Column: Eating well, self-control make a difference

Our biggest anxiety seems to be our body image

BY MARJORIE STEWART

CBC Radio’s The Current recently dealt with a report that Weight Watchers is targeting teenagers with a special new program. The initial concern was that this multimillion-dollar corporation is going to focus on weight, as if there is an ideal body weight to be calculated the same way for everybody. The endocrinologist expressed frustration at the cultural obsession with weight. What teens need, she said, is not a never-ending quest for an ideal weight, but support in developing lifelong healthy attitudes and help dealing with cravings. They need support for their natural body types. She made a charming analogy to the beauty of a garden full of variety in colours, shapes and sizes.

All were agreed that dieting for weight loss is indeed a losing game, leading to binge eating and continuing failures.

I have been watching a series of documentaries about the Dunedin Study, a prestigious New Zealand study of more than 1,000 people born the same year, now into its fourth decade. The data collected led to the categorization of five personality types which can predict, with remarkable accuracy, the futures of people as young as 2 or 3. In other words, nature or heredity shapes our futures in ways we cannot evade. Fortunately, early prediction and appropriate interventions can prevent worst-case outcomes.

Whether it is a good thing for more people to become well-adjusted to our crazy world is a whole other question. The Dunedin researchers point out that they are confident in their major predictor of well-rounded success in life: self-control. They are, of course, concerned to mitigate the misfortunes of the 10 per cent who are undercontrolled and the seven per cent who are morbidly inhibited. Many will say this is obvious, which is true, but it is now also proven and matches most national findings. The project now attracts major funding from both the U.S. and U.K. governments.

So if the study director tells us to put our efforts towards identifying pre-established traits at a very early age, what does this mean for the dysfunctional food habits which are fuelling global epidemics of obesity and diabetes?

We already know that the value chains of industrialized foods are owned by people who are not thinking about population health when they look at their investment portfolios. That makes us anxious. And a whole other industry has developed to make money out of our anxieties. Rule No. 1: pay no attention to people who are selling dietary information. Get your information from professionals paid to give us good information. The best source I have found for the sensible information we need is the U.K. Ministry of Health Eatwell Guide.

Our biggest anxiety seems to be our body image. It’s as if our mainstream media industry is working with the health anxiety industry against our best interests. Rule No. 2: pay no attention to people who are selling a single body type as beauty. Look for beauty below the surface, in lives well-lived.

Marjorie Stewart is past chairwoman of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at marjorieandalstewart@gmail.com.

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