Growing up in outport Newfoundland, everyone was the same: the same skin colour, spoke the same way, attended the same church, and all without cable TV or the Internet. Needless to say, this did not provide an opportunity to know diversity. When I moved to Toronto in the early 1990s, I remember standing on the corner of Bloor and Yonge Streets and being overwhelmed by the diversity of people all around me. Overall, Canada ranks high for accepting diversity, especially to culture, language, religion, gender and sexual orientation. Where we, and the rest of North America, fail is with accepting size diversity.
Society, fueled by the media, tells us that bodies (male and female) should look a certain way – a way that very few people can achieve. However, that doesn’t stop people from trying and the costs are great:
- In a study of 5,000 teens, more than half of girls and a third of boys engage in unhealthy weight control behaviours.
- Teen girls who diet are at 324% greater risk for obesity than those who do not diet.
- 81% of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat.
- 98% of females are unhappy with their bodies.
- Canadians spend more than $7 billion per year on diet programs, diet books and diet pills.
- However, evidence tells us that 98% of people who lose weight will regain the weight and more.
Despite what TV makeover shows might suggest, the human body is not easily transformed.
Body shapes and sizes are the result of many factors beyond what one eats and how much one moves. For example, genetics, life stage, environment, cultural norms and socioeconomic status all influence body shape and size. In my 20 years as a registered dietitian, I have worked with many people who eat well and are fit and healthy but do not match society’s “ideal” body.
Body size and shape is not the determining measure of one’s health. To support health, wellness and positive body image, try these approaches:
- Respect and care for your body. Accept your body at its current size, shape and capabilities.
- Eat for well-being not weight loss. Listen to your body and eat according to hunger, fullness and satiety cues, nutritional needs, and cultural and family traditions.
- Be active in your own way to support energy, strength and stress management.
For more information about challenges that youth are faced with when it comes to healthy eating, go to keltymentalhealth.ca.
How do you measure your health? When do you feel most healthy?
Neumark-Sztainer, Story, Hannan, Perry & Irving, 2002. Relation between dieting and weight change among preadolescents and adolescents. Pediatrics, 112(4), 900-906; findings from Project EAT (population-based study of approximately 5000 teens).
About Flo Sheppard
Flo has a dual role with Northern Health—she is the NW population health team lead and a regional population health dietitian with a lead in 0 – 6 nutrition. In the latter role, she is passionate about the value of supporting children to develop eating competence through regular family meals and planned snacks. Working full-time and managing a busy home life of extracurricular and volunteer activities can challenge Flo's commitment and practice of family meals but flexibility, conviction, planning and creativity help!