A Manhattan court judge recently struck down the move by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to legislate the limit of the size of soft drinks and other high-calorie sweetened beverages sold at various outlets.
Mr. Bloomberg, perhaps influenced by his interest in the greater good, was attempting to make it impossible for his constituents to make poor personal choices that, in the long run, have a significant impact on public health.
Obesity is unquestionably a problem in our society where freedom of choice is too easily defined in supersized – more is better – terms. The ‘more is better ’philosophy in food purchases may be one of many underlying factors that encourage greater consumption of food when ‘less’ would do more to help people maintain a healthy weight.
Medical researchers around the world – concerned about the high cost, physically and financially, of obesity – are increasingly investigating what leads a person to eat more than he/she needs; more than is healthy.
Some studies indicate we make such choices based on a poor – or inaccurate – perception of ourselves.
When a group of children was shown a series of body silhouettes ranging from scrawny to obese they were unable to identify the image that resembled themselves. Most kids, according to Dr. Jennifer McGrath, Director of Pediatric Public Health Psychology Lab, didn’t recognize if they were overweight or obese. They thought they were average. She also recalls talking to a pediatrician who didn’t want to tell a family that their child had a weight problem.
What if everyone, even your doctor, treats it like the elephant in the room?
Obesity costs the Canadian economy somewhere between $4.6-billion and $7.1-billion a year. Those costs are split pretty evenly between direct health-care costs and indirect costs such as lost productivity for people unable to work as a result of illness from obesity.
It’s a two edged sword in some ways. It’s important for children to have a good self-image and it seems the children in this study were not burdened by an image of being overweight, yet being able to see that you are overweight and understand the health risks and costs it creates are important – for both children and their parents. Excess weight can lead to chronic illnesses. Parents with overweight children do not even realize there is a problem, according to Dr. Peter Nieman, a well-known pediatrician in Calgary. Even experts on obesity find it hard to talk about both the problem and some of the more difficult solutions, especially dieting.
So, how can the general population be encouraged to adopt small changes in portions and proportions to add up to big changes in health?
Perhaps it’s easier to recommend getting out and being more physically active in the community?
Hmmm – getting a little exercise sounds much more appealing than extreme dieting and excessive calorie counting!
Researchers in Ottawa have found that even moderate amounts of physical activity can significantly improve the mental well-being of overweight adolescents. This research program threw away the scales to prove physical activity improves the sense of body image, social and academic functioning – psychological benefits without the weigh scale.
Dr. Mike Evans gives a visual lecture here called 23 ½ Hours and answers the question “what is the single best thing we can do for our health?”. Guess what? It is not a pill, a portion control or a prescription – exercise is the medicine.
It worked for Janine, who posted her success in a recent Globe and Mail article. She saw her sister losing weight by walking and thought ‘I can do it too’. As soon as the first 10 pounds came off she was incredibly motivated even though on her overweight body it was not yet noticeable. Extreme dieting was not necessary, increased education on food and fitness and this motivation carried her on to lose 100 pounds. Bravo!
What motivated Janine? Yes, her sister was a catalyst – but Janine had to change her thought about what she could and could not do. Losing weight was possible. She just put her mind to it, slightly changed the way she ate and committed to a simple exercise program. The results gave her renewed confidence and self-esteem. She gained control over her own health experience and well-being.
Changing your thinking provides a platform to discover how you can change your living. If the real challenge is not about food or pounds but about how we view ourselves, are dieting and exercise – neither of which actually address self- image – the only solution? What about a spiritual solution?
A handful of studies show that young people who have a spiritual foundation are less likely to be overweight or to suffer from depression or low self-esteem which can lead to eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia and seriously affect health.
As a teenager, I was very conscious of my body weight and each morning I religiously stepped on the scale. The scale could determine whether it was going to be a ‘happy’ or a ‘sad’ day.
I regularly attended Sunday School at this time and this ‘scale of happiness’ weighed heavily on my mind. So I spoke to my teacher one Sunday and she pointed out that I was breaking the second commandment – I had an ‘idol’ of body image set up and I was worshipping it! Wow! That really woke me up. I threw my weigh scale out and started to change the way I thought about myself. I had learned in our Bible study that turning to a loving God as the only influence in my life (the first commandment!) provided me with a way that I could transition to a more balanced life-style approach. I became less self-centered and stopped using personal will-power to exercise control over portions, food choices and exercise. To this day, I have not made a bathroom (or any other room) scale the barometer of my happiness and self-esteem. Over many decades now my weight has been classified as ‘normal’.
Perhaps my experience is similar to what Oprah – who introduced self-improvement and spirituality in her syndicated TV talk show – was speaking about when she said:
‘It isn’t until you come to a spiritual understanding of who you are – not necessarily a religious feeling, but deep down, the spirit within – that you can begin to take control.’