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Archive for the weight loss category


kids and weight: walking the obesity/eating disorders tightrope

Posted in children, eating disorders, government, health, obesity, weight loss on Monday, March 21st, 2011 at 9:48 pm
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To much fanfare, First Lady Michelle Obama launched the national Let’s Move! campaign in February 2010, planting a government-sanctioned spotlight on kids’ nutrition and unleashing a blitzkrieg of initiatives aimed at tackling childhood obesity, taking its lunch money and rubbing its face in the mud out by the swing set.

A touch more eloquently, the Let’s Move! website describes the program as having “an ambitious national goal of solving the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation so that children born today will reach adulthood at a healthy weight.”

With one-third of Americans ages 2 to 19 classified as obese, the mission of Let’s Move! and other kids’ health crusades is an estimable (if conspicuously lofty) one.

But simultaneous with the mainstream touting of “childhood obesity” as a veritable national crisis — an “epidemic” that merits mentioning in any and every news article about health or food in the United States — a significant number of American children are developing eating disorders, and this fact, no matter how much less face time it gets on the evening news, is equally as troubling.

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune in January, David S. Rosen, professor of internal medicine, pediatrics and psychiatry at the University of Michigan, said the U.S. government published data in 2009 showing individuals under the age of 12 were the fastest-growing population of patients being hospitalized for eating disorders.

“Many of us believe that the focus on obesity prevention, especially with young children, has had the unintended consequence of increasing eating disorders in susceptible individuals,” Rosen said. “Some younger kids handle the nutrition messages in ways that are too rigid, inflexible, and that get them into trouble.”

While outright anorexia and bulimia may be relatively uncommon, Rosen said many people who have eating disorders don’t have symptoms that meet the strict criteria necessary for one of those clinical diagnoses, but their conditions (known as “subthreshold” eating disorders) are nonetheless serious and potentially life threatening.

“We should start to be concerned when children express weight concerns, when they talk about or start diets, or if their activity level suddenly rises outside of usual recreational or athletic activities,” Rosen said.

But through the lens of Let’s Move!, wouldn’t what Rosen describes be acceptable — even encouraged — behavior?

Something is wrong here. We must find a way to convey the importance of a healthy diet and lifestyle to kids without creating a confusing panic around the body like we currently are — pushing a rigid, polarizing, one-size-fits-all prescription for health that is to some extent founded on hyped nutritional myths and misinformation.

We must be mindful, too, not to deem that the “cure” to childhood obesity is simply to eat less and sign up for indoor soccer. Children who are obese are rarely so just because they eat too much, and obesity’s link to inactivity isn’t as substantiated as it has been portrayed. In come factors such as family income, location, class, genetics — complex variables that don’t so easily fit within the equation Let’s Move! and society in general seems to be trusting to solve “the challenge of childhood obesity.”

Clinical psychologist Edward Abramson suggests a possible solution to the conundrum may be to disregard weight loss as a goal when it comes to talking with children about health and nutrition, and to instead just encourage healthy eating and enjoyable physical activity sans mention of calories or pounds. “The concern about juvenile obesity is thoroughly justified,” Abramson writes. “But unless approached with sensitivity, well-intentioned interventions can have negative consequences.”

new year, same body hang-ups

Posted in advertising, magazines, media, weight loss on Wednesday, January 26th, 2011 at 10:38 pm
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People magazine’s annual “Half Their Size” issueWith every New Year comes a reliable deluge of obnoxious diet ads, “news” stories about how to blast away all of the fat camouflaging the “real” you, and pandemic diligence from somewhere on high that commands we all drop whatever we’re doing and take inventory of our bodies.

Because the New-You-for-the-New-Year weight loss message is so ubiquitous, remembering that revenue is the driving force behind the whole circus can be difficult. But yes, any media mention of weight loss isn’t actually about helping you at last make good on that years’-old resolution. It’s all about the benjamins.

According to Marketdata Enterprises, the three leading weight loss companies — Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem and Weight Watchers — raked in an estimated $3.2 billion in revenue in 2010. This year, I’ve spotted some clever spins on the standard weight loss ad campaign that seem aimed at exploring less-charted territories of potential dieters, such as an infomercial for a Christian-oriented diet and exercise plan and a TV spot for Applebee’s featuring young men ordering from the calorie-conscious menu. Many companies that have products unrelated to food or weight still find a way to capitalize on our New Year body neuroses. People magazine’s annual “Half Their Size” issue, for example, isn’t a beginning-of-the-year staple because celebrities decide to lie low during the first week of every New Year.

For me, the flood of “I-once-was-fat-but-now-am-found” testimonials in commercials and elsewhere this time of year is far more bothersome than the hundreds of pages of emaciated models I’m sure to encounter in magazines throughout 2011. Fashion models, at least, aren’t typically presented as an attainable, meaningful ideal for which average people should strive.

Most of all, I feel sad for the millions of people who will base their self-worth on the effectiveness of some mail-order meal plan or ab-blasting apparatus — and spend quite a bit of money to do so — only to have a good chance of finding themselves back at the start in 2012. To keep profits in the billions year after year, weight loss companies surely can’t bank on having no repeat customers.

And so, January after January, the same media-incited hypnosis will continue to zap many Americans into a hyper-aware state of food and their bodies that’s eerily akin to an eating disorder. As weight loss evangelism surges throughout these first few months of 2011, can we remind ourselves that money fuels the entire frenzied machine? Can we disengage and realize that the message to “lose weight” this time of year really has nothing to do with how we should view ourselves, set our priorities or expend our energy? It’s just a part of a business model — just a sentiment to be capitalized upon in true American commercial spirit, like Valentine’s Day, Christmas and anything else that calls for big banners and blocks of aisles at Walmart.

the bigger impact of the biggest loser

Posted in eating disorders, popular culture, television, weight loss on Sunday, August 1st, 2010 at 9:49 pm
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Former Biggest Loser contestant Kai Hibbard has dealt the show some damaging blows in recent weeks, claiming producers encourage contestants to go to dangerous measures to achieve the incredible weight loss results the show is known for.

Kai Hibbard, before and after her stint on “The Biggest Loser”

Hibbard, 31, weighed 262 pounds when she signed on for the third season of The Biggest Loser in 2006. She shed a jaw-dropping 118 pounds in her 12 weeks on the show. Among Hibbard’s accusations are that contestants actually had more than a week to lose weight between what the show depicted as “weekly” weigh-ins, and that behind the scenes she and her peers used radical, unhealthy tactics to shrink their bodies. For Hibbard, that meant intentionally dehydrating herself, counting coffee as a meal, and exercising in multiple layers of clothing in 100-degree temperatures.

Just as alarming as her allegations, though, was Hibbard’s revelation that participating in The Biggest Loser left her with an eating disorder.

“I was fat before The Biggest Loser, but eating and food were not my sole focus in life,” Hibbard wrote on her blog in June.

After going to extreme lengths to drop pounds during Loser, Hibbard found she was unable to shake the disordered behaviors, and in an interview with ABC News, she said her hair began falling out in clumps, her period stopped, and she could sleep only three hours a night. In addition, Hibbard said her post-Loser life was plagued by unrelenting body anxiety.

“I found myself loathing what I looked like the more weight that I dropped,” Hibbard recently told The Early Show.

Hibbard’s experience reflects what many people who take to get-thin-quick schemes likely find themselves up against. Her tale of being obsessed and perpetually unsatisfied with her weight reminds me a lot of my own unintentional stumble into a full-fledged eating disorder. I believed, like so many do, that I could adopt hyper-vigilant, disordered behaviors regarding diet and exercise, without consequence. I would have an eating disorder on my own terms — just until I lost enough weight. Then everything would be normal again.

The problem was that enough never came, even when, like Hibbard’s, my body began breaking beneath my demands. I had lost all of the weight I’d originally set out to lose — and much more — but the more I lost, the less satisfied I became, and the more I fixated on continuing to lose.

This is an eating disorder, and this is the insidious way it operates, quietly overtaking you until, all at once, it has you in its (often literal) death grip. This is what you don’t know about when you start out, innocently wanting only to be a better version of yourself. This is testament that disordered eating is not a light switch. Disguised as a diet or not, a harmless, quick fix for losing weight does not exist, just as an easy way back to normal after you’ve crossed the line into an eating disorder does not exist.

The Biggest Loser does not represent realistic “healthy” weight loss, and while the show casts itself in an inspirational, motivational light, it actually does a disservice to viewers by perpetuating the false idea that weight can be lost in a healthy manner so rapidly. Health professionals continue to echo the importance of moderation in long-term, healthy weight loss, yet, be it through The Biggest Loser or the latest miracle diet or exercise gadget, we continue to buy that we can “melt away pounds” quickly and easily. And our credulousness pays: According to The Early Show, The Biggest Loser — along with its spinoff cookbooks and workout DVDs — garnered an estimated $100 million in just the past year.

Tell me what you think about The Biggest Loser. Do you watch it? Are you surprised by the show’s truthfulness and ethics being called into question?