Body image has played a huge role in my life. This is an article based on my own experience as well as research and antidotal evidence. While I have come to understand my own body and what makes it feel its best, I am continually trying to reconcile my own thoughts and the messages I get from society. I hope this article inspires others to embrace their unique form of beauty and look to the inner self for their worth. Here is the unedited article:
Beauty and Weight in the Modern World
By Cecily Whiteside
Weight loss is a billion dollar industry worldwide, with ever more books and magazine articles touting “new findings” and “guaranteed results.” In searching for the truth behind all the diet plans and hype, one finds a simple answer – there is no simple answer.
Because standards of beauty are different across the world, and because women come in all shapes and sizes, there is no one-size-fits-all way to have the perfect body. There are, however, a few key ingredients to maximizing your own brand of beautiful.
The first step is to inventory yourself. Try to look objectively at your assets, then emphasize the good, and downplay the “less-than-my-ideal.” Remember that while you may see the flaws in yourself, others looking at you focus on the total package. They see your smile, the light flash in your eyes, and the joie de vivre in your attitude.
But what if you find that you would feel better and have more energy if you were a few pounds less? Weight loss was once thought to be a simple equation of calories in versus calories out. If you ate less, you lost weight. What more recent findings have shown is that our bodies are intricate balances of metabolism and survival skills that can confound conventional weight loss methods. While cutting calories can cause an initial loss of pounds, the vast majority will put those pounds back on as soon as regular eating is resumed. So how do we circumvent this tendency? Here are a few tips:
Change the quality of the calories you are eating. Recent developments and economic factors have made processed foods more prevalent and more available. It is now easy to consume thousands of empty calories in the form of chips, candy, carbonated soft drinks and the like. In order to slim down, says health coach Marylee LaBaw, you need to get back to real foods. Simple carbohydrates and sugars spike blood sugar, causing a release of insulin and a hoarding of fat. In order to keep blood sugar level and encourage the use of stored fat for energy, eat as close to nature as possible, and eat frequent small meals that include both proteins and fat. For instance, an apple has fiber that fills the stomach and slows down the fruit sugar from absorbing too fast, spiking blood sugar, but apple juice does not. And an even better option: an apple with a spoonful of peanut butter will create a feeling of fullness that prevents overeating later. The same amount of calories has very different effects on the body depending on what macronutrients they are composed of. According to the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, foods to target are whole, raw, unprocessed fruits and vegetables, lean proteins like chicken breast, fish and lean cuts of beef, and healthy fats like olive oil, canola oil, avocado and nuts1. Foods to avoid are high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils. Avoid them like the plague that they are.
Movement is key. A recent study in JAMA Internal Medicine Journal shows that exercise is the leading indicator of reducing obesity with long-term health benefits. While reducing caloric intake can result in short term weight loss, it’s increasing activity to the sweet spot of 70 minutes a day that produces the best chance of staying at the ideal weight for your body2. Activity does not need to be overly strenuous, nor does it have to be painful. Simply adding an hour walk into your daytime routine can set you up for health and fitness over the long term. The National Weight Loss Registry tracks those in the U.S. who have lost 30 pounds or more, and who have kept that weight off for more than a year. 90% of those registered report that they exercise an average of one hour a day3. Movement is a key component for your body to create a flexible metabolism, allowing you to eat normally and maintain a constant weight.
Reduce Stress. Our “fight-or-flight” reactions to stressors in our life help with survival with short burst of life-saving energy. But in this age of overwork, global fears and constant crisis, our stress reactions seem to go on all the time. The American Psychological Association reports on the impact of stress4. Continuing elevated levels of stress cause a rise of the hormone cortisol in the body, which in turn increases appetite. Stress eating is common but most people don’t realize it is linked to the physical effects of this fight-or-flight hormone. To reduce stress one of the best solutions is…exercise. Taking that walk after work is a double-duty weight control device. Other healthy ways to reduce stress are meditation or pursuing a favorite activity like reading, visiting with friends, or a hobby you love.
Beauty sleep is right! In a 2013 study by the Obesity Society, “sleep duration was significantly associated with body mass index and waist circumference.” Short sleepers – defined as those who got an average of six hours or less sleep per night – were heavier and had a larger girth than long sleepers with an average of more than 9 hours per night5. Good sleep hygiene leads to better quality of sleep, and only compounds the benefits. Try to go to bed and get up at the same time each night, since bedtime fluctuations can decrease the body’s ability to relax and reach deep sleep. Keep your bedroom a calm and inviting place. Minimize distractions like having a computer or TV in the bedroom. And shut down screens 30 minutes prior to bed. Studies show that the cognitive stimulation of commuters, video games, even our smart phones, keeps us from dropping into restful sleep. Do that old fashioned activity: read a book before bed!
Your body – no matter its size or shape – should be treated with the respect it deserves. Pamper yourself with these tips and whether you plan to decrease your size or not; be a more beautiful and healthier version of you.
- Hill, James O. and Wyatt, Holly, State of Slim, 2013
- JAMA Internal Medicine, 2015 Jun, 175(6) 959-67. doi: 10 1001/jammainternmed.2015.05533
- NWCR Facts, The National Weigth control Registry, www.nwcr.ws/research/ 2/17/2016.
- Stress in America, American Physcologal Association, The Impact of Stress.
- Sleep Duration and BMI and Waist Circumference among US Adults, The Obesity Society, Ford E.S., Li C., et all.