Eating Mindfully

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Happy and Healthy

Thinking twice about weight loss resolutions

Happy New Years! Time to start hating our bodies. The new year always seems to kick off a barrage of body hating media. We see advertisements for weight loss programs, tips to hide the post-holiday bulge, and segments on how to maximize your fat burning exercise routine. Fad diets abound, convincing us that we can eat whatever we want as long as it is only for 8 hours per day (followed by a 16 hour fast!). On New Years Day, I caught a segment of The Rachel Ray Show featuring the popstar Fergie. When an audience member had the opportunity to ask the singer a question, she did not choose to ask about the singer’s accomplishments or her trials as a female rock icon. Rather, she asked: “What is your figure flaw and what do you do to hide it?” When Fergie disclosed that she had the same figure flaw as the audience member (her arms), Rachel Ray cooed about how special the audience member must feel that her and Fergie share the same body flaw. How wonderful that both the average viewer and a superstar like Fergie can share shame about their bodies (insert sarcasm here). I was not surprised to hear that, once again, the #1 New Years resolution (according to an ABC poll) is “lose weight.” I was saddened to hear that this beat out the # 2 resolution “enjoy life more.” The media convinces us that our bodies are not good enough (and that we are not good enough) and herds us like sheep into the multibillion-dollar weight loss industry.  

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In the midst of the intense body-hating media surrounding the start of 2013, there was a new study that found its way into the news. Published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (one of the most rigorously peer reviewed scientific journals in the world) Katherine Flegal, Ph.D., a senior scientist at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and her colleagues studied over 3 million people and found that people whose body mass index (BMI) classified them as overweight had less of a risk of dying than people of average weight. Yes, you read that correctly. They also found that people with Class I Obesity (BMI of 30-35) are no more likely to die than people of average weight. This study flies in the face of the fat=evil message that the media and healthcare industry has promoted for many years.

Now, this study does not mean that people who are average weight should gain weight to reduce their risk of death. Or that people of any weight who are engaging in unhealthy lifestyles should not make changes to increase movement and improve eating habits. Rather, this study makes the case that BMI and weight is not the most important thing in life (and death). In a New York Times article that reported on this study, Dr. Samuel Klein, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at Washington University School of Medicine, said: “Body mass index is an imperfect measure of the risk of mortality and factors like blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar must be considered.”

When we focus on weight-loss goals, too often we engage in behaviors that are harmful to our health such as crash dieting, unbalanced diets, and eating highly processed chemically dense fat-free foods. Focus on weight-loss and our “figure flaws” promotes harsh internal judgments, which take a toll on our emotional wellbeing and contribute to the development of psychological symptoms including depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. So I encourage everyone to think about what is truly important to you this New Year. If you have resolved to lose 50 pounds before Valentines Day or start the 8-hour diet, think about why. Many people say that they want to lose weight to improve their health. More and more, we are seeing evidence that this simply is not true. I hope that everyone will find a way to experience joy and peace with their bodies. I believe that this is the first step to both physical and emotional health. Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2013! 

To learn more about Dr. Conason and mindful eating, please visit www.drconason.com 

Alexis Conason, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in practice in New York City and a researcher at the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital.

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