April 29, 2010

Who's to Blame for Your Weight Loss Battle?

Over the 20 (gulp) years I have lead weight loss / behaviour change classes I have come to dislike a few words and phrases such as  "lazy", "control", and "lack of willpower"  to name a few.  I think it is because over the years I have come to the realization that the battle of the bulge has nothing to do with "laziness", being "out of control", or lacking the "willpower" one is supposed to have to be thin.
These words permeate the diet, weight loss, and fitness industry to this day and I don't see it letting up any time soon. Why? In my opinion, I believe we are still focusing all "blame" on the individual and not lifting our heads up to view the bigger picture.  It's way easier to tell someone it is "their fault" that they have become fat just as it is way easier to walk 5k to raise money to "cure cancer". It would be a tougher sell if we tried to get the community together to fight against the products that are actually to blame for causing cancer.....but that's another rant for another day.

There is a growing body of research that is examining the psychological, sociological, environmental, and cultural aspects of weight gain.  So much so that after one reads even one of these studies the question becomes very clear..."How the heck does one succeed in life long weight loss when there are so many roadblocks in one's way?"  A few of these road blocks are the following....

Psychological - individual barriers to change may include attitudes and beliefs about the change. For example, if one is trying to exercise more and can only remember those instances in PE where they were forced to wonder the soccer field while all the jocks passed the ball around may not be too eager about getting started. In addition, those with a perceived sense of control over their lives may be more successful in making change than those that feel it is everyone else's fault for their weight gain (as an example).

Sociological - Social support has been touted as one of the most important factors to sticking with a program. When done in groups, such as exercise, one may feel obligated to show up and participate when the call of the couch is more inviting. What crowd to you hang with? Are your friends and family on board with this change? Do they already eat well and exercise? If so, you may have an easier time at it. If not, however, it may be very difficult to pass up the invitation to the pub on your way to the gym.

Environmental - Just the other day I was reading an article in my favorite nutritional magazine (Nutrition Action http://www.cspinet.org/nah/index.htm ) that our junk food ridden environment plays more of a role in eating behaviour than we have thought.  The Big Food industry spends millions of dollars to market their product to the unsuspecting individual.  Fast food is everywhere and serving sizes are plentiful.  The average person doesn't have a chance if they are not able to spend more time shopping, cooking, and eating at home.

Cultural - Personally, I love examining culture to help explain behaviour.  A culture includes specific language, beliefs, uniform, practice, etc.  Whether it is a school culture, a military culture, a community culture, or a North American culture...culture influences our behaviour.  The fitness culture includes a uniform (Nike shirts, Adidas shorts, Lulu lemon yoga pants), it has a language (Heart Rate Max., Reps, Sets, cardio), it has a set of beliefs (you must look a certain way to be fit) and you see this in those that represent the fitness leadership as a whole. The diet industry is no different. We are absolutely influenced by culture. It permeates our brains and effects our decisions. It can cultivate untruths and it breads on complacency and ignorance.  If you are not careful and don't ask the big questions, you can find yourself doing, saying, practicing, and believing things that may not be good for your health.

Of course I am watering it down (if there are any academics in the area reading this) but there you have it.  So stop the blame game, remove those negative words from your vocab and just do what you can do to make your day and your life more healthy.


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