The research behind body image and healthy eating

There’s a great new study out about body image and eating among women. This study, conducted by  innovative research groups that I admire, looked at whether influencing women’s body image would impact their successful adoption of eating strategies known to help control weight.

After one year, the study authors found that changing women’s body image did influence how they ate. Their interesting study showed that reducing women’s investment in their appearance was related to their successful adaptation of eating behavior.

This is important research because….

  1. It integrates a socio-cultural perspective into the study of women’s individual-level eating behavior.  Most research and approaches to health behaviors such as eating do not address the surrounding cultural context and pressures women face to be thin.  While these issues are in a way “invisible” because they reflect socialized cultural norms, they embed tremendous emotional energy and power.  Only by addressing these issues explicitly can their influence (often unconscious) over our behavior be diminished.
  2. These findings suggest that if women give themselves permission to stop caring so much about our bodies we will actually eat in healthier ways (and better control our weight)!  This may seem counter-intuitive but it’s not.  We’ve been taught that focusing negatively on our weight and shape is a necessary “doorway” to successful weight loss. Many believe that focusing on, especially disliking, our bodies is the only way we’ll be motivated to change our eating, move more, and lose weight. But these findings suggest just the opposite!

 

Making eating changes (or starting to become more physically active) out of  negative judgement or extreme focus on our bodies initiates a punitive cyclical response, not one likely to be sustained for long.  I call these reasons The Wrong Whys. (You can see The Vicious Cycle of Failure by clicking here and scrolling down the page.) The Wrong Whys don’t just lead to repetitive failure, they act like a “ball and chain” that weigh down our psyches and lives.

When we stop caring so much on our bodies and appearance, as the women in this study were guided to do, we are liberated in so many ways. This extracts us from the psychological reactance that compels us to eat simply because we “shouldn’t.” It frees us from anxious struggling to fit into one-size-fits-all molds so we can FINALLY move toward peace with our bodies and ourselves.