Many Americans have experienced going on various diets and not being able to sustain them. One of the main problems is the reason why they go on a diet in the first place. Most often, it is to attain an impossibly perfect body type as imposed by social expectations.

The YouGov Body Image Study 2021 was conducted nationwide among 1,302 Americans aged 16 and above from April 26 to 27, 2021. In it, 76 percent stated that media fosters a certain body image for women that is unattainable, and this pressures women to achieve that body type. More than half or 52 percent of respondents stated that the media imposes the same body image pressure on men. 69 percent of respondents also identified the fashion industry as a culprit in imposing certain body types as the ideal.

Negative Body Image and Eating Disorders

According to a clinical psychologist, a negative body image or dissatisfaction with one’s body weight and shape is a potential factor that contributes to some eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Anorexia can be life-threatening because people with this disorder avoid eating to the point of starvation. Even as they lose a lot of weight, they still see themselves as fat. People with bulimia secretly purge themselves by inducing vomiting or using laxatives.

Among people with binge eating disorder, 60 percent have a negative body image. People with this disorder secretly consume large amounts of food in secret, eating fast and far beyond fullness to the point of discomfort. They feel out of control and are ashamed of their eating compulsion.

It is important to consult professionals for an anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder recovery plan. These are complex problems that need the collaborative care of clinical psychiatrists and psychologists, medical doctors, therapists, nutritionists, dietitians, and movement specialists.

woman cutting fruit

Overly Restrictive Diets are Not Sustainable

The best motivation for changing your eating habits is to become healthier. For individuals who are medically obese or significantly overweight, this can mean having to lose some weight. However, this must always be done with reasonable and achievable goals and coupled with increased physical activity. It should not be tied to achieving a certain appearance. Instead, apart from pounds lost, a better measure of each level of success is how the body performs and how the person feels. For instance, walking up a flight of stairs no longer leaves you breathless.

Diets that are too strict are difficult to sustain. In many cases, overly restrictive diets result in feelings of extreme deprivation, and the person swings toward overeating after a while. It then becomes an endless cycle of dieting and unhealthy eating.

Sometimes, people create their own restricted diets to lose weight. Without professional consultation, such diets may lack crucial nutrients needed by the body and result in deficiencies. Keep in mind that merely losing weight does not equate to being healthy.

To be sustainable, it is better to slowly modify eating habits and integrate these into one’s lifestyle. Modifications must be guided by evidence-based resources, such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) 2020-2025 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

While it is important to practice moderation in consuming certain food like sugar, sodium, and saturated fats, this does not mean that one must totally remove these items from all meals unless there is a medical reason for it. Even the DGA allows for certain amounts of these items per day for those not medically restricted.

Have a cheat day once a week that you can look forward to. Processed food is not healthy, but you can have bacon once a month, for instance. Just do not make it a part of your regular breakfast. You can also use your cheat day to indulge in your favorite chocolate bar. Limit yourself to one cheat item on that day, though, to not overload your system.

What is most important is to have six days a week of healthful eating. When you choose to load up on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein, you will never feel hungry. You must, however, be vigilant in replacing unhealthy ingredients with healthy and still delicious alternatives. Extra virgin olive oil is very healthy and enhances the taste of food more than any other oil. Brown rice has a nutty taste and al dente texture that white rice does not have. Whole wheat bread has a more gourmet taste compared to white bread.

Explore new flavors and textures of food. Enjoy the wide variety and combinations of cuisines from around the world. After all, eating good food is one of the greatest pleasures of life.

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