“I want to be more fit, maybe a little taller” blurts my friend as he looks at a larger than life poster of a model on the side of the highway. Earlier in the day at a restaurant, he orders a salad for lunch and leaves the croutons untouched. He casually says he’s not hungry. He’d skipped breakfast that morning. He exercises every day and looks well-built to me but to him, it’s a different story.
My friend is not alone in his struggle with body image. Memories of myself going on diets, trying to lose weight are still fresh but his obsession with weight loss and attaining the perfect figure are a little concerning. However, to the unsuspecting, his behaviour seems nothing out of the ordinary. It has become commonplace to find youth today constantly trying to perfect the way they look and obsession is only ever subjective.
Constantly discussed yet unspoken; Fad diets, intermittent fasting and Juice cleanses; Myriad labels – 0%, 2% and Whole, calorie count tables and Organic – This is the world we live in. A million blogs and videos detailing unbelievable weight loss journeys are available at the click of a button. Celebrities and commoners alike hop on Instagram to post photos of their flawless bodies, hoping to inspire their followers. Can I say “TMI”?
Now, more than ever before, we have greater access to information on how food affects our bodies and deeper insights into weight loss routines but we still understand so little. So much of the information that we encounter on a daily basis is neither scientifically corroborated nor applicable to our bodies. It is impossible to avoid this constant stream of statistics and data, and being as human as we are, ill-informed decisions are made.
It is only a year later that I found out that my friend has been diagnosed with clinical anorexia. Our mutual friends were shocked, after all, he seemed to be a role model for healthy living. I suspect that it’s this constant adoration that might’ve pushed him to maintain a dangerous diet even when his body told him otherwise. In fact, a study shows that 81 per cent of ten-year-olds are afraid of becoming fat. At an age when their bodies are still not fully developed and need nutrition, children and teens alike are starving themselves.
Traditional media does little to help. Though there has been a spike in the recent trend of being authentic and more and more influencers share their struggle with body image issues and eating disorders, these voices are few and far in-between among the general commotion of weight loss gurus. Models to mannequins, everyday imagery promotes a thin, fair-skinned and Western as beautiful for women, while tall, muscular and Western again are the qualities of the masculine handsomeness. It is almost impossible to ignore these constant reminders that our own bodies are inadequate.
“I stopped going on social media”, tells my friend. “I deleted all my accounts and the tracker apps on my phone. That has helped me a great deal”. He also tells me that his general mood has improved ever since he’s been eating healthily and his emotional stability and mental acuity have been boosted as well. I am happy that he found the courage in himself to break out of the vicious cycle but not everyone is as emotionally strong. It is estimated that around 30 million are diagnosed with eating disorders in the US; that number is a staggering 25% of young girls in India and this trend only seems to be growing.
Health and dietary science has made quantum leaps in recent decades but we are still far from understanding the complete picture. While we must be well-informed of our options, the greatest tool in maintaining a healthy lifestyle, is the feedback we receive from our own bodies. It is important to consult a certified doctor before going on diets and even then to remember not to set impossible goals for yourself which in turn might only become another source of stress.
Here are some tips to battle your body image issues [WellCast].
- Stop, Breathe
- Look inward and look to your own inspiration
- Don’t sacrifice future health for current figure
- Don’t keep moving goal posts back. Don’t set unattainable goals.
- Talk It Out
- Step away from the mirror
[Photo courtesy: Alora Griffiths on Unsplash]