Body Image: Self-Acceptance (cont.)

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

Oliver-Pyatt: The BMI chart, in my view, is simply the least worst of the various charts that are available. A person's physical and mental health cannot be gauged by a chart, as our bodies are much more individualized than this. I indeed had significant misgivings about including the BMI chart in my book. The one reason I leaned toward including it was because it at least included a range of weights and I hoped that people would derive a broader understanding of the diversity of size and shape from noting this.

For example, I went to a WNBA (Women's National Basketball Association) game. I was startled to find that, just like with men's basketball, the roster included the women's height and weight. Four of the players on the court that night were 5'9". One weighed 130 pounds, another 162 pounds. And the other two were 148 and 150. That's a 32-pound weight difference between these beautiful and amazingly fit women who were all fantastic and in the best possible shape. We need to take this very seriously. Just look at Venus and Serena Williams, both are strong, powerful and very different women. What we see from Venus and Serena is self-love and appreciation. This is the beauty that glows from within them, and we see that we no longer are concerned with the fact that one happens to be slightly stockier than the other.

Member Question: Do you think body image is related to our race?

Oliver-Pyatt: I think body image is related, in our society, to our race in some ways. Unfortunately, it appears that our society's emphasis on size and shape may be spreading into other cultures; particularly immigrants to the United States have a much higher incidence of developing eating disorders than those who remain in their country of origin.

Additionally, in Fiji, after western television was introduced we saw a tremendous surge in the rates of food and body preoccupation and eating disorders. So it does appear that there are many cultural factors that affect our tendency to diet, weight cycle, and develop eating disorders.

Member Question: So essentially you are saying that if we are within an acceptable weight range, per our doctor's instruction, and have no complications/limitations due to weight, that we should give ourselves permission to be there?

Member Question: Are you saying that if we still are over our weight limit, but have a healthy feeling about us and feel good, we should not worry about the scale weight?

Oliver-Pyatt: Yes, I would concur if your physician feels that your weight is not affecting your health detrimentally, and you're comfortable with your body size and shape, I would see no reason for being tortured over this. I would encourage you to consider what are the risks and benefits of dieting.

However, that does not mean that exploring your relationship with food may not be worthwhile. Learning how to engage in hunger-based eating and developing a relaxed relationship with food can and does lead to fitness of mind and body, which should go together. Many people in our society eat for reasons other than physiological hunger, and have a tense relationship with food.

One of my purposes is to help people to appreciate and respect the presence of food in their life, as well as to learn how to engage in hunger-based eating. We tend to eat when we are lonely, bored, angry, depressed, or anxious. Exploring our nonhunger-based eating is a far more powerful tool for weight loss than dieting.

Oliver-Pyatt: How do I get past negative comments that were made earlier in my life, such as, 'I love you, but you're getting fat' or 'You have a beautiful face, but you're getting fat?' They're all I can remember when I look at myself in the mirror.

Member Question: I'm so deeply pained when I hear these stories. These are stories of intrusion into yourself. This intrusion does have a significant impact on ourselves as we develop into adulthood. Unfortunately, the road to hell can be paved with good intentions. I would urge you, when you're looking at the mirror and flashing to these harmful comments to take some time to sit down and be with yourself and notice the many aspects of who you are that are noteworthy and important.

"Fitness of mind and body must go hand in hand."

Sometimes well-intentioned family members and friends can cause great harm. One thing this can lead to is what I call retaliatory eating. You may find yourself fighting off this intrusion through eating when you're not necessarily physically hungry. This makes a lot of sense and I would urge you to not condemn yourself if this is the case.

I would also urge you to begin to notice if this is happening, and to notice the negative stream of thoughts that may be going on in your mind. I would ask you to be deeply honest with yourself about who you are and to define yourself on those values that are truly meaningful in the course of human existence. This may be a painful process, but I would urge you to be gentle and kind to yourself at every moment.

Member Question: How do our self-body images as mothers affect what we teach our sons?

Oliver-Pyatt: That is a very interesting question. One thing a mother's focus on body size and shape may do to her son is to cause him to pay more attention to his own body size and shape, just as it would to her daughter. Another possible outcome is that a son might begin to have expectations from the other females in his life that they should also place emphasis on this.

Isn't it exhausting for all of us to derive so much of our feeling of value and self-worth on this one particular outcome?

One study shows that liposuction in men went up between 1992 and 1997 from 6,000 per year to 20,000 per year. That's a change of 14,000 surgeries in 5 years. Another study indicating men's growing insecurity with their bodies is that 6% of males try steroids by the time they're 18.

It is misguided to assume that eating disorders only occur in women or in gay men. This is because more and more men diet, and dieting is a significant risk factor for the development of eating disorders, because dietary restraint very typically leads to binge eating and compulsivity with food. Additionally, dieting is much more likely to lead to weight cycling and obesity than it is to weight loss. Therefore, men and women both fall victim to the impact of dieting and food and body preoccupation.

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