Parents with overweight children do not even realize there is a problem, according to Dr. Peter Nieman, a well-known pediatrician in Calgary. Research shows that parents as well as their children have an inaccurate perception of what constitutes obesity.
Obesity costs the Canadian economy somewhere between $4.6-billion and $7.1-billion a year. Those costs are split pretty evenly between direct health-care costs and indirect costs such as lost productivity of people unable to work as a result of illness from obesity.
Pediatricians, doctors and researchers all express great concern about the health consequences of being overweight. Obesity significantly increases the risk of 18 chronic illnesses, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis and some forms of cancer.
Yet, even given these significant concerns and ramifications, experts on obesity find it hard to talk about the problem and some of the more difficult solutions, especially dieting. It’s easier to recommend getting out and being more physically active in the community.
Hmmm – getting a little exercise sounds much more appealing than extreme dieting and excessive calorie counting.
It worked for Janine, who posted her success in a recent Globe and Mail article. She saw her sister losing weight by walking and thought ‘I can do it too’. As soon as the first 10 pounds came off she was incredibly motivated even though on her overweight body it was not yet noticeable. Extreme dieting was not necessary – but increased education on food and fitness and this motivation carried her on to lose 100 pounds. Bravo!
What motivated Janine? Yes, her sister was a catalyst – but Janine had to change her thought about what she could and could not do. Losing weight was possible. She just put her mind to it, slightly changed the way she ate and committed to a simple exercise program. The results gave her renewed confidence and self-esteem. She gained control over her own health experience and well-being.
Researchers in Ottawa have found that even moderate amounts of physical activity can significantly improve the mental well-being of overweight adolescents. This research program threw away the scales to prove physical activity improves the sense of body image, social and academic functioning – psychological benefits without the weigh scale.
Children with obesity also have higher levels of depression and low self-esteem. Body image and self-esteem woes can start at a very young age, according to surveys. I experienced this as a young teenager. On my thirteenth birthday, my girlfriend gave me my first diet book and I was hooked. Foods – by calorie and amount – became all important and I was very conscious of my body image. The weigh scale each morning could determine whether it was a ‘happy’ or ‘sad’ day. This went on for most of my teenage years. For some young men and women this focus on self image can lead to eating disorders – anorexia and bulimia – that are extremely damaging to their health and can lead to death.
So, if the real challenge is not about food or pounds but about how we view ourselves, are dieting and exercise – neither of which actually address self image – the only solution? What about spiritual solutions? A handful of studies show that young people who have a spiritual foundation are less likely to be overweight or to suffer from depression or low self-esteem. And, many carry these feelings into their adulthood.
This was true in my experience. I regularly attended Sunday School at this time and this ‘scale of happiness’ weighed heavily on my mind. So I spoke to my teacher one Sunday and she pointed out that I was breaking the second commandment – I had an ‘idol’ of body image set up and I was worshipping it! Wow! That really woke me up. I threw my weigh scale out and started to change the way I thought about myself. I had learned in our Bible study that turning to a loving God as the only influence in my life (the first commandment!) provided me with a way that I could transition to a more balanced life-style approach. I became less self-centered and stopped using personal will-power to exercise control over portions, food choices and exercise. To this day, I have not made a bathroom (or any other room) scale the barometer of my happiness and self-esteem. Over many decades now my weight has been classified as ‘normal’.
To take control of your own health experience – i.e. to uncover and face the elephant in the room – empowers one to find freedom from the confinement of calories and the depression associated with low self-esteem.
Janine and I both took control of our elephants by changing how we thought about ourselves and food. It’s made a big difference to our health – mentally and physically.