We live in a world where obesity is not a disease held by a small percentage of our population, rather obesity has become an epidemic. As the processed food industries psychologically manipulate us into thinking we should consume more of their products, illness related to excess body fat has continued to rise; consequently, healthcare costs have surged.
The government has just started to notice the effects of a society where the forty hour work week doesn’t exist and where sitting down all day has become the norm. With new government programs to incorporate healthier options in school lunches, PSA’s reminding us of the significance of exercise, and more foods labeled as “healthy,” “fat-free,” “gluten-free,” etc., the US has begun to push the idea of losing weight and living a healthier lifestyle. I am all for the idea of living a lifestyle that contributes to less illness and overall well-being, but what we have forgotten is the opposite side of the argument. Since we have put so much emphasis on weight loss and living healthfully, we have created a new epidemic: eating disorders.
Sure, eating disorders are not a new, but according to a study performed in 2012 examining the rates of eating disorders between 1998 and 2008, extreme dieting has increased from 1.5% to 3.3% and binge eating has increased from 2.7% to 4.9% (Mitchinson et al., 2012). On top of that, anorexia has a higher mortality rate than any other psychiatric disorder
(Arcelus, Jon, Mitchell, Alex J. et al., 2011). We are only feeding this trend, and the media isn’t helping implement the idea of balance and moderation.
The media is leading us to decrease our intake while increasing our exercise. “Calories in should be less than calories out,” they say, but this oversimplified idea isn’t backed up by science. Sure, if someone is overweight or obese, then changing the way they think about and consume food will help them lead a lifestyle that doesn’t put them at risk of illness or even death. Unfortunately, the media is exaggerating the idea of clean eating and elimination diets; consequently, eating disorders are fostered without people even realizing it. It’s a crippling mentality, and it’s not something I would ever wish on someone else. We have to find a balance.
Rates for obesity are already high and continue to grow, but eating disorders are following the same trend. Why can’t we find a balance between the two? I believe in eating healthfully (without elimination!), but I also believe in indulging in foods if we want to, when we want to. We should move our bodies to help oxygen flow through our bloodstream, to strengthen our heart, to boost our immunity, and to enhance our mood, but I don’t believe we should engage in workouts we don’t enjoy out of the unhappiness with ourselves. There are many ways to deem all the benefits of exercise without doing things we don’t enjoy. Exercise is important, but so is the quality of life.
I think we can work together to end the diet trends and focus on what’s important. Not letting yourself eat food you want to (hello donuts!) every now and again only causes us to binge when we implement them back into our diet (I speak from experience). I think this idea of mindfulness and balance can also help contribute to the decline of the obesity epidemic. Those who are obese find it difficult to exercise, but if we give them enjoyable exercise ideas, then they are both more likely to stick with it and also be happy. If we force treadmills and elliptical machines while restricting food intake, we are only going to see a continued increase in obesity rates. The weight may come off in the first place, but it will only come back on in the long run.
Let’s work to find balance. Less processed, more real. I eat processed foods, but I also eat real foods, and definitely more of the real foods. I eat vegetables, lean meats, healthy fats, and whole grains, but I also eat cookies, donuts, big steaks, and whatever else I think sounds delicious and fulfilling. I exercise by engaging in activities that I WANT to do (can you guess what?), but don’t force myself to go to the gym when I don’t feel up to it. I think if a balance can be achieved and maintained, we can find a middle for this obesity and eating disorder crisis our world is facing.