acknowledged.

So I would ask you to start off by noticing how you're thinking about yourself and where this may lead you. I would urge you to consider looking into Step 3, decide you are good enough today to love yourself today to begin to understand how self-love is the most powerful tool for fitness of mind and body

Member Question: I just received a catalog from Lane Bryant, a company that sells clothes to women size 14 and above. The majority of the models in the catalog are stick thin! How can we accept ourselves if the people making clothes for us won't even show us wearing them?

Oliver-Pyatt: You've made such an important point. We do absorb the images that we are bombarded with daily. You've probably seen nearly 2 million television commercials over the course of your life, and 20,000 magazines containing more than a million ads. Swimming in the sea of cultural images does have an impact on us. One study found that 69% of female television characters are unusually thin and only 5% are larger than the average-sized woman.

We have to take seriously the cultural pressures that cause us to pursue a body size and shape that denies our physical needs. This is why I emphasize, in Step 2, reject the cultural myth that makes you diet and gain weight; the impact of culture on self-esteem. We must pull ourselves away from the television and pull our self-esteem from within, taking seriously the many aspects of our being that makes us who we are. We must be very serious in our effort to ward off the impact of the hostile environment we are currently living in.

Member Question: I want to see my belly a lot trimmer. I'm 66 and I'm having a hard time losing more weight. I'm in a plateau and can't get out of it. Can you help me?

Oliver-Pyatt: The human body was not designed to contain no fat. Our abdomens were not meant to be rock hard. There are a small percentage of people who naturally have a rock-solid abdomen, but much more realistically, our body is meant to have curves and bumps. As we age our body changes. Through the course of even a month or year our body goes through natural changes.

I would urge you to consider self-acceptance, which may be a more powerful tool to help you heal your mind and body than the dissection and critique of various aspects of your body. Our weight is a range, not a number, which changes over the course of the months, seasons, and years.

When our body stores some extra fuel in the form of fat, it may be doing its best to help prepare for an unforeseen circumstance, such as ill health or an environmental disaster. Our bodies don't know that we live in an era where there is an abundance of food, and it makes much sense for our bodies to retain some fuel, particularly as we age and become more vulnerable physically.

Member Question: How do you feel about the new BMI charts? If I met their weight expectations I would not be healthy and not at a weight considered healthy by my doctor. I think the BMI charts are just as guilty of promoting bad body image as advertisers.

Member Question: Isn't our overall health and ability to perform more important than our shape?