Don’t miss registered dietitian and monthly columnist, Laura Clark’s latest post on the importance of being ‘Body Kind’.
The 13th – 19th May marked Mental Health Awareness Week for 2019. This year the focus was on Body Image and the many ways in which this can impact on mental health.
There’s some fairly hard–hitting stats, following new research by Over a third of UK adults have felt anxious or depressed because of concerns about their body image. Higher body dissatisfaction is associated with a poorer quality of life, psychological distress and the risk of unhealthy eating behaviours and eating disorders.
There is often a cruel irony surrounding attempts at weight loss with stigma attached to being a certain size or looking a certain way, which can have a profound impact on our mental health thus hindering efforts to make beneficial lifestyle changes. Many who are overweight or obese have very low self-efficacy so their belief in their ability to lose weight successfully is almost non-existent. This can be a tough place to start from no matter our ‘good’ intentions, or support from loved ones, willing us to do it.
Equally, research shows restricted dieting does not work and leads to weight regain, often to a greater weight than the one we started with. This is due to changes in body composition that strict dieting creates and the biological drive to sabotage efforts that kicks in. Willpower is not a muscle, the more you exercise it, the weaker it becomes. Instead research points to taking a smarter, kinder approach. We don’t think as much as we think we do about the food choices we make, so if we can make healthful habits our focus, these eventually require less effort as they become part of our subconscious and can lead to long lasting change– I’ve talked to experts in this field and shared on Vicki’s blog before and it’s For more there’s lots on my blog too.
Over-simplification of what is a very complex condition does not facilitate behaviour change. It is damaging at worst, and unhelpful at best. In my career to date I have seen over 12,000 patients, most of whom have had weight management challenges – there are patterns and similarities for sure but no one person is the same and we don’t have all the answers as to the causes of this disease. And yet, all around us there are assumptions being made. No one is disputing the ‘energy in, energy out’ equation but to leave it at that, fails to acknowledge the complex biological, psychological, social and environmental factors that all play a part. People with the mantra of ‘just do it’ fail to acknowledge significant barriers to change and contributing factors. We need to continue to create a matrix of interventions in society, in the supermarket and at the kitchen table.
The focus on body image and mental health highlights the negative consequences of making assumptions. A ‘thin’ person does not fall under the same scrutiny and yet their behaviours might be ‘bad’ for health – no fruit or veg, excess alcohol or smoking for example.
We are led to believe that weight management is simple from a really young age – Daddy Pig eats big slices of cake and does little exercise. Same can be said for Mr Greedy. Children usually say things as they see them which can often lead to awkward conversations. It’s a tricky subject to navigate but we have a responsibility to never over– simplify or make assumptions ourselves. We need to be ‘body kind’ and all do our bit to support others. We must educate our children about healthy lifestyle choices and teach them to being proud of their bodies, whatever their size.
If you want to see me or any other registered dietitian for advice check out www.freelancedietitians.org.
Read more of Laura’s posts here: How to Lose Weight as a Busy Mama, Food Assumptions and How They Affect Their Children, and Confessions of a Dietitian Mum: What I Actually Feed My Children.