Media bombards people with loud, repetitive messages about looks, weight and health. “Average” Americans on television are portrayed by underweight actors with near-perfect looks.
Ultra-thin models are everywhere, and many swear they eat plenty and exercise little. Every day, new news reports and medical studies are released about the perils of being overweight, while the definitions of “overweight” and “obese” change. Commercials promote the latest weight loss drug, pill, shake, supplement, bar, gel, juice, plan or piece of equipment. All of this information overload has created a society that constantly has weight in mind.
The Prevalence and Problems of Worrying about Weight
According to a recent Gallup poll, 69 percent of people who see themselves as overweight worry about their weight all or some of the time; the other 31 percent worry about weight not too often or not at all. Women, especially young women, are most likely to often worry about their weight and weight loss.
Excessive worry about being overweight and weight loss can actual cause weight gain. People who regularly worry about their weight, and the studies show that is many people, are likely to gain weight because of one or both of the following two behaviors:
2. Dieting practices
Stress and Weight Gain
A person who worries about their weight some or all of the time is very likely to experience at least some level of stress. Stress is an emotional and physical response to internal or external pressure. The body’s response to stress can result in fatigue, tension, irritability, headache, general pain and digestive upset. Many studies have linked stress to weight gain; at the very least, stress make it difficult to lose weight. The reasons why stress contributes to weight gain are many.
1. Emotional eating. Stress has both physical and emotional effects, and, for many people, emotional eating is a significant source of weight gain.
2. Cravings. One of the effects of stress is to raise levels of cortisol, which is called “the stress hormone,” in the body. High levels of cortisol cause cravings for sweet or salty foods.
3. Social eating. While relying on supportive friends, significant others and family members helps relieve stress, social interactions often revolve around food. Studies have demonstrated that peer pressure has a significant influence over the type and quantity of food people eat.
4. Fatigue. Stress often causes physical and emotional fatigue. For overweight individuals, maintaining healthy behaviors, such as regular exercise and nutritious meals, takes physical and emotional energy, which someone who is stressed may not have.
The stress caused by excessive worry about weight actually causes weight gain, in many cases, for some or all of the above reasons. Worrying about weight causes a vicious cycle: because a person is stressed about being overweight, she eats more food while with others and does not have the energy for exercise, which causes her to gain weight, which increases her stress level about being overweight, etc.
Dieting and Weight Gain
Overweight individuals who regularly worry about their weight are, naturally, more likely to engage in practices to attempt to shed that weight. Unfortunately, most people who attempt to lose weight engage in unsafe and unhealthy practices. The number of quick weight loss programs in existence is high, and many of them promote practices that are risky. Furthermore, the practice of yo-yo dieting, or weight cycling, has its share of negative effects, including weight gain.
The cycle of dieting and weight gain that often leads to a higher weight in the long-term:
1. People who worry about their weight are likely to engage in any of a number of diets that promise a quick weight loss.
2. Quick weight loss diets work in the short-term because they are very calorie restrictive. Many of these diets impose tight restrictions on the types of food that people can eat. Any dietician or physician can attest to the risks of a diet that does not include a full range of foods, which provide a broad spectrum of nutrients that the body needs.
3. Studies show that calorie restricted diets actually promote weight gain for a number of reasons:
- Dieters find it difficult to keep up with calorie counting, so they quit the diet and return to previous eating patterns.
- A diet with too few calories causes fatigue and does not give people the energy to exercise, an important part of weight loss and a healthy lifestyle.
- Calorie restrictions cause the body to enter a “fight or flight” response, which is stressful on the body and causes weight gain for the same reasons as mentioned above.
- Calorie restriction can lead to binge eating, which causes weight gain.
- One Minnesota study of individuals who were put on a calorie restricted diet for six months showed that calorie restriction can lead to binge eating, depression, weight gain and long-term abnormal eating behaviors.
4. Most diets cannot be sustained long-term, which means that overweight people practice yo-yo dieting or weight cycling, which can lead to weight gain. Most people who are overweight and who practice yo-yo dieting will, over time, gain weight. While researchers may not be sure of the exact cause of this, yo-yo dieting can have a negative psychological affect as people start, but do not complete, a diet repeatedly and feel a sense of failure.
Leave Weight Worry Behind
The best practice for individuals who are overweight is to avoid frequently worrying about weight loss. While media makes it difficult to avoid thinking about weight altogether, some tips to cut down on worry about weight include:
- Identifying non-weight related personal characteristics to be proud of
- Recognizing that the vast majority of people are not at their ideal weight
- Thinking less about weight and more about overall health
- Engaging in easy-to-implement changes to increase physical, psychological, social and spiritual health
There is much more to live than weight and many other factors that affect life satisfaction and longevity