January 4, 2011

Is the Language of Weight Loss Making Us Fat?

Of course, it wasn't this newscast.
Check out the IBM Selectric
behind Walter.
So last night, as I was cooking a healthy dinner full of colourful vegetables (had to get that plug in there), I was watching the news with an interest on their coverage of new years resolutions.  This year did not disappoint as I watched several news channels (yes, I have may have a tiny addiction to the news) as they reported the growing rates of obesity and reasons people gave for their unhealthy lifestyles (time and money continue to be the top two).  This year was the first, however, to report on the perceptions of Canadians were skewed towards a healthier self-report than what was fact (I have no idea how they come to state such a claim, but I'm sure it is loaded with national statistics on obesity).  This year, not only did the overweight and obesity stats hit the news, but the fact that we tend to underestimate our chubbiness took the staring role. Interesting, yet, not surprising if you understand that self-reports are always going to be skewed towards the perceptions (and not reality) of the individual filling it out.

In January, this gym is packed!
At any rate, each newscast planted an interviewer in a gym, interviewed an individual working out, and the personal trainer who could provide......(yawn........I'm sorry, even my report of this is boring me). My fears were confirmed and my hopes were dashed that this year would be any different. Same report, same interviews, same weight room, and same fitness tips "to a better you".  I don't think I need to tell you how this movie ends....the gyms will be packed for about 1.5 - 2 months (tops) and "we" - those that use the gym all year - will have the equipment to ourselves again. If we continue to think the same about exercise, we will continue to reap the same results.

Sure, it's great when your
trainer is with you...
but what happens when
the training is over?
 Now, I'm not here to shake a finger at what is being done or believe that I have the answers that others do not (and if the above remarks appear that way, please forgive me).  I do, however, want to offer another way of considering fitness and health today.  I want to submit an article (Is the Language of Weight Loss Making Us Fat?) I had published in a local magazine not too long ago looking at the language of weight loss and fitness. Words relate to our beliefs and attitudes about things and definitely influence our actions based upon these beliefs. So to that end...please consider the following articles (I'll try and shorten it for your comfort..).

It has been my experience, working with folks, that the subject of fat loss and health is bilingual.  That is, there is a specific language spoken when discussing fat loss and another when talking about lifestyle practices for enhanced health. Both languages come with two very different prescriptions for healthy eating and exercise.  The language I prefer and, ironically, believe will lead to successful weight loss is one of health.  This language includes words such as 'balance', 'moderation', 'active living', 'enjoyment', and 'physical activity'. The lifestyle prescription for health is quite "simple". Eat a balanced diet that includes a wide variety of vegetables and fruit, be conscious of serving size, and enjoy the "other" foods, such as chips, in moderation.  Physical activity should include moderate movement for over 30 minutes per day and incorporates the notion of living actively.  Opportunities like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking to the store or to work more often, and even as little as standing while talking on the phone rather than sitting, makes a big difference over the year.
The language of health is comfortable, inclusive, and promotes enjoyment of our healthy diet and physical activity choices.  Conversely, the language of fat loss offers some very important variations to note.  For example, you have probably read testimonials of successful "losers" stating that they were "out of control" and "let themselves go". It is through our culture of fat phobia that these judgements are aloud to exist. many weight loss advertisements tout messages like "take control of your weight" or "get a better body now" assuming your body needs work and could be better. Moreover, fitness programs that target that tummy or help you sculpt your way to a beach body may offer false hope to the exerciser which leads to disappointment in the long run. More often than not, this disappointment leads to reverting to old behaviours and any potential losses we made, we gain back....plus more!

If you want to shed the pounds and look sexy at the beach this summer (and yes, if you are desiring this, you would start to action plan and move on that goal now), it is completely realistic.  You will have to exercise approximately 60 - 90 minutes daily, restrict your calories and limit (if not eliminate) the fun foods to achieve success. There is no place for junk food if you want to trim down and this process may be even more challenging depending on your age (yup...I thought that was a bunch of crap..until I turned 40). It is important to note, that there is nothing wrong with wanting to shed pounds. The tug of war begins when the goals are for fat loss, but the actions relate to health and enjoyment. In my work with people, I hear more often than note, the proclamation of weight loss, but witness behaviours that go against this goal. This will only lead to frustration and self flagellation in the end. Give yourself a break; consider the language and practice of health.
You can enhance your health and reduce your risk of illness by enjoying 30 - 60 minutes of moderate physical activity every other day and eat from a variety of healthful foods with a focus on vegetables.  In addition, you will be able to enjoy your favourite foods, like beer and nachos, without dreading the after effects n your weight.  Which sounds more realistic (and more enjoyable) to you?
I saw this add on-line and loved it!
If you are going to join a gym and get involved in group fitness classes, that's great. Research shows that you will stick with it longer if you do it with others. I'm a very strong supporter of group fitness classes. Unfortunately, I still see classes labeled based upon the promise of the "body ideal" - like if you attend this class you can expect these results. Classes such as; body sculpt, bellyfit, and butts and abs (my personal favorite) can lead us down a very disappointing path. In addition, I have heard promises being made in Pilates classes marketing longer and leaner muscles. If you do have the opportunity to take such classes, go for it, just be aware of the influences the titles may have on your beliefs and attitudes of the class. If you are expecting to take a few Pilates classes and walk out longer and leaner you will be disappointed...I assure you.  Join a class, meet some like-minded people to support you, and enjoy what you are doing now matter what the results...THAT is real life health!

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