"If you realized how powerful your thoughts are, you would never think a negative thought. They can have a powerful influence for good when they're on the positive side, and they can and do make you physically ill when they're on the negative side."
~ Peace Pilgrim
Did you know that the average North American woman is 5'4", weighs 140 pounds and wears a size 14 dress? Yet the "ideal" woman portrayed by models and movie stars is 5'7", weights 100 pounds and wears a size 8. What is wrong with this picture? Body dissatisfaction is at an all-time high among both men and women. Check out the following startling facts:
- 75 percent of women are dissatisfied with their appearance; 89 percent say they want to lose weight; 22 percent of men say they want to gain weight. In general, men are more satisfied with their appearance than women, although the number of men who are tormented about their weight and shape is climbing.
- 15 percent of women and 11 percent of men, respectively, say they would sacrifice more than five years of their life to be the ideal weight, while 24 percent of women and 17 percent of men say they would give up more than three years.
- 50 percent of all women are on a diet at any given time.
- The weight loss industry (diet foods, programs and drugs) takes in more than $40 billion each year and continues to grow.
- Young girls are more afraid of becoming fat than they are of nuclear war, cancer or losing their parents.
- 50 percent of nine-year-old girls and 80 percent of ten-year-olds girls have dieted.
- Anorexia has the highest mortality rate (up to 20 percent) of any psychiatric illness.
- Girls are more prone to developing eating and self-image problems than developing drug or alcohol problems. Yet there are drug and alcohol programs in almost every school but very few eating disorder programs.
- One to two percent of women between the ages of 14 and 25 have anorexia; three to five percent experience bulimia and another 10 to 20 percent of women in this age group engage in many of the behaviors associated with both eating problems.
Clients often have very unrealistic expectations of the type of body they would like to achieve. They often refer to popular magazines for an image of their ideal body. But they are ignorant of the fact that many of the models are 23 percent underweight and have been made-up for hours. Camera tricks are used and once the photos have been developed, the pictures are cropped, airbrushed and manipulated by computer to produce an unrealistic, unhealthy, and so-called "perfect" image.
We have to encourage our clients to examine their genetics and to understand that fat loss is dependent on genetic breakdown – many physiologists now concur that greater than 40 percent of "fatness" is genetically determined. Clients (or your exercise programs) cannot change this! Here are some statistics to help your clients understand this relationship.
If one of their parents is obese, they are twice as likely to be overfat.
If both of their parents are obese, they are four times as likely to be overfat.
One study also makes this relationship very clear. Overfat identical twins were fed 1,000 extra calories per day for seven weeks. You would expect that each pair of twins should gain exactly the same amount of weight, but in fact, the weight gain ranged from 9.5 to 29.3 pounds. It is also interesting to note that although the actual range of weight gain between twins was very high, the twins in each pair gained exactly the same amount of weight!
Have your clients examine their parents and their family to determine the types of expectations they can place upon themselves and the program you design for them.
What we find sad are the clients who get caught in the "Geez, if I could just lose this extra 10 pounds, then I'd be happy" syndrome, yet when they do lose the weight, they are still not satisfied. If a client believes that they will only be happy once they lose the weight, they will never be skinny enough to be happy. It is a vicious cycle and it never ends unless our clients learn to love the body they have as it is right now, not tomorrow or next month or next year. It is great to want to make health improvements but they cannot hate and despise the state they are in now. Making these lifestyle changes is about your clients believing they deserve to be healthier! It is not about making the changes so they can look like someone else. If they make changes with this as their ultimate goal, they will not succeed in the long term and will most likely be miserable in the process! Take our word for it. We have seen it happen time and time again! Body hatred and dissatisfaction are hardly reserved for only the morbidly obese. In fact, many women who clearly have very little body fat to lose are not happy with their body proportions. Encourage your clients to take control of their happiness today!
Have your clients complete the following steps
Step #1: Decide what's realistic for you.
- Is there a history of excess fat in your family?
- Which parts of your body or your physical attributes are you satisfied with?
- What is the lowest weight you have maintained as an adult for at least one year?
- Based on your genetic predisposition, your age and the amount of time you want to spend exercising, what type of "ideal" physique is achievable for you?
Step #2: Realize that your past does not equal your future.
Events that happened to you in your past, such as sexual, physical or verbal abuse, significantly influence your present perception of yourself. It is imperative that you recreate your body image by recognizing and releasing these feelings from the past.
- Make a timeline of the events in your life that you believe contributed to your body image. Start with childhood memories and continue to the present. What types of messages did your parents give you about your body? How did other relationships affect your body image?
- Make a list of all the things you can do to take care of yourself and your body. Which actions can you take on a regular basis to demonstrate that you love yourself and that you deserve to be healthy?
Step #3: Get a little help from your friends.
- Make a list of the people you would like to surround yourself with because you know they will be positive and supportive of your ambitions.
- Make a mental note of the people you will spend less time with because you feel they may be a negative influence.
One aspect of gaining control of a negative body image is understanding the role of negative and irrational thinking. Our clients are often their own worst critics and can be very hard on themselves. Our clients cannot take their thoughts lightly because they can directly affect their actions and their progress. There are things that they can do immediately to overcome or control negative and irrational thinking. Here are some tips to give to clients.
8 Tips for Overcoming Negative or Irrational Thinking
- Listen to your thoughts at the times when you feel worst.
- Listen for irrational/negative thinking.
- Dispute these thoughts by asking "Why is this so?" "Where is this negativity coming from?" and "Could there be another possible explanation or interpretation?"
- Imagine repeating what you have said to a close friend or child. We could never imagine talking to others as we often talk to ourselves. The next time you catch yourself thinking irrationally or negatively to or of yourself, ask yourself if you would ever speak this way to another human being. You deserve the same type of respect you would give anybody else! Remind yourself that if you continually practice negative self-talk, eventually, you may actually start to believe your own words. Your self-esteem can end up taking a real beating.
- Displace continuing irrational beliefs by techniques of
- Thought stopping. When worrying, instantly think of a stop sign and then focus on pleasant thoughts.
- Stress management. When worrying, participate in your favourite relaxation techniques like massage, reading, baths, journal writing, etc.
- Thought reversal. Have positive messages or quotes posted around your work or home environment to help anchor you back to a positive state and put things into perspective.
- Learn to live in the moment and to experience true joy in your life. Stop worrying about the past or the future. Most people have a very difficult time living in the now. Try this easy drill. Shut your eyes. Listen and try to identify all the sounds around you. Smell for different scents. Open your eyes and really look around you. Observe all the different colors and objects. The next time you eat, try to eat slowly and taste every single bite. Quick drills like this will help you to develop your skills of living in the moment.
- Each night before you fall asleep, make a mental note of what was the best part of your day or of something that you experienced that you really appreciated or enjoyed. By doing this, you will learn to look for the good things in life.
- Live today! Self hatred takes a lot of time and energy. Obsessing about your body weight, nutrition plan and exercise program leaves you tired and depressed. Deciding to not enjoy the here-and-now because you have decided to wait until you lose the weight will leave you feeling deprived and will often lead to more negative feelings and behaviors. Remember that thin thighs, a small butt and a six-pack set of abdominals is not the ticket to a meaningful existence. Fill your life with interesting experiences and supportive people and you will enjoy a much higher quality of life.