Is Your Weight Controlling You?
BY Cade Fields-Gardner
August 18 2006 12:00 AM ET
We all know that to maintain a good weight, the equation for proper eating'as discussed in the August issue of HIV Plus'is energy in equals energy out. However, if our behavior around food were just about getting nutrients, then none of us would have so many imbalance-related problems. In addition to health, nutrition is about social and economic issues. We use food to show friendliness, hospitality, and even love. We enjoy special meals for holidays and birthdays. Food and eating behaviors depend on our culture, interests, and many other factors aside from our physical needs. As you can imagine, our attitude toward weight gain and weight loss also depends on many factors aside from meeting nutrient needs. Researchers have looked into this with some interesting findings.
Eating behaviors, especially with dieting and intentional weight loss, vary from person to person. While not all results can be generalized to any particular population, we can look for ourselves in the behaviors that researchers can categorize.
In general, people who may be considered overweight often have weight-based stigmatization experiences. With more frequent experiences, there are more frequent problems of depression, poor self-esteem, and body image problems, causing more distress. Overweight people with antifat beliefs suffered most. Obese adolescents with negative attitudes about weight at baseline improved their appearance and exercise attitudes with some weight losses.
For instance, one study compared men and women to find that men believed that women diet for cosmetic reasons, while they considered their own dieting behavior as grounded in more 'legitimate' reasons, such as health. Men were less likely to join 'slimming' groups. One research group suggests that the gender differences in joining groups may be explained by a difference between men and women and their perceptions of their own weight. While women were able to more accurately appraise their weight, men tended to describe themselves as 'light' regardless of what their actual weight was.
So why do some of us do well in controlling our weight, and why does weight control some of us? The answer is not as simple as the balance equation. Some of us are too busy dieting and not really learning how to eat. Women who dieted, according to studies, frequently had stricter weight outcome expectations, lower self-motivation and body size satisfaction, and may achieve less lasting weight loss.
As a society, we invest a lot of money in dieting schemes with the expectations for results that are sometimes unrealistic. But is that all bad? Researchers in Canada have evaluated realistic and unrealistic promises for dieting in young women to find that more restrained eaters tended to have much higher expectations for dieting for themselves, while there was no difference in their dieting expectations for other people. In this case, hearing unrealistic promises for diets seemed almost inspirational for this group and resulted in a lower intake of calories offered.
Ultimately, whether you want to lose weight for health or cosmetic reasons, you need to be ready to follow through, find the best solutions that teach you how to eat and that you will stick to'mostly'for life, and have a good attitude toward your body.
Our own ability to take control and responsibility for food behaviors can lead to successful weight management. However, the attitudes of our health care professionals can make a difference as well. Support from your health care team is an important feature of a positive and sustained weight management strategy. If you are moderately overweight, learn a little more and put your realistic expectations to work on a routine basis. If you are more than moderately overweight, your health care team should take it quite seriously and assist you in both your readiness to tackle the issue and finding the best solutions for you.
Fields-Gardner is the director of services for the HIV nutrition company Cutting Edge and is a member of the International AIDS Society and the American Dietetic Association's Dietetic Practice Group on HIV and AIDS. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.