"I know this is going to sound weird," Carrie confesses, "but when I eat too much junk food, I'm so guilty I actually hate myself. I'm the kind of person who has plenty of self-control in every other area except food. What makes it so hard is that most of the time when I'm cheating by eating bad stuff, I'm with my friends and having fun. When I'm with my family I eat regular meals and it's much easier to be good."
You would think from the words Carrie uses—guilty, bad, cheating, hate—that she was talking about something more immoral or harmful than snacking on potato chips. You would think she was worried about the osteoporosis, anemia, obesity, and cardiovascular disease that might be made worse by eating certain foods. You would think at least that she had a weight problem. You would think that, but you'd be wrong.
The statistics tell the story. Although almost 80% of the teenage girls studied in a recent survey fall within the healthy weight range, less than 50% saw their weight as "about right." The proportion who wanted to lose weight increased from 69% in 7th grade to 82% in 12th grade—including 49% of underweight girls. In another study, more than 30% of nine-year-old girls expressed fear of fatness, increasing in age to over 80% among 18-year-olds. More than the dark, more than mice and snakes and scary movies, what most teenage girls fear is growing fat.
Why do so many teenage girls have a negative body image?
The surge in body fatness levels during adolescence and the normal associated changes in the female shape might explain why girls are more likely to experience a negative body image. Under the influence of sex hormones girls develop fat stores on the hips and thigh. This fear of fatness motivates otherwise sane young women to try unsafe methods of maintaining weight like smoking, laxatives, diuretics, crash diets, and vomiting, all presenting a greater threat to their health than obesity.
Who promotes this craziness?
There is no shortage of culprits. Certainly advertising, movies, fashion magazines, and TV, all forms of the media who flaunt the ultra-slender female form as the ultimate in feminine beauty, are partly to blame.
In Fiji, for centuries the ideal body was robust; "going thin," as they called it, was a cause of concern, not admiration. That was, until TV was introduced to this remote South Pacific island. Now a study reports that teen girls on the island were 50% more likely to feel "too big or fat."
Why is it that even if you and your best friend went on the same exact diet, the scale would show different results?
Researchers have learned that some people's genes make them more "metabolically efficient" than others. The answer to a strong, healthy body lies not in labeling any food as "good" or "bad." You can have that 200-calorie soda, just take a brisk walk for 40 minutes and burn them off.
Next time you're depressed because the mirror disappoints you, don't be tempted to fall for these myths:
1. Thin and healthy are the same.
2. Carbohydrates make you fat. (Too much of anything is no good for you.)
3. Protein builds muscle and burns fat. (Only exercise does that.)
4. Eating certain foods in combination can help you to lose weight.
Learn to see yourself through your grandma's eyes instead of that distorted mirror you rely on. There's no need to eliminate any food you enjoy from your diet. Just learn to make trade-offs and balance unhealthy foods with healthy ones. And keep on the move. The safest and most appropriate obesity prevention strategy is to get moving and exercise.