The #1 New Year's resolution is to lose weight. But while the media highlights the health concerns associated with obesity, it generally overlooks the fact that the tremendous amount of gratuitous and unhealthy dieting going on contributes to the epidemic of eating disorders, life-threatening illnesses that affect 30 million Americans, says the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).
Though dieting did not emerge as a full-blown industry until the 1950s and '60s1 hello girdles, diet pills, zero-calorie soda, Twiggy and bariatric surgery - the media, advertising and pervasive social standards share a long history (as early as 1830) of shaping and promoting unhealthy body images and weight loss that remains prevalent.
Today, weight loss is a $61 billion industry1 and shows like NBC's The Biggest Loser and ABC's new reality show, My Diet is Better Than Yours (premiering Jan. 7) promote unhealthy, disordered eating practices. It's a "real-life experiment," according to the CEO of Kinetic Content, the company that produces the show.
Counters Claire Mysko, interim CEO of NEDA, "The reality we really need to be talking about is the fact that 35% percent of 'normal dieters' progress to pathological dieting and, of those, 20-25% progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders2.
"Americans spend billions of dollars each year on dieting, she continues, "But the real price is the toll it's taking on our health. Shows like The Biggest Loser and My Diet is Better Than Yours promote very unhealthy, quick- fix practices and unrealistic, 'ideal' body standards that encourage poor self-esteem and can be triggers to anyone predisposed to an eating disorder."
In the U.S., It is estimated that 19% of adults and 3% of children are on a diet on any given day3; 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner4; and 81% of 10 year olds are afraid of being fat5. Over 1/2 of teenage girls and nearly 1/3 of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting and taking laxatives6. Even among clearly non-overweight girls, over 1/3 report dieting7.
Adds Mysko, "Dieting causes such side effects as stress, anxiety, depression, irritability and low self-esteem. The majority of dieters gain back the weight they lose and a significant percentage suffer damaging physical and psychological effects from the common cycle of restriction and bingeing. Our focus should be on health, not a dangerous game that 'experiments' with real people and sends a wrong message to viewers."