The Elephant in the Room that the Diet Industry is Ignoring

elephant--freeimage.com

elephant–freeimage.com

At the beginning of last month, I posted a little rant about an article I’d read, which suggested ways in which the ‘average’ person could easily lose weight throughout the day. I found the article so ludicrous, so not in keeping with the daily lives of most ‘average’ people I know, that I felt I had to say something.

I got that off my chest (with a fair amount of bad language on my part), but I’ve been thinking about it ever since. You know, the diet industry has a vested interest in making us feel bad about our appearance. So-called fitness magazines frequently feature models so nonathletic and frail-looking it’s hard to believe they could complete a single set of exercises they’re depicted performing. Their articles claim to help the reader to lose an unbelievable amount of weight in a ridiculously short period of time. Again and again. At some point you have to wonder if these ‘tips’ and fad diets were so successful, why does the next magazine come out with a new suggestion the following month? In fact, you have to kind of admire the whole set up: let’s make people feel bad about their appearance and then let’s persuade them to spend lots of money trying to live up to unrealistic ideals, only to have them fail and come back to spend more money. Clever, eh?

I read a statistic today from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and that said two thirds of every American are either overweight or obese. Why does this seem to be a uniquely American problem? I would have to say it’s multi-factorial. It probably has a lot to do with the abundance of fast food and processed food, both of which are cheaper than fresh clean foods you have to prepare yourself. One of the things I discovered on a trip to the UK was how much healthier much of the food is there. For one thing, they don’t allow all the additives that are considered a matter of course here in the US. Then there’s the difficulty of finding the time and energy to prepare healthy food when you’re always on the run. Not to mention exercising, for heaven’s sake.

Just this morning, I took an online ‘test’ to determine my ‘metabolic age’ based on a few questions. Of course, once I took it–and received the information that I was metabolically six years older than my given age–the whole thing was designed to scare me into buying into some program guaranteed to reverse this terrible condition, probably for three easy payments of only $19.99 each.

I think all of these health and fitness recommendations overlook one very important thing: the level of stress most of us are under every freaking day. It’s all very well to talk about willpower and increasing your metabolism, of getting up early and working out before breakfast, or eliminating all carbs, no wait, eliminate all meat, no… scratch that. Anyway, the one thing most of these lose-weight-fast and improve-your-health-in-12-easy-steps programs seem to overlook is that most of us are walking around with adrenal glands the size of cantaloupes from all the stress we’re under.

sleeping cat freeimage.com

sleeping cat freeimage.com

I don’t know about you, but I have to fight hard to get seven precious hours of sleep a night. You know what they say about lack of sleep? Among other things, it makes it easier for you to gain weight. Lack of sleep also ravages your immune system, and driving while sleep-deprived is every bit as reckless as driving while under the influence.

Then there’s the average work day in America. You think it’s eight hours, right? Well, I can’t tell you the last time I worked nine to five. More like eight to six or longer. A forty hour work week? Don’t make me laugh. I’ve worked sixty plus hours a week for years and I didn’t get paid overtime because I was on salary, not hourly employment. Add to that the fact the job itself is stressful, and you get the triple whammy: you’re eating junk food on the run and you’re eating to keep moving AND your own stress hormones are both demanding you eat more and storing everything you eat as fat. When your entire day is one long ‘flight or fight’ mode and you do neither, the constant influx of cortisol in your body with no outlet does bad things to you. And this makes it ten times harder to do anything about your weight.

Unfortunately, stress in America seems to be a way of life. Our work day and work week is not likely to get any shorter. Our jobs are probably going to remain one of the biggest sources of stress in our lives. Most of us are also trying to balance raising a family and taking care of elderly parents as well. And I’ve said it before but the thing so many ‘experts’ seem to overlook is we’re all starving: emotionally, physically, financially. We’re all pinching and scraping and sacrificing–and to come home at the end of the day and deny ourselves something else seems like asking too much.

But you have to. At some point you have to say, “You know what? Yes, I probably deserve that second helping of lasagne, but I also deserve better health. And I have to choose.” At some point, you have to accept that your job/family life is stressful and that it’s not likely to change–but how you react to it is under your control. You can manage your stress in other ways besides eating. Meditate. Walk the dog. Ride bikes with the kids. Hell, talk to the kids, for some other reason than to tell them to go clean up their room. For me, watching less television, spending less time on social media, and spending more time reading and doing quiet activities helps.

But cut yourself slack on the nearly Sisyphean task of losing weight. Because like any other goal you seek to achieve, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. You’re going to have good days and bad days. Toss out the diet and fitness magazines, ignore the latest fad trends. Remember that most of those magazines aren’t even depicting images of real people–they’ve been Photoshopped into unrealistic standards.

Take a deep breath. Maybe the most important thing today isn’t the number on the scale or whether your thighs rub together when you walk. Maybe it’s the fact you made someone smile, or you played with your dog, or you solved that really challenging problem at work. Let’s not make your weight one more thing to stress about. It’s not the most important thing about you.

10 thoughts on “The Elephant in the Room that the Diet Industry is Ignoring

  1. I definitely understand. Weight control has been an issue for me my entire life. Balancing family, work, fitness and everything else that makes up a life is an ongoing struggle. My hours on the job and ability to get sleep are on a par with yours. The thought that keeps me going is “Never give up…keep trying.” And so I do. Though I’m fairly far along life’s path, I keep trying and I’m making progress. I wish it had come sooner, but I’m happy to be where I am. I know you will make progress too because it is on your mind and you are investing critical thought. I’d say, keep it simple, take small steps and appreciate your strides forward. Be kind to yourself and appreciate your efforts to improve your health and well-being. <3

    • With regards to weight, I’m kind of like the student who sailed through high school and the first two years of college without studying, only to find the final two years of degree work hard and without the skills to manage it. šŸ™‚ Weight wasn’t something I worried about until recently, when shifting hormones blessed me with an extra 20 pounds that won’t budge.

      But I also look at my life now: Struggling to get enough sleep, high-stress job, eat-on-the-go meals, little time to relax and unwind, and an increasing fear for our future. This prolonged windup to the elections has me in a state of anxiety I’ve never experienced before, and apparently I’m not the only one. Google ‘election anxiety’ and you’ll get tons of articles. Apparently Newsweek did a piece on how it is filling therapists’ billable hours at the moment. Don’t get me started on *that*. šŸ˜‰

      But yeah, I have to cut myself a little slack here. I don’t need one more thing to stress over! I do thing, however, that part of the problem here in the US is that so many of us are starving on so many levels–and we are using food to cope.

  2. Love it! And yes, the diet industry is an awful self-esteem-destroying industry. I never shop in athletic stores, but I needed a bathing suit off-season, so in I went for an over-priced few yards of spandex and thought I’d check out the “big sale” on yoga pants and the like (hey, don’t judge, they’re comfortable for around the house!) Not only were the sale prices a joke, but the sizes were wrong. I mean, dead wrong. I *know* what my size is. I can very easily go into any store and head to the correct rack and get six things to try on that all fit–may not love the fit, but they will go on my body. In the athletic store, I had to go up two to three sizes *just* to wriggle into the stupid thing. Do not tell me that isn’t psychology at work, to make a woman feel overweight (which, okay, yes, I am) and unattractive.

    • Hah! I ranted about *that* back in June. Don’t get me started on the ridiculously arbitrary sizing in clothing! A recent trend I’ve noticed with online stores is a move away from using numbers to denote size–now it’s all L, XL, 2XL and so on. Well, what does that mean? It varies from store to store and item to item. I have to go look at the size chart, and half the time, one is not provided. So I just mark that store off my list. *sigh*

      I’ve met you in person and you’re adorable. Perfect just the way you are.

  3. Stress has certainly been one of the greatest issues for me and gaining weight. When I took on the additional job of home dialyzing my mother, I started stress munching right along with her (dialysis causes munchies because up to a pint of blood is circulating outside the body during the session). It’s proven for me that I do well on a ketogenic / paleo-esque diet, but I think it’s not just the elimination of carbs but that it doesn’t require calorie counting, which in and of itself creates more stress and dials up an internal obsession with food good and bad. I had to tell myself to just find the “lifestyle” (as opposed to diet) that suited me. Still a work in progress, but it did all start with having to address the stress issue.

    • I hear you on that kind of stress. I served as a caretaker to my father the last five years of his life, and there was a lot of waiting in hospital rooms and treatment centers–with vending machines and cafeteria food. I keep circling back to the Paleo diet but cutting out bread and crackers entirely seems to be the sticking point for me. I know if I gave it a couple of weeks just to see, I’d probably stick with it, but right now, at this point in my life, giving up ONE MORE THING seems to be more than I can ask of myself. If that makes any sense at all, you know? šŸ˜‰
      Sarah Madison recently posted..The Elephant in the Room that the Diet Industry is IgnoringMy Profile

      • I totally know what you mean. I do well on Paleo until I have to eat out, because a big part of me loves dining out with my friends and enjoying good food from all around the world. My faves, Ethiopian and Indian, have breads that I am not going to avoid because it’s part of the pleasure of those foods. When I’m left on my own, though, I’m fine and can stick with it. When I did my last Whole 30, I explained to a waitress in a Mediterranean restaurant why I had to leave the pita and hummus sides off my kabob plate. The guys in the kitchen felt so sorry for me they loaded it up with replacement salad and extra sauteed veggies, so that was good lol
        Julie Ishaya recently posted..Coming 2016: “Just one sip…”My Profile

  4. Amen to all you said. It took me years to get to that point, and even today I keep having these moments when I catch my reflection in a mirror and hate myself. You know, I’ve been caught in this “Be thin!” conundrum society, the diet industry and all those glossy magazines, billboards and photoshopped ads created around me. I think I’ve lost, put back on and lost again my whole body weight over the last twenty years or so. But if you try to counter the pressure of outside stress with stress you make for yourself by trying to live up to impossible standards, you’re bound to fail. It’s good to finaly realize it, though starting to live it, unfortunately, is a whole other pair of shoes *sigh*

    • I have those moments all the time now. Not only was I taught to revile weight gain but from an early age I heard over and over again how horrible it was to get old. I keep trying to tell myself that it’s a normal process and we all go through it, and then I see some actress ten years older than I am who looks utterly fabulous–and I don’t.

      But Photoshop has a lot to answer for…

      About ten years ago, I threw out all my beauty and fitness magazines. Filled up a trash bag. Not only am I saving money by not buying them, but it was very liberating too. šŸ™‚
      Sarah Madison recently posted..The Elephant in the Room that the Diet Industry is IgnoringMy Profile

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